This article was first published in Canadian Psychology, 43(1), 35-45
©2002 by Canadian Psychological Association.
well known that James Mark Baldwin held a position at the University of Toronto
when he assisted in the formation of the American Psychological Association in
1892, but the proceedings of the preliminary organizational meeting of the APA,
held in July of that year, include the name of second Torontonian as well, that
of one J. G. Hume. The present paper
outlines the career of James Gibson Hume, who studied with G. Stanley Hall,
William James, and Hugo Münsterberg, and who headed the Philosophy
Department at the
A look at the first item of the
As is well-known to Canadian historians of psychology, another
member of this select group was James Mark Baldwin, who had just established
the first permanent experimental psychology lab in the
So who was this J. G. Hume, a Canadian who seems to have been closely involved with this most elite group of experimental psychologists at the very founding of the discipline's most important scholarly society? The aim of this paper is to tell his story. He turns out neither to have been a great scholar nor a pioneer of the emerging discipline of experimental psychology, but an examination of his career gives us a clearer picture of what an average philosopher-psychologist was thinking and doing at the time when James, Hall, Dewey, Baldwin, and others were revolutionizing psychology and philosophy.
James Gibson Hume was born in 1860 in
After graduation, Hume went to
While at Harvard he took courses with William James and Josiah
Royce, among others. The professor he seems to have been closest to, however,
was Francis Peabody, a theologian of the social gospel movement, and a
prominent American prohibitionist.2 Two of Hume's term papers for
The Minister of Education, George Ross, was a strong Canadian
"Nativist." The Nativists had
once been a strong political force in
Old Nativists could also be found around the Senate table at UT. The
most vocal and powerful was James Loudon, then Professor of Physics. He and his supporters demanded that a
Canadian, preferably a Torontonian, be selected to replace Young. Minister Ross was generally in support, but declared that no
clergyman would be hired, thereby substantially reducing the pool of eligible
Canadian candidates. UT President
Daniel Wilson was not a Nativist and, being
apparently aware of how the "wind was blowing" in philosophy at that
time, favored a person with experience in experimental psychology, even if no
such Canadian could be found. Premier Mowat was
generally in support of
By the application deadline of
And so the lines were drawn and the battle entered into. It was a very public fight, the local
newspapers regularly publishing partisan letters and editorials from one side
or the other.
As for Hume, there still exists a printed summary of his application, containing two letters to Minister Ross and extracts from a number of "testimonials" (i.e., letters of reference). Among the most interesting of these extracts are those from Hall (cited above) and from Harvard philosophers Josiah Royce and Francis Peabody. All praise him highly. Hall, says he would have won "the Fellowship of the Department" over more senior students if the department had not closed down because Hall had left for Clark (Hume, 1889, p. 3). Royce writes: "Mr. Hume came amongst us as an entire stranger, and has within a year produced a marked impression of his ability and promise, and it is in no perfunctory way that I now recommend him to your favorable attention…" (Hume, 1889, p. 3). Peabody says that Hume had "distinguished himself as a mature and zealous student, and in my private relations with him I have come to feel great confidence in his character and purpose" (Hume, 1889, p. 3). There is no letter from James in the printed summary of the application, but an indication that one will be forthcoming. In the second of Hume's two letters, he says that James had appreciated his "Thesis on Sensation" so much that he was planning on inserting it into his "new treatise on Psychology" (Hume, 1889, p. 4) -- undoubtedly the Principles of Psychology (1890) which would be published the following year. A look at Chapter XVII, "Sensation," in the Principles, however, reveals no reference to Hume. Instead, there is a 14-page section attributed to another of James' students, E. B. Delabarre, who would found the experimental psychology laboratory at Brown University in three years' time.
James' letter of reference for Hume was sent, but apparently did not arrive in time. Another letter was requested of James, who sent a second letter which was received. The first one must have come eventually as well because microfilms of both can be found in the Provincial Archives of Ontario. James says Hume was the third best student he had had in all his years of teaching at Harvard (which he estimates at 15 years in the first letter, 18 in the second). He seems a little perplexed, however, at why UT would be interested in hiring so inexperienced a scholar (Hume had only just received his Master's) into so senior a position, and recommends instead another applicant: George Howison, then teaching at Berkeley.
