Hickson, J. W. A. (Joseph William Andrew), 1873-1956

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Hickson, J. W. A. (Joseph William Andrew), 1873-1956

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Philosopher/mountaineer J.W.A. Hickson, son of a wealthy Montreal family, and the product of a private-school education, graduated from McGill University with an arts degree and a gold medal in philosophy in 1893. He headed to Germany to study with Neo-Kantian Alois Riehl for a Phd. in philosophy and metaphysics, and in 1901 was hired by his alma mater, McGill. An eccentric and contentious member of the faculty, he had many arguments with colleagues, particularly with experimental psychologist William Dunlop Tait. This may be one reason the department of psychology split from the department of philosophy. Hickson taught metaphysics and logic and wrote many articles on philosophy, but he retired early, in 1924. He kept in touch with former McGill colleagues, however, and years later, in 1946, helped assemble a collection of books from the personal library of philosopher David Hume after Hume’s own copy of the Olivetus edition of Cicero’s works was found in a cupboard at the faculty club. Retirement gave Hickson more time to pursue his passion of mountaineering which he had done for years despite the handicap of a game leg, the result of a horse-back riding accident. He climbed for 5 seasons in Europe with guide Edward Feuz Jr., and then for another 17 seasons in the Rockies and Selkirks in B.C.; Feuz estimated that they climbed between 200 and 300 mountains together, making 30 first ascents. Hickson was president of the Alpine Club of Canada in 1924-26 and editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal for four years. His collection of mountaineering photographs and slides are in the McGill Archives. His generosity to McGill includes endowments for fellowships in physics and theoretical philosophy. His philanthropy also extended to a $1.9 million bequest to the former Fraser-Hickson Library in Montreal.


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