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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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IN OUR investigations we have heard much about various areas of scholarly work and of research; some areas, it is said, are neglected, others misunderstood. Above all, as observed in earlier chapters, we have heard of the danger of the increasing neglect of scholarly work in the humanities and the social sciences, a fact disturbing to workers in every field, including the natural sciences.

2. Universities have been trying, but not with complete success, to meet what is felt to be a dangerous and artificial division between the humanities and the social sciences on the one hand and the natural sciences on the other. Too early specialization on the part of students has tended, we learn, to lead them to become "humanists", "social scientists", or "scientists", each one indifferent to the fields of study pursued by the others. The problem, it would seem, is to break down these barriers and to bring back the days when the term "university" accurately described the institution.

3. Any complete division between these fields must seem artificial when it is recalled how much they have in common. Scientists and humanists, at their best, pursue knowledge in the fields of nature and of human life for sheer love of it. They work in the spirit of Kipling's explorer:1

"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go
and look behind the Ranges--
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and
waiting for you. Go!"

The greatest among them carry on their researches with a constant awareness of their significance in relation to the whole sum of human knowledge. At the highest level every scientist must be a humanist, and every humanist a scientist. Pascal was equally celebrated as a philosopher and as a mathematician. Leonardo da Vinci, chiefly renowned as an artist,


prided himself justly as a scientist. Isaac Newton, known as a scientist, prided himself, we are not prepared to say how justly, as a theologian. Most people are familiar with modern philosopher-scientists, for example, Whitehead, Russell and Bergson.

4. Yet, although a division in fields of human investigation seems to be dangerous, obviously some distinction is necessary and important. There were dangers in the old universal conception of university studies. At that time, science was only a branch of theology and, as a result, both suffered; in the present age there is a tendency to think of the humanities as a branch of natural science, and it seems equally evident that if this continues both will suffer.

5. The scientist pursues knowledge, it seems safe to say, for pleasure and for intellectual enlightenment and power. The application of the scientist's work is the material control of the forces of nature, or of man, and its use in such a way as to increase the pleasure and comforts of life, to broaden its activities, and to prolong life itself or to shorten it. The increasingly effective control over the forces of nature through the work of scientists has been the most spectacular achievement of the modern age, and the findings of science affect every aspect of life. If the scientist has not yet persuaded the stars in their courses to fight for him, he has done almost everything else.

6. The humanist examines the non-material stuff of human life for pleasure, for understanding, for spiritual satisfaction. He professes to offer answers for every generation to the questions that every generation asks, questions about the meaning and direction of life, for the individual and for society. To say that a "scientist" could not answer such questions would be as absurd as to say that a "humanist" could not understand Boyle's Law. But the answers to questions about the fundamental problems of human life will naturally be sought less in the natural world than through a general examination of "all that man ever thought or ever did". This examination is carried on through the study of the humanities: philosophy, literature and history, including the history of the arts.

7. We have heard much of a relatively new and increasingly active group, the "social scientists". Because of their use of many scientific methods, including precise observation, experimental techniques and statistical investigations, they are often grouped with the natural scientists. Their necessary preoccupation with many material problems might seem to place them there also. Yet few doctors would describe themselves simply as scientists; and we learn that some scholars in the social sciences refuse to do so for similar reasons. Studies dealing with the whole of human life, or even with special aspects of it, can never be pursued with complete scientific detachment and only to a limited extent is it possible to employ scientific techniques. "Every social thinker . . . must have some philo-


sophic conception of the nature of society and of its ends."2 We have observed that even when certain representatives of these studies have used the term scientist in their presentations to this Commission, they have in general associated themselves with the humanities rather than with the natural sciences.

8. We have heard much of the problem of research and of its fundamental importance in all intellectual pursuits. Certain important differences between research in the natural sciences and in the humanities have been noted. The work of the scientist is cumulative. Each age adds to the knowledge of the preceding age, and each age may bring to light errors of the preceding age. This is true of the humanist, but to a limited degree. His essential work is not cumulative. Each generation grapples with the same fundamental problems of human life. Plato and Aristotle faced the same problems of man in society as confront the modern philosopher. Each succeeding generation goes back with profit to past generations, and applies ideas of the past to current problems. The work of the humanist, therefore, and to a certain extent that of the social scientist, seems to be a re-examination of permanent problems and a re-interpretation of certain accepted principles in the light of existing knowledge and circumstances, rather than discovery. This does not, of course, preclude the discovery or the revelation of new truths, but the humanist cannot expect it with the same confidence as the scientist. Greek science is of historic interest; Greek scientific discoveries are merged in the whole body of scientific knowledge. But Greek philosophy affords for the modern philosopher an ever fresh source of experimental investigation. The chief function of the research worker in the humanities is not so much to add new truth, as does the scientist, but to re-discover and exploit the wealth of the past for his own age. He may add to it; but unlike the scientist, he does not expect to outdate it. A modern philosopher does not seek to excel the Greek philosophers or to go beyond them, but to do for his age if he can, even in a small way, what they did for their societies. He tries to suggest some meaning for the universe. The scientist probes the universe and its laws; to find its meaning is not his function. This is the task of the humanist: the exegesis and the preservation of all the elements which make of man a civilized being.


