Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Natural History of Philosophy in Canada

  • Thomas Mathien (a1)


Some writers about the history of philosophy in Canada have wondered why it should be studied. That is a worthy question, but it is not the one I want to discuss here. I am going to assume there are good reasons for doing so because I want to consider some general features of the subject of such studies and to determine what has to be done to establish certain descriptive claims about it. I will also point out some concerns I have about the proper explanation of certain interesting features of Canadian philosophic activity, and I will present a brief evaluation of one major study. I will do this with the aid of a contention that the study of the history of an intellectual discipline is a little like an evolutionary study of a biological species, but I will close by pointing out one reason for doing history which goes beyond description, and even explanation, of the past.



Hide All

1 See, for example, the contributions of Fernand Duraont, “Le project d'une histoire de a l pensée québécoise”, and Brodeur, Jean-Paul, “A propos d'une question de Fernand Dumont”, in Panaccio, Claude and Quintin, Paul-André, eds., Philosophie an Québec (Montreal: Bellarmin, 1976). The sharp distinction between Dumont's concern with the general question—Why study the history of any thought, particularly Quebec thought?—and Brodeur's rejection of the general question in favour of a more restricted concern—What reasons are there for studying the history of thought in Quebec? (49-53)—is worth noting. Another discussion of the reasons for studying the history of philosophy can be found in J. T. Stevenson's unpublished “On the Philosophy of the History of National Philosophy”.

2 There are people, however, who would deny that textual analysis is part of an historical discipline. See Graham, Gordon, “Can there be a History of Philosophy?”, History and Theory 21/1 (1982), 3752.

3 White, Morton, Foundations of Historical Knowledge (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1965), chap. 6, 219270.

4 Cf. White on “Chronicles”, in ibid., 222-223. Being a feature of a central subject is here a necessary but, by no means, sufficient condition for relevance to the chronicle on which a narrative is built. The evaluation of one narrative as better history than another introduces other considerations as well. Cf. 225-227, and White's survey of evaluative principles applicable to the basic statements in the narrative, 238-266. Other different treatments of narrative less dependent on a principle of causal integration than White's may be found in Fain, Haskell, Between Philosophy and History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), 256276, and in Gallie, W. B., Philosophy and the Historical Understanding (London: Chatto & Windus, 1964), 2271. For a discussion of forms of historical writing other than narratives, in the strict sense of that term, see White, Hayden, “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory”, History and Theory 23/1 (1984), 133, and especially 1-21.

5 Hull, David, “Central Subjects and Historical Narratives”, History and Theory 14/3 (1975), 253274. I intend to exploit in this paper only the suggestion that intellectual history can be studied in a manner analogous to evolutionary studies in biology. I offer no opinions as to whether this is the only appropriate approach. Neither do I suggest here that biological species must be regarded as individuals. I am quite content that the approach upon which I am relying be one scientifically respectable one. Fora discussion on the treatment of species as individuals see Hull, David, “Are Species Really Individuals?”, Systematic Zoology 25 (1976), 174191; Hull, David, “A Matter of Individuality”, Philosophy of Science 45 (1978), 335360, and Ghiselin, Michael T., “A Radical Solution to the Species ProblemSystematic Zoology 23 (1975), 536544.

6 Hull, , “Central Subjects”, 259.

7 Ibid., 266.

8 Cf. Hull, David, Philosophy of Biological Science (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974), pp. 6263, for his discussion of the founder principle.

9 Sparshott, Francis, “National Philosophy”, Dialogue 16/1 (1977), 321. See 16-17forhis report of the response to his question of his colleagues about what “Canadian philosophy” was.

10 Some of Lucien Levy-Bruhl's works, especially on primitive mentality, are good examples of this.

11 On this see French, Stanley, “Considerations sur l'histoire et l'esprit de la philosophic au Québec”, Cité Libre 15/68 (1964), 2026. Reprinted in Lamonde, Yvan, ed., Historiographie de la philosophie au Quebec 1953-1970 (Montreal: Hurtubise, 1972), 147163. This feature of philosophy in Quebec has been well noted since at least Louis-Adolphe Pâquet's time. See his “Coup d'oeil sur l'histoire de l'enseignement philosophique canadien”, which first appeared in 1971 and is reprinted, 51-92, in Lamonde, Historiographie, and also Lamonde, Yvan, Philosophie et son enseigne-ment au Québec, 1965-1920 (Ville La Salle: Hurtubise, 1980).

