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

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview
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THREE
REASON AND INTUITION

William Lyall and Philosophy in the Maritimes1

WILLIAM LYALL WAS born only ten years later than James Beaven, and Paisley is only a few hundred miles north of Beaven's Wiltshire. But in intellectual outlook the two men were worlds apart. The hushed certainties of Beaven's Anglicanism contrast sharply with the fierce debates which surrounded Lyall's Free Church Presbyterianism. The neat, reasoned progression through which Beaven moves from first principles and gentlemanly science to a well-ordered system is, equally, unlike Lyall's attempt to build a philosophy from a patchwork of insights gleaned from twenty centuries. Though in the end both Beaven and Lyall are willing to concede that there are unanswered questions, Beaven's concession is the eventempered acceptance of a High Church Anglican who knows that, in the end, all is right with the world, while Lyall's acceptance is clearly that of a man whose philosophy is still in the making and who thinks that a new piece of the jigsaw puzzle may turn up at any moment.

In background and original religious outlook, Lyall is almost a twin of George Paxton Young whom we shall meet in the next chapter. But there the resemblance ends. Young went to Toronto, became the champion of free thought, and broke with his church. In the process, he became an embodiment of the intellectual development of English Canada. Lyall went to Halifax, worked almost alone, quietly assembled his own philosophy in a way that was to prove unique, and remained the loyal and unpretentious servant of his church.

Beaven and Paxton Young, in their different ways, present one pattern quite common in the lives of Canadian philosophers. Thrown into a small community, they tended to become its intellectual leaders. With few philosophers to talk to, they became, quite naturally, involved in a variety of intellectual concerns and helped to give those concerns form and direction. In turn, those concerns influenced their philosophies. William Lyall represents another quite natural pattern. Left to himself, he turned inward. As the Dalhousie Gazette put it after

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