Message from the President
On this, the occasion of the inaugural issue of our semi-annual publication ELEUTHERIA, I would like to take the opportunity to welcome all new members and associates. In particular, I would like to sincerely and enthusiastically thank those who have so generously donated both their time and financial resources to the goal of seeing the Institute become a viable philosophical enterprise during the past two years.
The intent and objective of ELEUTHERIA is to provide members with an informal medium for exchanging views and information on topics relevant to the discipline of speculative philosophy and other related activities of the Institute. ELEUTHERIA will therefore complement the formal writings of the Institute in the Yearbook, which is projected to begin publication in 1990.
As always with fledgling organizations our initial concerns must be with increasing membership and ensuring ongoing financial stability. By far the greater part of our finances will be used in such crucial areas as publications and teaching. Launching glossy membership drives of any significance will not be possible at present. I therefore encourage all members to spread by word of mouth, or by any other medium within their means.
A number of representations on behalf of the Institute have been made in national fora over the past year. On November 4, 1988 I gave an address entitled “Private Scholars and the Humanities” at a National Forum on the Un/Under-Employment of Humanities Graduates sponsored by the Canadian Federation for the Humanities. Brief extracts appeared in the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ Bulletin, Vol.36, No.1, January, 1989, and the Canadian Federation for the Humanities Bulletin, Vol.12, No.1, Spring, 1989. I argued in the paper that the “independent” or “private” scholar is best able to pursue the classical ideals of education within the constraints of modern organizational and corporate life. The contemporary university is essentially a corporatized instantiation of a socio-economic ethic which is non-humanistic and deliberately counter-idealistic.
information about the Institute. Extra copies of our flyer are available on request. Funding from other organizations and foundations, both governmental and private, is often closely tied to the number of members in an organization. Size of membership also determines economies of scale with regard to the distribution of publications and the availability of courses. Increasing membership over the next few years has to be a principal objective of the Institute.
We are currently making an effort to put as much information as possible relating to speculative philosophy on computer disc. This includes articles, addresses, monographs, bibliographies and so on. If any member wishes to directly access this information via an electronic file transfer, arrangements can be made. Here is some preliminary information. The Institute stores information on an IBM AT computer. The wordprocessing program being used is WordPerfect, Version 5.0. We are also using a 2400 baud Hayes modem and the Telix communications system, Version 3.11. Starting in June, the system will be in “host” mode on the first Monday evening of every month between the hours of 7:00 and 10:00pm. EDT. Please use this telephone number: (613) 594-5881, and access the following drive path and directory: D:\SPECPHIL.DOC. Sub-directory files such as articles and papers are identified by author; all other files are named descriptively as far as is possible.
Philosophy cannot but become delimited and misformed in such a setting. Reform of the modern university must be driven by philosophical ideals and not by ad hoc utilitarian criteria based on the external determinations of a onesidedly materialist and economic culture. I advocated a simple reform in order to resurrect and further develop the classical paradigm of education. Anyone wishing to pursue a course of studies at a university in a pure, theoretical discipline should be admitted free of charge. Tuition fees would, however, be charged to those who study technical, job-oriented disciplines primarily with a view to receiving employment after graduation. This simple reform has many wide-ranging implications. For example, the applied disciplines will be purged of a false scientific and conceptual intellectuality. On the other hand, the theoretical disciplines will be relieved of the fleeting necessity of constantly having to prove their relevance.
Indicative of the utilitarian culture pervading modern universities is that multiple social, economic and cultural ills are only thought remediable by multiple and diverse solutions. Indeed, most university based research in the social sciences and the humanities is almost totally directed towards the description of externally encountered problematics. “Solutions” are thus defined by narrow methodological, epistemological, and analytical frameworks. Genuine and fundamental reform, however, must involve animating and unitary principles which order and sustain historical contingencies. It is because the modern university has been thoroughly historicized that therein no “solutions” can be found to the “modern crisis”. Contemporary intellectuality and research in the inaptly named “humanistic sciences” can only find an operational agenda in its professional undertakings. It thus skillfully manages to avoid crucial reflections on cosmology, absolutes, first principles, and related matters, by relegating these considerations to the speculative infancy of the human race. Speculation has, according to the view of modern “scientific” ethical, positivistic and analytical philosophy, merely sustained the myth-making capacity of human culture. What is fundamental to philosophy is marginalized by modernity and its professional practitioners, who, for the most part, live that marginality in fragmented writings and wistful second-order critiques of largely extraneous material served up by sundry disciplines clamouring for recognition in the modern university.
The Institute has also been actively involved in making representations to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) regarding procedures in its Standard Research Grants program. The Council is currently undergoing a review of these procedures and input has been received from the academic community as a whole. On November 29, 1988 Dr. Lowry and myself submitted a detailed response to the Courtney Committee Interim Report. We opposed the concept of “person-based” funding in the Interim Report and called for the implementation of appeal procedures in the adjudication of research grant proposals. At present the adjudication committees have absolute discretion and this has led to arbitrary and often biased decisions in the awarding of grants. Given the pivotal role that such funding could play in the development of philosophy, and the humanities in general, the distribution of taxpayers’ money in this regard needs to be carefully monitored. Unfortunately, at the present time these funds are being directed primarily towards narrowly-focused research in either various analytic and phenomenological forms of socio-political philosophy or merely descriptive historical scholarship. This situation should be rectified so that government based funding reaches all manner of philosophical and scholarly research in Canada. Copies of our response are available from the Institute.
On January 12, 1989 I attended, on behalf of the Institute, a national conference, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the SSHRCC, entitled “Taking the Pulse: Human Sciences Research for the Third Millennium”. From the keynote addresses to the various workshops, the dialogue reflected an overwhelmingly quasi-scientific eclecticism. Systematic, absolute and unitary philosophy was referred to only as an historical curiosity. There was a noticeable absence of transhistorical or transtemporal referents, even though the conference ostensibly was about the “future”. The view of many participants was that the humanistic studies have merit, and thus ought to be vigorously supported by government and society, because of their pluralistic, qualitative, value-oriented nature. Their very historicism was thus seen to be the source of their virtue in a society overrun by the debilitating value-neutrality, ethical insouciance, and uniformity of modern science and technology. Needless to say most participants left the conference with a promise to continue the “dialogue”. Nothing, however, was mentioned about the need for constructing a philosophy for the third millennium which would be the – “guide and guardian of the general reason” – to use a felicitous phrase of Albert Schweitzer’s.
One of the fundamental aims of the Institute is to preserve and cultivate a philosophical tradition which is ignored, often forgotten, and insufficiently understood by modern academic institutions. The thought orientation of these institutions is primarily empirical, non-systematic, and inductive. Authority seeps down from the natural sciences into the humanistic disciplines. Quantitative measures have come to be the primary modes of reference for these disciplines. Historically, they find their thought-world in the utilitarian philosophies of the English Enlightenment and positivistic nineteenth century Continental philosophy. The modern university is in essence the practical working out of these thought orientations. We are thus in an unique position to witness and evaluate the inadequacies of these philosophies as they pervade and shape modern intellectual discourse.
From the standpoint of speculative philosophy, however, utilitarianism and positivism are not absolutes, but derivative ethical, historical and epistemological systems that do not wholly recognize either the implications or limitations of their own principles. The subordination of modern pluralistic thought-orientations, which hold themselves as either absolute or relative, or which provisionally maintain their theoretical veracity, is, and has always been, a central task of speculative thinking. This subordination is a fundamental element in the speculative rethinking of “modernity”.