The public struggle between Baldwin's supporters and Hume's continued on into October, past the start of the school year. Finally, on 19 October 1889, both men were offered positions. Baldwin's appointment would be as UT Professor in Logic & Metaphysics and would begin immediately. Hume, by contrast, would be given a professorship in Ethics at University College and a new History of Philosophy professorship at UT. At his own request, however, he was given a two-year fellowship in order to earn a Ph.D. first. At first Hume went back to Harvard, but was then off to Albert-Ludwig University in Freiburg, where the one-time student of Wundt's, Hugo Münsterberg, was teaching experimental psychology. Hume was granted a doctorate in 1891, but his thesis was not in psychology. Instead, it was entitled Political Economy and Ethics (Hume, 1892a), and the primary acknowledgement was not to Münsterberg, but to one Alois Riehl, a prominent philosopher of the day.
In the meantime, Baldwin developed a new course entitled "Psychology" for the 1890-91 school year. Fire destroyed University College in February 1890, but Baldwin used this as an opportunity to see that it was rebuilt with an experimental psychology laboratory. He had a letter recruiting students published in Hall's American Journal of Psychology (Baldwin, 1891b) and had a description of the new lab published in Science the following year (Baldwin, 1892).
Hume returned to UT in October 1891, giving his Inaugural Lecture The Value of a Study of Ethics (Hume, 1891). The following year he published one of the few pieces he would produce on psychology, a presentation to the Ontario Teachers Federation entitled "Physiological Psychology" (Hume, 1892b). Hall had suggested in his "testimonial" that Hume "had breadth and insight enough to be not lacking in sympathy and appreciation of [experimental psychology]" (Hume, 1889, p. 2). If indeed Hall had been right, and this had been true back in 1889, something had certainly changed in the intervening three years. In the first half of the paper, Hume demonstrates what Hall had called his "fair theoretical knowledge" of the topic, reviewing a number of important experimental results. In the second half, however, he launched into a tirade against the nascent discipline and against science more generally. Science, he said, can grasp change, but not unity, and thus when applied to psychology, it can grasp changes in consciousness but not consciousness itself. What was more, Hume claimed that the experimentalist in psychology was committed to materialism, a position he regarded as being incoherent. It was, all in all, pretty well the "weakened echo of Dr. Young's teachings" that the Principals of Knox and Wycliffe had warned of.
It is difficult to square this harsh criticism of experimental
psychology with the man who would very shortly agree to join a new organization
dedicated to its promotion and advancement.
We do not have the letter Hall sent out inviting people to the
preliminary meeting -- if indeed Hume received one -- so it is difficult for us
to tell how Hall promoted it; he may have "customized" his appeals to
various members of his audience, as was his wont throughout his career (see
Ross, 1972). Perhaps Hume was not on
Hall's original list of invitees but was convinced to join by one of the other
original members with whom he was acquainted: Baldwin, James, and Royce. To be sure, there were other non-experimental
philosophical psychologists included, such as Royce and Dewey. Soon even John C. Murray, the idealist
philosopher then at McGill, would join as well, presenting the paper "Do
We Ever Dream of Tasting?" at the Second Annual Meeting in New York.3 But
still, the orientation of the APA was undeniably scientific. Hume's name does not appear to have been on
the list merely to fill it out either, for he would travel all the way to
The exact nature of Hume's relationship with this group, whose aims were so clearly in conflict with his own, remains something of a mystery. It might be presumed that he was just maintaining "connections" early in his career, except that he maintained his membership in the APA until at least 1903 (after which point the published Proceedings no longer include complete membership lists). He also presented a paper at the Sixth Annual Meeting in 1897 at Cornell entitled "Contributions of Psychology to Morality and Religion" (Hume, 1898), in which he seems to partially retract his earlier opposition to experimental psychology. The psychologist, "should assist the natural scientists in guarding against the misconceptions of materialism. A psychology that takes its stand upon the actual, concrete, active self is the most positive refutation of the abstractions of materialism and pantheism" (p. 163). Thus, it appears that his overall orientation had not changed, but by this time he seemed to believe that experimental psychology could be enlisted in its support. "Former objections to experimental psychology from introspective psychologists and natural scientists were due mainly to a misunderstanding and to an abstract dualistic theory" (p. 162).
One other significant aspect of Hume's appointment at
After setting up the lab,
III. Hume's Contributions and Publications
Apart from the Ontario Teachers' Association piece on physiological psychology of 1892, Hume rarely published on psychology, nor did he conduct any empirical research. What he did write was mostly locally published, and was mostly about ethics and social policy. He gave fairly frequent public speeches, usually in churches, clubs, or teachers' meetings. He typically adopted a stern moralist stance. He was staunchly Protestant, staunchly pro-English (his Canadian Nativism notwithstanding). From time to time he became particularly exercised about the standardization of English spelling and pronunciation. His primary life-long project, however, seems to have been promoting the prohibition of alcohol.