12 It did. A good example is the development of interest in social issues before the First World War. This is discussed in Lamonde, , Philosophie et son enseignement, 207, 227–234, in reference to the work of S.-A. Lortie.

13 On this see Racette, Jean, “La philosophie au Canada-francais”, Dialogue 3/3 (12 1964), 288298.

14 See Houde, Roland, Histoire et philosophie an Québec (Trois Rivieres: Editions du Bien Public, 1979), and “Biblio-Tableau”, in Quintin and Panaccio, eds., Philosophie au Québec.

15 Braybrooke, David, “The Philosophical Scene in Canada”, The Canadian Forum 53/636 (01 1974), 2934.

16 Armour, Leslie and Trott, Elizabeth, The Faces of Reason (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1981), 26.

17 For Beaven, see The Faces of Reason, chap. 2. Forcommon sense, see the discussions of Lyall and Murray both of whom were influenced by the works of thinkers like Reid and Hamilton. Forthe idealists, the treatments of John Clark Murray (chap. 5), of John Watson (chaps. 7 and 8), and of George John Blewett (321-353) are especially worth consulting. Brett is discussed on 430-448 and Lodge on 405-422.

18 Armour, Leslie, The Idea of Canada (Ottawa: Steel Rail Press, 1981). Lachance and John Watson are compared on issues of social philosophy in chap. 6 (77-91). De Koninck is discussed in chap. 8. See also 115f.

19 See Harris, Robin, A History of Higher Education in Canada 1663-1970 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), for this. The relevant discussions are in the chapters on humanities teaching.

20 One might recall the excerpt from a letter of O. D. Skelton to Adam Shortt, cited in Berger, Carl R., The Writing of Canadian History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976), 49, to get an idea of one sort of response on the part of the educated public to philosophic concerns: “Strikes, trusts, taxes, socialism, tariffs (and) banking bulk a good deal larger in the public mind than the authenticity of John's Gospel or the wherefore of the shyness [sic] of Hegel.”

21 Mills, Judy and Dombra, Irene, University of Toronto Doctoral Theses (1897-1967) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), 98108.

22 Cf. Sparshott, “National Philosophy”. This “school” has, it is worth noting, figured in a novel. See Hood, Hugh, Reservoir Ravine (Toronto: Oberon, 1974), and especially 31.

23 What is proposed here is an application of network analysis to the philosophic community. The informal use of it ca n be seen in Boissevain, Jeremy, Friends of Friends (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974). A more formal discussion of it can be had in Berkowitz, Steven, Structural Analysis (Toronto: Butterworth's, 1982). It ca n involve exploring links among philosophers as diverse a s those provided by. letter-writing, by shared institutional identifications, by responses to papers delivered, by shared use of common texts. It can also regard individuals as the means by which institutions are linked.

24 Vogt, W. Paul, “Identifying Scholarly and Intellectual Communities: A Note on French Philosophy, 1900-1939”, History and Theory 21/2 (05 1982), 267276. The reviews surveyed are the Revue philosopliiqne and the Revue de la métapliysique et de morale.

25 Cf. his “Biblio-tableau”, in Quintin and Panaccio, eds., Philosophic an Québec, and his Histoire et philosophic an Québec.

26 “Introduction anecdotique”, à une “Table-ronde sur le positivisme”, Bulletin de la Société de philosophic du Québec 6/1 (mars 1980), 74-81.

27 See White, Morton, Foundations, chap. 1 and 237f.

28 Brodeur, , “A propos d'une question”, 60.

29 Berger, , The Writing of Canadian History, 1317.

30 Armour, , The Idea oj Canada, 107108.

The Natural History of Philosophy in Canada

  • Thomas Mathien (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed