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

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview

FIVE
REASON, AUTHORITY, AND THE STRUCTURE OF EXPERIENCE

John Clark Murray

IF ONE HAD TO choose only one Canadian philosopher to be rescued from oblivion, one could make an excellent case for John Clark Murray. Whatever one's taste in speculation and controversy, there is something to be found in Murray. If one's taste is for metaphysical speculation, one finds in Murray the first signs of a systematic foundation to the idealist traditions in Canada. If one's taste is for theories of truth and knowledge, Murray's unusual activist version of the coherence theory of truth still requires study. If one's taste is for descriptive psychology, his two books still contain worthwhile insights. His Introduction to Ethics1 remains a useful place to take one's puzzles about moral theory for review.

But Murray was much more than a philosophical theoretician. His concern about women's rights nearly cost him his job at McGill and his manuscript on the rights of workers and the diseases of industrial capitalism might still raise eyebrows. His forceful articles in The Open Courton Canadian independence and free trade took Canadian concerns about our relations with the United States to the home address of the American audience.2 His nose for controversy and his sharp appreciation of the likely future are hardly excelled.

Murray was born in Scotland at Thread and Tannahill just outside Paisley on March 19, 1836. He was not quite a generation younger than Paxton Young and a little more than a generation younger than James Beaven. That generation made a difference. Though he professed himself always an ardent admirer of Sir William Hamilton, the end of the Scottish philosophy of common sense was already in sight when he was a student. Indeed, we have an unpublished essay dating from the end of his days as a student at Edinburgh in which, though he subjects

____________________
1
John Clark Murray, An Introduction to Ethics ( London: Alexander Gardner, 1891).
2
See, for example, Professor J. Clark Murray, "Can Canada be Coerced into the Union? (A Canadian View)." published in The Open Court ( Chicago, Illinois: Publisher, E. C. Hegeler, Editor, Paul Carus, 324 Dearborn Street, 1895), no. 411, p. 4561.

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