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

By Leslie Armour; Elizabeth Trott | Go to book overview

THIRTEEN
REASON, HISTORY, AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES

George Brett, John Irving, and Harold Innis

BRETT AND IRVING had much in common as philosophers, little in common as men. Innis, who would not have called himself a philosopher at all, had little in common with either of them.

But it is not mere whimsy or convenience which puts them together in a single chapter. Together they represent the absorption of philosophical reason into other subject matters--attempts, conscious on the part of Brett and Irving though less so, perhaps, on the part of Innis, to regenerate philosophy by using it as a device for reflecting on something else.

Brett sought to anchor philosophy in the history of ideas, to expose its meaning by showing the historical development of significant strands of it. Irving sought to confront philosophy with the practice of the social sciences. Innis developed a philosophy out of the practice of the social sciences and, more than that, out of the problem of the nature and validity of the social sciences.

Brett and Irving praised philosophy but seemingly practised something else--the former wrote the history of psychology1 and the latter investigated the development of the Social Credit movement in Alberta.2 Innis damned philosophy--said it was "stuffed"3--but reinvented it in his own way.

All of this is surely puzzling though it becomes comprehensible when one sees it as one of the adventures of reason in our place and time. Perhaps it could never have been predicted, but it may now be possible to understand it.

____________________
1
George Sidney Brett, A History of Psychology, 3 vols. ( London: G. Allen, 1912, 1921). Hereafter referred to as History of Psychology or Psychology.
2
John A. Irving, The Social Credit Movement in Alberta ( Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1959).
3
Robin Neill, A New Theory of Value: The Canadian Economics of H. A. Innis ( Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972), p. 78. Hereafter referred to as A New Theory of Value.

-430-

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