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Observations upon Liberal Education

George Turnbull

Publication Year: 2012

Originally published in 1742 and presented here in its first modern edition, Observations upon Liberal Education is a significant contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment and the moral-sense school of Scottish philosophy. George Turnbull embodied these movements of ideas as much as his more famous contemporary Francis Hutcheson.

In Observations, Turnbull applied these ideas to the education of youth. He showed how a liberal education fosters true “inward liberty” and moral strength and thus prepares for responsible and happy lives in a free society. He drew upon an impressive number of authors, both ancient and modern, including John Locke. Indeed, there is probably no richer treasure trove of sources for the educational debates of the eighteenth century.

Terrence Moore, who wrote the introduction, notes that “Observations upon Liberal Education provides an extensive and illuminating treatment of education, sensitive to the means of inculcating the personal responsibility necessary for living in a free society.”

Turnbull was the mentor of Thomas Reid, but his influence was not confined to Scotland. Benjamin Franklin, in drafting his Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, drew generously from Observations.

George Turnbull (1698–1748) belongs to the founding figures in the Scottish Enlightenment. Finding their native Calvinism repressive, they sought a rational religion closely associated with their new science of human nature, supportive of tolerance, and compatible with classical ideals.

Terrence O. Moore, Jr., is Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Series: Natural Law Paper

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-8

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pp. ix-xix

The Scottish Enlightenment was recognized at the time and is studied today as one of the great moments in the history of liberal thought. Scottish thinkers in the eighteenth century understood both the benefits and the hazards in the creation and preservation of a free and commercial society....

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pp. xxi-24

Like so many other students and scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment, I owe a considerable debt to the teaching and conversation of Nicholas Phillipson. If the chief purpose of the historian is to make a period of the past come alive for modern students, then Dr. Phillipson has fulfilled that...

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OBSERVATIONS upon Liberal Education, In all its Branches

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pp. 1-4

Designed for the Assistance of Young Gentlemen, who having made some Progress in Useful Sciences, are desirous of making further Improvements, by a proper Prosecution of their Studies; as well as for the Use of Parents, who would give right Education to their...

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The Contents

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pp. 5-20

The observations in the following discourses are all taken from experience; so moral rules, as well as physical ones ought to be—The general scope of them—A Letter to the Author, containing several excellent remarks upon education.—The reason why so many authors ancient and...

Part I

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pp. 21-46

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pp. 23-31

Having been long engaged in the important business of Education, as it was my duty, so it hath ever been my chief employment to collect all the instructions relating to this art I could, from ancients and moderns.—And whatever I have been able to learn from the experience of others, or my...

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Plutarchus Plasmatias to His Friend Fundanus, Concerning Education

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pp. 32-90

In the better days of Greece, and long afterwards, the education of youth was reckon’d a most honourable employment: For while virtue was in repute, employments were honoured in proportion to their usefulness. Hence many of noble birth and easy fortunes, disdained not to become...

Part II

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pp. 91-116

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Plutarchus Plasmatias to His Friend Fundanus, Concerning Liberal Education, &c.

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pp. 93-168

It is sufficiently evident, that it will be very difficult for men to attain to wisdom and virtue, if their minds have been depraved by wrong education, or if just conceptions of true happiness and merit have not been early impressed on their breasts, and the habit of self-government fully established...

Part III

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pp. 169-194

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Chapter I

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pp. 171-205

If there be any such thing as duty, or any such thing as happiness; if there be any difference between right and wrong conduct; any distinction between virtue and vice, or wisdom and folly: In fine, if there be any such thing as perfection or imperfection belonging to the rational powers which...

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Chapter II

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pp. 206-239

What we have hitherto been recommending is not instruction in any particular notional system of opinions or tenets, but in facts relating to the frame and government of the natural world, and to the constitution of the human mind of the greatest importance, ascertainable by experience only,...

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Chapter III

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pp. 240-314

Mr. Locke’s sentiments about the proper methods of teaching the Latin language, or rather talking it into children, are well known, and they are supported by incontestible arguments: He had known several examples of good success in that way: And the advantageousness of the practice hath...

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Chapter IV

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pp. 315-380

It was impracticable to get through the subject of the former chapter, so as to render this treatise on education as full and compleat as it ought to be, without entering into a particular detail that may perhaps be tedious to those who are much conversant with it. But now we return to a matter...

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Chapter V

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pp. 381-417

The more ordinary course of education hath obliged us to take a great deal of pains to prove a very plain truth, “That science, or real knowledge, and not mere words, ought to be its principal object and scope.” And we have sufficiently shewn what we mean by the science or real knowledge which...

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pp. 418-421

Every more important question relative to liberal education, hath (I think) been handled in this enquiry at great length; some questions, indeed, too minutely and particularly, were this treatise designed merely for such as only want hints. All therefore that remains to be treated of is travelling:...


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pp. 423-445

E-ISBN-13: 9781614878704
E-ISBN-10: 1614878706
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974128

Page Count: 442
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None
Series Title: Natural Law Paper

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Subject Headings

  • Education -- Philosophy -- Early works to 1800.
  • Education, Humanistic -- Early works to 1800.
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