The Faces of Reason: An Essay on Philosophy and Culture in English Canada, 1850-1950

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THIS IS A STUDY of the history of philosophy in a particular setting--a study of the connections between certain rather general and fundamental ideas and the circumstances in which they have been embodied. The ideas are those widely agreed to constitute "philosophy" in its academic sense and the circumstances are comprised of events and institutions which we know as English Canada. "Philosophy," "history," and even "Canada," are problematic terms. The enterprise involved in delineating their relation is itself a subject of legitimate concern.

There is little agreement about what philosophy is if one insists upon details. But it is certainly widely enough construed to include the theory of knowledge, the theory of value, the development of very general models of the nature of reality, and the art or science of inference. The theory of knowledge is what links the cognitive disciplines, and the theory of value is the link between the normative disciplines. Whether the theory of knowledge and the theory of value are, themselves, ultimately one subject is a matter of philosophical dispute. One who knows what knowledge is presumably knows what there is or might be to know. In some way one is involved with the question of what reality is like, or with what it is not like. One who is interested in these questions is surely concerned with the art or science of inference. One's ability to frame questions of such generality is a product of what one knows in the most general sense; the extent to which one or another thesis seems probable or palatable is related to one's beliefs or values. Thus, for example, one's ability to envisage the whole of nature as a mechanistic system must stem from one's ability to recognize some occasions or devices as being machine-like. One's resistance to such a notion is likely to depend upon whether or not one has certain beliefs about human beings and whether or not one values free action. Mechanistic determinism is more likely to be a view held in a society with a fair amount of scientific knowledge and in a highly organized, impersonal society composed mainly of atheists than in a society com

-xxi-

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