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History of Cornell
Chapter XII.

The earliest instruction in Philosophy devolved upon Dr. William D. WILSON, who had held a similar professorship in Hobart College from 1850 to 1868, the date of his election to a chair in this university. Dr. WILSON's instruction embraced courses in Mental Science, Logic, the History of Philosophy, the Philosophy of History, and at times in Political Economy. All students will recall the venerable professor whose appearance of age belied his genuine physical vigor. As registrar of the university he came in contact with all students for at least seventeen years. Dr. WILSON seemed to possess an untiring capacity for the laborious clerical work associated with the registrar's office. The numerous details, the multitudinous reports from various departments, it devolved upon the doctor to receive and enter. If, occasionally, a student incautiously stepped into his presence with his hat on, a reminder from the punctilious registrar did not lessen the genuine esteem with which he was regarded. As a scholar, Doctor WILSON was an indefatigable reader upon all questions of philosophy, theology, ecclesiastical history, science and political economy. Several works which he published exhibited the acuteness of his mind, as well as a fresh and vigorous grasp of the new points presented for solution. Doctor WILSON's long educational experience, and his interest in the general educational policy of the State, as well as his attendance at the meeting of the University Convocation during many years, made him an influential and esteemed character in the university life of our State. His theological interests caused him to be chosen for many years to the national triennial conventions of the church with which he was connected, where he filled important positions upon some of the most important committees. The class of caused -- his portrait to be painted, and presented it as its memorial upon graduation to the university. Since his resignation here, Doctor WILSON has been active in theological instruction and advice in connection with the Divinity School of Syracuse, and in lectures before educational institutions in the State.

At the meeting of the Board of Trustees held November 20, 1885, a proposition was presented from the Hon. Henry W. SAGE to endow a professorship of Ethics and Philosophy in memory of his wife, which should bear her name. In nominating as he did, on January 6, 1886, Dr. J. G. SCHURMAN as the first incumbent of this chair, he states: "Before closing this report, I desire to put upon record for permanent remembrance this statement: that my chief object in founding this professorship is to secure to Cornell University for all coming time the services of a teacher who shall instruct students in mental philosophy and ethics from a definitely Christian standpoint, and while the title which I gave in my former communication comprehends in a general way just what I mean, I think it best to ask that the following more exact wording of it be the one adopted for actual use, viz., Susan E. Linn Sage Professorship of Christian Ethics and Mental Philosophy." He added: "I was happy to find not only through the correspondence held with Doctor SCHURMAN, but also through the personal interview above referred to, that his habits of teaching and thinking are quite in harmony with the desires I entertain in founding the chair. While Doctor SCHURMAN attaches no importance to denominational distinctions, there is abundant evidence that all his teaching is from a distinctively Christian point of view."

The young professor to whom this important department was entrusted was, as his name shows, the descendant of a Dutch family which came to New York and settled near New Rochelle more than two hundred years ago. The family, not sympathizing with the popular cause, removed to Prince Edward's Island, where Jacob Gould SCHURMAN was born in May, 1854. He studied at the Prince of Wales College, Georgetown, in 1870, where he won a government scholarship, which enabled him to pursue his education for two years more. During the years 1873-4, he was a student at Arcadia College, where he also won first class honors in English and in classics. In 1875 he gained the Gilchrist scholarship for the Dominion of Canada, which enabled him to continue his studies in the University of London, where he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts after two years' residence, and obtained a scholarship in philosophy, tenable for three years, and also the Hume scholarship in political economy at University College, London, tenable for three years. In 1878 he received the degree of Master of Arts, mainly by studies in logic and psychology. Later, he received the degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Edinburgh, and obtained the Hibbert traveling scholarship for Great Britian (sic) and Ireland, which enabled him to study in Germany and Italy for two years, from 1878-80. During this period he spent one year under the instruction of Professor Kuno FISCHER at the University of Heidelberg. He also spent a semester at the University of Berlin, and also at the University of Göttingen. He had thus passed through an admirable preliminary training under the most advanced teachers, a course in English, Scotch and German philosophy. Upon his return to Nova Scotia, in 1880, he was appointed professor of English Literature in Acadia College. In 1882 he accepted the chair of Metaphysics and English Literature in Dalhousie College.

