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2014 Gifford Lecture Series: University of Edinburgh

What is Caesar’s? Adjudicating Faith in Modern Constitutional Democracies to be held on Monday 19 May 2014. [More…]

2014 Gifford Lecture Series: University of Glasgow

Givenness and Revelation begins Tuesday 20 May 2014. [More…]

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Herbert James Paton

1887 - 1969

White's Professor Emeritus of Moral Philosophy, Oxford



Herbert James [Hamish] Paton, philosopher, was born in Abernethy, Perthshire, on 30 March 1887, with his twin, to William Macalister Paton, a Free Church minister, and Jean Robertson Miller. Paton was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he obtained a first-class honours degree in classics. At Glasgow he also learned philosophy in the idealist tradition taught by Sir Henry Jones. In 1908, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, as a Snell exhibitioner. His tutor was J. A. Smith, who interested him in the idealism of Croce. After taking firsts in classical moderations in 1909 and literae humaniores in 1911, he was elected fellow and praelector in classics and philosophy at Queen’s College, Oxford. In 1914, he joined the intelligence division of the Admiralty and became an expert on Polish affairs, in which capacity he attended the Versailles conference in 1919. He ultimately returned to Queen’s and served as a dean from 1917 to 1922.
In 1927, Paton was appointed to the chair of logic and rhetoric at Glasgow. Later, in 1937, he was appointed White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, and he became a fellow of Corpus Christi College. At Oxford, as at Glasgow, he lectured for some years on Kant, and in 1947, he produced The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy. For his Gifford Lectures at St Andrews (1955), Paton took the opportunity to address what he perceived as the conflict between science and religion.
Throughout his life, Paton’s Perthshire roots remained important to him, and he kept a house near Bridge of Earn during the tenure of his Oxford chair. When he retired in 1952, he moved there and involved himself in Scottish affairs, including serving as crown assessor for the University of St Andrews and contributing to the debate on Scottish autonomy.
As for his personal life, he was married to (Mary) Shelia, daughter of Henry Paul Todd-Naylor of the Indian Civil Service, for twenty-three years, from 1936 to her death in 1959. He married a second time to Sarah Irene, daughter of William Macneile Dixon, regius professor of English literature at Glasgow University. Unfortunately, she died only two years after their marriage, in 1964. Paton had no children of his own. He died at his Perthshire home, Nether Pitcaithly Bridge of Earn, on 2 August 1969.
Other works by Paton include: The Good Will: A Study in the Coherence Theory of Goodness (1927); Fashion & Philosophy, an Inaugural Lecture Delivered before the University of Oxford on 30 November 1937 (1937); Can Reason Be Practical? (1943); The Moral Law: Groundwork of Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant (editor and translator; 1948, 2006,); The Defence of Reason (1951); Immortality (1956); Philosophy & History: Essays Presented to Ernst Cassirer (editor with Raymond Klibansky; 1963); The Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1964); The Claim of Scotland (1968).
*From Stuart Brown, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004),
Kelly Van Andel
University of Glasgow
Templeton Press