REASON AND MORALITY
George Paxton Youngand the Foundations of Ethics
PAXTON YOUNG'S career is a reflection of the intellectual tensions and changes which troubled and strengthened English Canada from the 1850s onwards. He was just seventeen years younger than James Beaven and both of them joined the tiny academic community in Toronto at about the same time. Young became a professor at Knox College in 1851. The difference between their intellectual outlooks is the difference between a man who made minor adjustments to a body of traditional beliefs and a man who introduced new and radical ideas.
Young holds a remarkable place in the history of Canadian philosophy. He was the first of the long and influential line of Canadian idealists and the first to mark a firm line between religion and philosophy--a line which caused him, briefly, to give up his livelihood. Though his writings are mostly fragmentary and frequently known to us mainly through notes of his students, enough survives to make him an object of continuing interest.
Young was born in Scotland in 1818 (a few sources give 1819), went to Edinburgh High School and on to the University of Edinburgh. He faced the schism in the Church of Scotland ("the great disruption") and chose to study divinity at the Free Church Hall. He served as a clergyman in Paisley and in London and then--for reasons which seem now lost--resolved to come to Canada. It did not take him long to obtain a church in Hamilton and he quickly made a reputation as a preacher.
A volume of his sermons from that period reveals little which would suggest his later career--unless one reads between the lines. The schisms which wracked the church in Scotland had exact parallels amongst Presbyterians in Canada and Young wrestled with the problems that posed. Perhaps that is the meaning of his sermon which urges that "making peace" is the first duty of a Christian, though on the surface it is concerned, innocuously enough, with the proposition that