At the meeting of the Board of Trustees held October 22, 1890, Mr. SAGE announced his intention of adding to the endowment of the professorship which he had established in 1886 in memory of his wife, by a further gift of two hundred thousand dollars to the Department of Philosophy. His object was to provide permanently at Cornell University philosophical instruction and investigation of the most varied kind and of the highest order. To this end he stipulated that the trustees should for all time supplement the proceeds of his endowments with generous annual appropriations from the general funds of the University. The trustees accepted the gift with the condition attached and to commemorate the munificence of Mr. SAGE, and his profound interest in the subject of philosophy at Cornell University, they gave the name of the Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy to the department thus enlarged.

Mr. SAGE announced his purpose to extend the Department of Philosophy into a complete school for the study of ethics and philosophy. His main purpose may be inferred from the words which he used in closing his letter announcing this gift to the university:

"Heretofore Cornell has done little at her own proper cost to uplift the moral and religious element in her students. True, we have had this department of ethics several years; and we have had the chapel and its preachership eighteen years, but these have been carried on with very little expenditure from the funds of the university. We have done SCHURMAN much, very much, for the foundations in science, in technical work, in agriculture, the classics, and modern languages, in history and economic studies, in ornamentation of our campus, and noble buildings for all purposes; but for the top work of man's structure and development, the crown of his character and achievement, through his moral and religious nature-little, very little! Our function here is to educate man, and through education to provide foundation of character, based on moral principle, which shall underlie the whole man, and give impulse, tone and color to all the work of his life. We can not do that without facilities for cultivating and developing every side of his nature. Increase of knowledge addressed solely to the intellect does not produce full-rounded men; quite too often it makes stronger and more dangerous animals, living moral quality dormant, and the whole power of cultivated intellect the servant of man's selfish, animal nature. No education can be complete which does not carry forward, with the acquisition of knowledge for his intellectual side and physical wants, a broad and thorough cultivation of his moral and religious side, developing Christian virtues, veneration, benevolence, conscience, a sense of duty to God and man, purity and right living in the largest sense. In short, wise and broad education should and will ally man's intellect to his moral and religious, more completely than to his animal nature, and from that alliance results all the real dignity there is in mankind, making moral and intellectual qualities regnant, all others subject! I am so fully impressed with the vital importance of this subject, and the purpose of the proposed gift, that as trustee of Cornell university (with greater love for its policies and functions than I can express), I think you can afford to accept this gift with its attendant liabilities, and that you cannot afford to decline it. It is my free and voluntary offering for a purpose, the highest, the noblest and the best ever promoted by this noble university."

