Volume II Number 1

Ottawa, Canada

Spring 1990

Message from the President

Francis Peddle


Although words and texts are the central referents for reflective activity in the arts and letters, the publishing industry has never had a halcyon relationship with the disciplines that come within the rubric of the humanities. It is a rare occasion today when a humanist finds a thoroughly sympathetic publisher following faithfully the tradition of such Renaissance scholar-printers as Aldus Manutius! Apprising businesses of the virtues of our intellectual heritage in an increasingly non-literary culture is perhaps a more daunting task, though one not to be shirked given present trends, than for humanists to go into the publishing business for themselves.

As is well known only a small fraction of publications in, for instance, philosophy are commercial successes. The bulk of the output in the discipline is artificially supported by other publications and by various, primarily governmental, subsidies, the distribution of which proceeds through the conduits of academic editorial committees, on to libraries and into the hands of those with a special interest in the subject.

The publication of journals in the humanities is a component of academic life that is currently undergoing a re-appraisal. In many instances libraries now face decisions about how many humanistic journals should be delisted if a new scientific publication is to be acquired. Humanities journals also face a growing problem of funding. Larger proportions of the membership fees to Learned Societies are going into scholarly publication. Government too is having second thoughts about supporting journals whose reading clientele could easily fit into the author’s car.

There is also the problem of access. Younger writers, and those not working in the mainstream, as well as some established authors, often find it difficult to get their articles accepted for publication. Too much energy, that could be more profitably employed, is spent trying to find a suitable journal or amenable editor. When one is eventually found, considerable time usually lapses before it ends up in print. Out of this milieu a great deal of standardized and mediocre work finds a ready outlet, while inspiring pieces are often left to wither on the desk of the jaded craftsman.

There are a number of causes which have led to this parlous state of affairs. Overspecialization in the humanities, in recent decades, has created an ever increasing spate of journals. Esoteric subspecialities have very small subscriber lists. By definition many such publications rarely address the fundamental concerns of thinking and living. They are thus devoid of a vibrancy and spirit that would make one want to preserve them at all costs. Another problem, not unrelated to the issue of specialization, is that much material is published primarily for the external reason of gaining security and promotion within the university hierarchy. Apart from the rather curious spectacle of taxpayers’ money being used to further lighten the public treasury, this situation has led to uniformity and a serious decline in the weight given to the content of what is written. Artificial methodological standards and restrictions have been superimposed upon publications in the humanities that are foreign to the essential orientation of these disciplines.

Self-institutionalization and self-publication have been common in our cultural tradition. The list of famous texts that were originally produced through the author’s financial and even technical support – texts which have often spawned their own industry of secondary literature – is extensive. The established knowledge industry has a tendency to view this disdainfully as vanity publishing, while others see it as indicative of the innovative and original rebelling against a more oppressive form of intellectual culture. A typical concern, for instance, is thought to be that a decline occurs in editorial standards when there is an increase in self-publishing. Equally, however, this thinking can be seen as the desire to maintain a hegemony over any challenges to accepted intellectual beliefs since it assumes that all literary production must for some reason be policed.

It is not improbable that in the coming years humanistic publication, and the associated activities of scholars in general, will undergo a considerable shift from governmental to private funding. The transition will be difficult for many. Others will resist the change by continuing the call for more government funding. Some will simply be resigned to the inevitable and do nothing. If this change from a social to an individual basis in the financial under-structure of intellectual activity in such areas as philosophy and literature does occur, as I think it will, then the varied interplays between trade and business and the more noble pursuits will once again assume their traditional place. With some exceptions, worthwhile artists, philosophers, poets and teachers have always been able to find patrons, supporters and followers because they speak to the elemental and the significant in the thought and life of all people, no matter how dimly felt and unarticulated. The socialized bureaucratic dispensation of cultural benefits appears to encourage an abstract self-referentiality. What is methodologically sound and fashionable is copiously sponsored, while insight, depth of thinking and coherent reflection are too often shunted aside.


The Institute has been attempting to address these issues by means of both its theoretical and practical constitution which is partially reflected in its publishing agenda. We have recently launched a campaign to introduce libraries and interested individuals to the concept of a looseleaf publication in the humanities, and more particularly in philosophy. Legal practitioners and researchers are already quite familiar with looseleaf services. In the humanities, however, the traditional journal has remained the format of choice for most editors. The primary disadvantages to such a format are high costs, lack of flexibility in adding new features, such as supplements, and significant time lags in publishing already accepted articles and essays. By distributing ELEUTHERIA in a looseleaf format we hope that a paradigm will be created, using modern technology, so that humanistic publications will become accessible and affordable, while serving more adequately the aims of writing in philosophy and its related disciplines. I encourage all members to bring the Institute’s looseleaf service for ELEUTHERIA to the attention of university and public libraries as well as to individuals.

Another feature of ELEUTHERIA that we regard as important is its wholly non-governmental source of funding. What we are trying to create is a capital endowment fund out of which will come sufficient income to finance this publication and eventually a more expansive publishing program. Our LIFETIME MEMBERSHIPS are an aspect of this effort. Capital funding, in place of operating grants, for publications in the humanities is quite unusual in the current environment, where governments are the primary sponsors of such publications. Individuals are the best source of capital donations. Although building up capital endowments is initially quite time consuming and painstaking, especially in the context of the humanities, over the long term the pay-off in terms of security and a reduction in energy expended on fund-raising is significant.

On February 2nd of this year I addressed the Board of Directors of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities with a presentation entitled “Learned Societies, Funding and Tax Law”. The proper and informed utilization of charitable tax law is an integral part of limiting the dependency of learned societies on government funding. Although donations to arts and culture rank low in the charitable priorities of most Canadians, it is now necessary for humanities scholars to focus on new sources of funding. Persuading donors to give to the humanities will also help these disciplines clarify to themselves their activities both in relation to the nature and purpose of their undertaking as well as with respect to their role in our overall cultural development. There will undoubtedly be casualties in this process, but a more vital, rich and surefooted community of active players in the humanities may very well emerge.

On March 31st the Institute sponsored a seminar in Ottawa entitled “Understanding Modernity” which was led by Peter McCormick who gave a critical review of and a commentary on Charles Taylor’s new book Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity . Out of that seminar came the review which is included in this issue ofELEUTHERIA . It is expected that early in the Fall the Institute will hold another seminar in Ottawa wherein Taylor’s work will be further examined and contrasted with Stephen Toulmin’s new book Cosmopolis . Occasional seminars and presentations on various topics related to speculative philosophy are an aspect of the work of the Institute.

Table of Contents

  • Understanding Modernity by Peter McCormick
    • A Portrait of Modernity: Moral Sources, Instrumentalism, and Morality
    • Moral Frameworks, Incomparable Goods,and The Moral Spaces of The Self
    • Qualitative Distinctions, Moral Realism, and Articulacy
  • Transcending Modernity: Albert Schweitzer and Beyond by James Lowry
  • Beyond Modernity