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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FIFTEEN
THE IDEA OF REASON AND THE CANADIAN SITUATION

REASON IS A HUMAN capacity, essentially the capacity to order thought and experience intelligibly. Its scope needs to be seen in the activities it governs. There are no simple definitions. One can only seek to show it at work.

The creation of new meanings is dangerous and the preservation of old ones is difficult. There has always been a struggle to imprison reason in rules: The rules of formal logic govern the acceptable forms of propositions, the moves one is allowed to make from premise to secure conclusion, the conditions under which the expression of an assertion may be modified without altering its conventionally assigned truth values. Theories of meaning seek to establish the limits under which expressions are allowed to "count" as potentially true or false. All such attempts, however, are normative: They inhibit those forms of expression which are non-standard, eccentric, "crazy."

But since intelligibility is not given in such simple ways, reason invariably outfoxes all such attempts. Indeed, if it did not, it would not be possible to stand outside our logics and theories of meaning in order to assess them. Reason is thus also to be found in the literary forms which give shape to poetry or transform a picaresque into a novel, in our attempts to transform feeling into intelligible emotion and, above all, in the large-scale world pictures which form the backdrops to all our talk and action.

If, as we suggested at the beginning, culture is created by the process of assigning meaning to human acts and the unity of culture is created by the sharing of meaning, then the relation between culture and one's attitude to reason is crucial. Attitudes to reason usually appear most clearly in philosophical writings where the nature of the problems forces open declaration's--though voluntary declarations such as those one finds in the literary criticism of Northrop Frye may be just as clear. The examination of the work of philosophers, therefore, provides an insight into culture. It is not, to be sure, the insight that one

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