Volume II Number 2

Ottawa, Canada

Fall 1990

Message from the President

Francis Peddle


Western philosophy traditionally occupied itself primarily with the identification of the rational component of human nature and the articulation of the interrelationship between rational self consciousness and the realm of sensible being. Equally, reflection on the nature of the universe focused on the search for and the inquiry into the first principles of the cosmos. The discovery of these principles, and their systematic elucidation, was thought to be the condition precedent for determining the order of obligations in the moral sphere and the foundation of rational institutions in civil society.

Modern, post-Enlightenment philosophy has been a sustained critique of the quest for first principles and of the laying forth of the essential nature of both personhood and the natural environment. The quest has been said to be futile, the foundations of ethics undiscoverable and the search for an essential core to human nature an unfortunate obstacle to revealing what is human and to what should constitute our actions in the private and public spheres. Modern discourse has therefore inverted the thought-world of classical Greek philosophy. Plato and Aristotle wished to conceptualize and portray the contingent within the necessary, the infinite within the finite as determinate, time within eternity and language as an epiphenomenon of thought. Modern philosophy, by absolutizing historical contingency, has expunged ab initio the validity of reflecting on the necessary or of supposing that the external world contains within it discoverable, objective truths.

While making thought functionally dependent on language, and in viewing the activity of thought as redescriptive, contemporary philosophy has had great difficulty in shedding the basic terms of the final vocabulary of classical metaphysics. The counter-absolutistic reflections of much of twentieth century philosophy liberally employ the contrastive terminologies of the older traditions while often making resolute but ultimately failed attempts, as in Heidegger and Derrida, to neologize their way into non-privileged and thoroughly historicized vocabularies. Therefore, even though thinking has been purged of the “limiting” nisus towards hoping to find absolute, unrevisable truths, it is still delineated in relation to such necessary truths as inherently “contingent”. Literary anti-foundationalism flourishes in our universities often without recognition or understanding of the foundationalism that makes possible the reaction. The result is frequently neither coherent philosophical argument nor literary pieces of any perceptible quality. Much of this “anti-foundational” activity would be looked upon by many as relatively innocuous if it were not for the fact that it has itself become the “theoretical foundation” for much of the dialogue in contemporary institutions – educational, political, financial, and religious. Redescriptive vocabulary construction is now axiomatic. Its fluid referents and values form the putative substrata of institutional life in the various manifestations of policy development, legislative enactment, resource allocation and decision-making.

Out of the modern thought-orientation also flows a variety of equally dogmatic reactions. Religious fundamentalists, physicists turned Buddhists, philosophers become poets and mystics, and analysts who typically prefer a bureaucratized and austere distribution of social goods as a means to purge civil society of the tyranny of the focus imaginarius, are some of the many permutations. The “relevancy” of literary culture has become a basic problematic.

If the activity of thought is delimited to self-creation, novelty and the perspectival reiteration of the contingent, then this activity is by definition a continual effort to remove itself from the “relevant”. if this is taken as something other than merely a abstractly subjectivized self-referentiality. Modern philosophy has not, however, become “irrelevant” simply because it is an abstract theoretical selfconcern, since actual theoretical being is inherently practical and concrete, but because it has deliberately construed its relation to thought and the world as preeminently “non-theoretical”. The result is that it can onlyconceive of its relation to the world within contexts, options and alternate strategies. But this relation is still primarily self-oriented, that is, it has onesidedly absolutized its practicality and is thus insufficiently stable within the community at large to count for anything other than yet another interesting view of things. Philosophy has become a weakly competing perspective within a world where the formation of such perspectives is determined primarily by socio-economic externalities. The internally generated thus pre-determines its own irrelevancy.

Speculative philosophy, in contradistinction to both modern (post-Enlightenment and contemporary) and traditional philosophy, neither vacates the theoretical field nor takes it in abstraction from the practical. Further, speculative philosophy recognizes permanentsubstrata in human nature and selfconsciousness and actualizes the presence and recognition of such substrata in historical contingencies. And, it further contextualizes the attempt in historicized reflection to deny the existence of these substrata as itself a self-absolutizing and negative reductionism. Speculative philosophy therefore demonstrates its relevancy in the actual working out and articulation of the pervasiveness of speculative principles in such fields as law, economics and sociopolitical/ economic organization.

This issue of ELEUTHERIA contains two essays on the interrelationship of the theoretical and the practical in speculative thinking. The first considers he work of Albert Schweitzer and Henry George with respect to integrating ethical individualism into a concrete program of fiscal and economic reform based on George’s idea of land value taxation as the foundation for the organization and maintenance of delivering social or merit goods and services. The second essay applies first principles to the elucidation of a sound program of portfolio management and investment. These essays have not been ran domly juxtaposed, as is the prescribed format for many literary productions, but are internally connected. This connection is to be found in their speculative content. By taking the manifestations of the modern “non-theoretical” relation to contingent existence as itself an implicitly “theoretical” position, these essays demonstrate that theory and practice can only be meaningfully thought about and practised when neither the historical nor the permanent as such are taken as the fundamental condition of mental and physical life.


On October 24th the Institute held its Third Annual Meeting of the Board of Directors. Dr. Lowry was reelected to his position as Vice-President and Dr. McCormick remains as a Director. I will continue in the offices of President and Secretary-Treasurer.

Membership dues for 1991 will remain at fifteen dollars ($15.00). Any donations received at or in excess of fifteen dollars ($15.00) entitle the donee to a membership in the Institute.

The Board noted that Dr. McCormick was named a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Summer 1990 Institute in Aesthetics, at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He also was able to pursue further research at Freiburg in late summer thanks to the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung. Besides giving papers at several scholarly meetings this Fall, Dr. McCormick will return to Japan in November to participate in the tenth Tamiguchi Symposium on Eco-Ethica in Kyoto and Tokyo. The sequel to Dr. McCormick’s “Understanding Modernity” which was in the previous issue will appear in the Spring, 1991 instalment of ELEUTHERIA.