His purpose to found a chair of Christian ethics and philosophy had been cherished by him for several years before its realization was possible. Later he desired to enlarge the department which he had thus founded, and he requested Professor SCHURMAN to go to Europe for the purpose of carefully investigating the best methods of teaching ethics and philosophy and to formulate from them and from his own experience and judgment a plan of organization for a broad school embracing these subjects. Professor SCHURMAN accepted with pleasure this opportunity to enlarge the field of instruction in America in his favorite department of study, and upon his return submitted a plan of organization which would satisfy the demands of modern science and scholarship and place the department abreast of philosophical schools in Europe. He proposed a chair of psychology to be filled by a professor versed in physiology and anatomy, especially of the brain and nervous system and skilled in the methods of experimental research in mental phenomena, the design being to establish here such investigations as are conducted in the great psychological laboratories of Paris and Leipsic; secondly, a more liberal provision for those branches which constitute philosophy in the older sense of that term, viz., logic, metaphysics and ethics-the field of theoretical philosophy. A third line of development should account for the religions of mankind by the study of comparative religion. Professorships for the study of comparative religion exist in Holland, France and Scottish universities. To this chair it was proposed to assign the department of Christian ethics. Attention was called to the fact that every science in America had its organ save philosophy. It was proposed to found a philosophical periodical to stimulate and to some extent shape and control the philosophical activity of the continent. It was proposed to establish six scholarships and three fellowships in philosophy and ethics, to be open to graduate students only, and also to found a psychological laboratory. The chair of pedagogy, which is simply psychology applied to teaching, which had already existed in the university for four years, was transferred to the School of Philosophy, as it is in other universities. To carry out this noble purpose Mr. SAGE offered to give $200,000 upon condition that whatever additional support was necessary for the development of the department, should be added from the general fund of the university. Dr. J. G. SCHURMAN was appointed dean and professor of the new Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy. The Reverend Charles Mellen TYLER, a graduate of Yale university and a resident clergyman in Ithaca, was elected to the professorship of the history and philosophy of religion and of Christian ethics, and provision was made for the appointment of assistant professors of ancient and modern philosophy and a professorship of psychology. Three fellowships of four hundred dollars each were established and six scholarships of two hundred dollars each. Dr. SCHURMAN established a philosophical seminary similar to those employed in the German universities and also gave, during the spring term, a course of public weekly lectures open to all members of the university, on the elements of ethical theory and the history of ethical ideals and institutions among mankind. In addition to the regular courses of instruction a series of public lectures were announced for the fall term, among which were included the inaugural address of Reverend Professor TYLER; a lecture by Professor SCHURMAN on the Mental Development of Cardinal NEWMAN; a lecture by Mr. CALDWELL on the Latest German Pessimism; by Dr. WILLCOX on Marriage and Divorce in the United States, and by other members of the school. The first announcement of the school presents a required course of study in physiology, psychology and logic, and advanced courses in psychology, with experimental illustrations of mental phenomena susceptible of experimental treatment, sensations considered in their physical, physiological and psychological aspects, etc.; the history of Greek philosophy, including Alexandrian and Roman the history of modern philosophy; contemporary philosophy in Europe; the history of religions; ethics; two courses, elementary and advanced, on the science and art of teaching; the writings and philosophy of Plato and Aristotle; Spinoza's Ethics; Leibnitz's philosophical works; Hume's treatise on Human Nature; metaphysics and epistemology; Kant's Critique of Power and Reason; the philosophy of religion; advanced ethics; practical ethics; the history of education.

Four seminaries were organized in connection with the school, viz., psychological, metaphysical, ethical and pedagogical. And a general philosophical symposium was announced to be held weekly to be devoted to the literature of contemporary philosophy as presented in the periodicals of English and foreign languages with reports and abstracts of the important articles, and discussions of new books. Upon the resignation of Professor ANGELL, Edward B. TITCHENER of the University of Oxford was appointed his successor. Advanced subjects of instruction have been introduced and the department has received constant development.


In President WHITE's final report presented to the trustees on June 17, 1885, the question of establishing a department of instruction for teachers was presented, and it was proposed that a lecturer on methods of instruction be appointed in order that graduates of this university who proposed to pursue the profession of teaching should be equipped by the study of the history of education and of the theories of the greatest educators as well as by the study of philosophical methods of instruction. It was thought in this way that students who had received a university training would likewise have it in their power to obtain the special specific training which was afforded in normal colleges. Teaching above all else must be taught by example, and thorough scientific training is the best preparation to qualify for imparting instruction.

President ADAMS in his inaugural elaborated the suggestion which his predecessor had made and urged the appointment of a professor of the science and art of teaching, as a means of making more intimate the relations between the university and the school system of the State. On December 18, 1885, a professorship of the science and art of teaching was established and Dr. Samuel Gardiner WILLIAMS was transferred from the department of geology to the department of pedagogy. Professor WILLIAMS had had a long and successful experience as an educator, and was familiar not only with current questions of education and school economy, but had occupied an influential position among the teachers of the State. The honored position which he held among the representatives of colleges and schools in the convocation qualified him to inaugurate the new department.

The formal instruction in pedagogy began with the opening of the university year of 1586-7. During the first two terms courses of instruction in the institutes and in the history of education were given. The third term was devoted to a conference for the discussion of educational subjects. It was soon found that the history of education needed a full year for its treatment. The course of instruction in school supervision has been added, also a seminary for the examination of the great works of educational reformers. The aim of the department has been from the first to prepare graduates for successful work in the secondary schools. In this respect it has accomplished excellent results. With the organization of the School of Philosophy, the Department of Pedagogy was incorporated with it.

History of Cornell - Chapter XIII

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
Thank you Carl Hommel.

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