The prohibition movement was very active in
In support of the prohibition movement, Hume published a piece entitled "Socialism" in the March 1894 issue of Knox College Monthly. Hume did not mean, by the term "socialism," Marxism. Rather, he meant simply the duty of society to regulate personal life. Prohibition was the primary example. The piece is more polemic than philosophy. It concludes with the truism that government is needed indeed, but it is a necessary evil and the less of it the better for all. Of course, for Hume, prohibition fell within the boundaries of the "evil" he considered it "necessary" that governments do. Nevertheless, we find out quite a bit about what Hume was for and against, more generally. He was against pragmatism, and against "materialistic naturalism." He was critical of Spencer's social Darwinism. He was for conventional religion and outlined a kind of religious progressivism in which he declared Christianity to be superior to Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Hinduism; and Protestantism to be superior to Catholicism. He even declared the English revolution to have been "morally superior" to the French Revolution. He proclaimed that individualism leads to anarchy. The individual must work for the greater good of (a Christian) society.
For the next few years, Hume's pen fell comparatively quiet. He
presented a short paper on "The Practical Value of Psychology for
Teachers" before the Ontario Teachers Federation (Hume, 1897a), and wrote
a short introduction to the Canadian edition of a
Again there was a period of quiescence in Hume's academic career. In
1907 Hume gave a lecture at Queen's entitled "Evolution and
Personality." It was abstracted in
Hume was a discussant on the 1908 Presidential Address of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology (Hume, 1909) on the proper relation between psychology and philosophy. He conceded that experimental psychology is a natural science, but one that is inextricably intertwined with philosophy. He even paraphrased Kant's famous claim, "psychology without philosophy is blind, philosophy without psychology is empty" (Hume, 1909a, p. 66).5 Hume also joined the American Philosophical Association (AFA) at the Seventh Annual Meeting December 1907, and presented papers at both the 1908 and 1909 conferences. At the 1908 AFA conference at Johns Hopkins he presented a critique of pragmatism; "Though pragmatism ostensibly defends empirical subjective idealism and attacks objective idealism," he wrote, "it is really reconstructing empiricism so as to approach more closely to objective idealism" (Hume, 1909b, p. 177). At the 1909 AFA conference at Yale, he held forth on the topic of suicide (Hume 1910). He called for more detailed statistical tables on suicide as well as for studies of its physiological, psychical, social, and literary[!]causes. The abstract lists as being among the topics with which he dealt:
The influence of morbid sentimentalism in poetry and prose representing death as extinction, ignoring or denying the moral element in life conduct and destiny. The influence of dramatic representations of suicide, sometimes as in the case of Romeo and Juliet as the tragic ending of passionate love. (Hume, 1910, pp. 179-180.)
He closed with a demand that "realistic newspaper accounts of suicide … be checked by legislation" (Hume, 1910, p. 180).
As World War I approached, Hume became increasingly interested in
the subjects of war and the "German character." He wrote many popular pieces for the
newspapers and gave a number of public lectures on the topic. The content was
highly partisan. It seems that he had decided his
contribution to the war effort would be to wage a war of his own on German
philosophy and philosophers. He took
particular aim at his former
In November 1914, Hume gave a lecture in
Just one month later, in January 1916, he published another
front-page editorial in the Varsity.
This one opened with: "The present war is a conflict between Militarists
and Anti-Militarists, between Slavery and Freedom, between Autocracy and
Democracy, between Tyranny and
Also in 1916, Hume published a commentary in the
IV. The End of Hume's Career
After running the psychology laboratory for some 15 years,
Kirschmann went on leave to
Hume was effectively forcibly retired in 1926, regarded by the administration as being responsible for the poor state of philosophy at UT over the previous 30+ years. He applied for an extension of his retirement date, but the administration refused him. Interestingly, they agreed to 11 of 12 other similar requests that same year (Slater, unpublished, ms. p. 149). It appears they were eager to rid themselves of the man. Brett was immediately made Head of the Philosophy Department. In 1927 Psychology was made a Department of its own, under the leadership of a one-time UT philosophy student, Alexander Bott. Bott discarded the experimental orientation in favor of one focused on "mental hygiene," and would serve as Head of Psychology for the next three decades, until 1956.
