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

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview

ONE
BACKGROUNDS AND THEMES

PHILOSOPHY, CONSIDERED as an academic discipline, came to English Canada in the middle of the nineteenth century. James Beaven published, in 1850, what was, in all likelihood, the first technical philosophical work written in English in Canada.1

Others had taught philosophy before him in a less formal way and others, inevitably, had included philosophical reflections in their writings. But the enterprise launched with Beaven's appointment in Toronto was deliberate and distinctive. Philosophy's time had come because a pluralistic community needed a common strand of reason and Beaven symbolized the appropriate response.

His major philosophical work seeks to show how reason may provide a common core which underlies a vast variety of religious belief and it reveals a man much changed from the narrowly oriented high-church Anglicanism with which he had arrived in Canada. Outwardly he remained the "dry old stick," in the words of a later president of the University of Toronto.2 but his writings reveal a man sensitive to the situation in his adopted country: He remained an Anglican attached to his dogmas, but he understood the significance of the final abandonment of the dream of an "established church" in Canada. He remained an Englishman in manner and diction, but he understood that he lived in a country in which the English must accept the dominance of the Scots and the Irish. The new politics were more than he could readily accept, but one may guess that he understood that the upper middle class from which he came would no longer rule simply as a matter of course.

Philosophy, in its most general sense, is an attempt to use reason to establish what, without it, is most often established by emotion and intuition: a basic world view, a preference for one set of values over

____________________
1
James Beaven, Elements of Natural Theology ( London: F. and J. Rivington, 1850).
2
Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 1871-1880, ed. Marc La Terreur, vol. 10 ( Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972). p. 40.

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