Hume served as Chairman of the newly-formed Canadian Prohibition
Bureau for a time after his retirement. He continued to spend his winters in
All too often, our vision of a given period in intellectual history is captured solely by those who are at the forefront of the movements that will ultimately prove to capture the field. So it is with late 19th-century philosophy and psychology that we tend to focus our attention on James, Dewey, Hall, Pierce, and others whose ideas proved to have a lasting impact. These men were not typical of their eras, however, but rather exceptional. At the time in question, the debate over the "new" psychology was still under way, and there were many who did not follow the lead of these pioneers, thinking their ideas to be too out of step with deeply-valued traditions to have any staying power. This majority may have proven to be wrong in the long run, but they were far more numerous than the revolutionaries they refused to follow. Hume's metaphysical idealism, his devotion to religious and moral aspects of philosophy, and his certainty that scientific naturalism could never be adequate to ground the study of psychology were common positions early in his career, particularly in Canada where strong British traditions were combined with a suspiciousness of American ideas to make this country's institutions resistant to "scientific" approaches to both philosophy and psychology. By the end of his career, Hume was quite old-fashioned in his thinking -- he was still resisting a "physiological" approach to psychology that was itself being overtaken by behaviorism. It seems that he had been so dominated by his early experience with Young that his graduate-school interactions with the very philosophers and psychologists who would shape the future of the discipline had little impact on the course of his thought.
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Christopher D. Green, Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3. Portions of this paper were presented at the York University History & Theory of Psychology Graduate Programme colloquium, and at the meeting of the History and Philosophy of Psychology Section of the Canadian Psychological Association in Calgary, June 2001. I would like to express my deep appreciation of the assistance given me by John Slater of the University of Toronto Department of Philosophy for allowing me to read the unpublished manuscript of his history of the UT philosophy department and for the numerous conversations we have had about these issues. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to the author at the address above, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. The proceedings of the Preliminary Meeting of the APA, the First Annual Meeting, and the Second Annual Meeting were reprinted by Macmillan in the mid-1990s (APA, no date) from James McKeen Cattell's personal copy of the original, which had been supplied to the Macmillan by Michael Sokal of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA).
2. Peabody would be a member of the "Committee of Fifty for the Investigation of the Liquor Problem" that compiled the book Substitutes for the Saloon (Calkins, 1901/1971).
3. The second Canadian to join the APA was T. Wesley Mills, the McGill comparative psychologist, whose membership was added at the Preliminary Meeting in July 1892, along with those of four others, including Münsterberg and Titchener. John C. Murray's membership (misrecorded as James C. Murray) was added at the First Annual Meeting in December 1892, along with ten others, including George H. Mead and Charles S. Peirce.
4. In a letter to Wundt dated 17 May 1893 from San Francisco, Kirschmann reported that Frank Angell, then at Stanford, but just previously of Cornell, had told him that Titchener was being courted by Toronto. Kirshmann further said that he had no desire to work as an assistant to Titchener, whom he regarded as being too "physiological" to be a psychologist, properly-speaking, and that he would take up a position with Scripture (at Yale) if Titchener were hired by Toronto. I would like to thank David Robinson of Truman State University (Kirksville, MO), for making a transcript of this letter, which he found in the Wundt archives in Leipzig, available to me. I would also like to thank Stefan Majumdar and Thomas Teo of York University for translating it for me.
5. Kant's original claim, from the Critique of Pure Reason, was that "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." (Kant, 1781/1929, p. 93). Kant argued that psychology can never be a science, properly speaking, in the opening pages of Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786/1970).
6. There are several other minor publications by Hume that do not merit detailed description here. These include two shorts articles intended for teachers, "Moral Training in Public Schools" (Hume, no date a) and "Pedagogics as a University Subject" (Hume, no date b). The latter appears to have been published in the proceedings of the Dominion Educational Association, but I am unable to find more specific details. Both can be found bound together with an offprint of The Value of a Study of Ethics in the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto (BJ 66 H85), but it does not appear that they were ever actually published together as a collection. A similar bound collection of offprints can be found in the University of Toronto Archives (Acc.# B1975-0026, folder 05). There was also a University Monthly review of John Watson's book, The Philosophical Basis of Religion (Hume, 1908). He also compiled a slim collection of writings by his late teacher, George Paxton Young (1911), who had published relatively little during his own lifetime. In addition, Hume wrote a number of letters and editorials for local newspapers in addition to those described above.