9. We wish that we were able to make some judgement on the contribution of Canadian scholarship to the general work of humanists and social scientists as we have described it. Even if we felt competent, such an investigation is far beyond the means at our disposal. We have, however, heard so much of the neglect of these essential studies that it seems


necessary to say something here of the achievements of Canadian scholars and of the forces which may aid or impede their work. We have received much help from briefs, from special studies, and from other sources brought to our attention by those much better informed than ourselves.

10. Producing important works of permanent value many Canadian scholars are engaged in serious and significant investigations. Much work is done in the fields of biography and history. History in English-speaking Canada merges into the social sciences, although scholars in both areas insist on the importance of a distinction. In social sciences useful work has been done, especially in economics and political science. "Generally, however, preoccupation with purely national problems has prevented Canadian scholars from making contributions of the widest scientific interest."3 Canadian psychologists have gained a reputation for serious research of great practical usefulness, although one of their number commented on the danger of excessive preoccupation with practical experimentalism, regretting the lack of the "restraining hand" and the "stimulating wisdom" of the philosopher:

"Psychological emergence the world over has indeed been characterized by naïveté; and philosophy in modern western culture has perhaps not challenged that naïveté significantly enough in psychology any more than in technology. Only now are we realizing the need for philosophic assessment of scientific (particularly social-scientific) findings".4

11. A colleague from French-speaking Canada expresses a decided view on this question:

"We, for our part, are unable to understand why psychology should reject the enormous help which philosophic thought of past centuries could give it. From this cultural tradition we have inherited a conception of human nature which, though based on experiment, carries the analysis of the structure and the dynamism of human nature to a height unattainable by purely experimental methods."5

12. These statements from psychologists emphasize a somewhat gloomy comment we have received on the general state of philosophy in Canada. In spite of some remarkable evidence of philosophic interest and insight on the part of a few Canadian scholars and in certain institutions, notably in French Canada, philosophy which should be the core of all intellectual activity has been largely neglected in Canada with regrettable consequences in every field of knowledge. Although it is admitted that Canadians have produced some work that is distinguished and much that is useful, we have noticed a profound dissatisfaction, and even depression, about the condition of humane and social studies in Canada. We learned, for example, that of a group of forty-nine books written in Canada over the last dozen years and noted as important in a distinguished Canadian review, fourteen received no significant notice elsewhere. Of the others,


those published outside Canada seemed to receive more attention than those published at home. An examination of the reviews shows that twelve of the forty-nine were really important books. But of the twelve authors of these books, only seven were Canadians who had received their early education in Canada and had chosen to remain permanently in their own country. Of the five others, three were scholars from England and France engaged in university work in Canada, and two were Canadians living and working in the United States.

13. Probably too much importance should not be attached to this sample. It does, however, bear out the general impression we have received from a number of briefs and special studies, from scholars and from academic institutions. Apart from the work of a few brilliant persons, there is a general impression that Canadian scholarly work in the humanities and social sciences is slight in quantity and uneven in quality. We have, it seems, some able scholars, but no consistent and representative Canadian scholarship emanating from the country as a whole and capable of making its contribution to Canadian intellectual life and to that of the western world. This is the view of Canadian humanists and social scientists, sharpened by their opinion that in the fields of natural science Canada has been able to make important and worthy contributions.

14. The humanities and social sciences suffer first from that general neglect of philosophic studies already noticed which is characteristic of the modern age in the western world, although affecting Canada with peculiar force. In Canada's formative years, western civilization was being transformed by mass industrialism. Knowledge was valued as power, and even in educational circles there appeared a neglect of what was considered impractical and academic. For the disciplines once considered important as civilizing influences was substituted an emphasis on material efficiency. The rational contemplation of the good was exchanged for the triumphant contemplation of mechanical progress. Canada shared this experience of the western world but with two differences, each of them accentuating material preoccupations. First, the bonds of tradition were much less strong here than elsewhere. Second, practical problems were very pressing in a new and growing country, and there was little time or money to spare for those studies which were coming to be valued chiefly as decorative luxuries. The natural sciences which often could add to their intellectual fascination the advantage of immediate practical application tended to crowd them out.6

15. Another special factor has affected Canadian work in the social sciences and perhaps even more in the humanities. The existence of two main languages representing two distinct cultures initially constitutes a delaying factor. Ultimately this variety must add to the value of the Canadian contribution, but in the early stages, by placing certain


inevitable barriers between members of a group of scholars already small and scattered enough, it has caused a lessening of force and vigour. Universities and learned societies recognize the difficulty and strive to overcome it in the only proper way by promoting free association and reciprocal understanding of language and of ideas. Here again the students of the natural sciences are happier in the possession of a universal language, mathematics.

16. The importance of education in high schools and universities as the necessary preparation for scholarship has been brought seriously to our attention. In high schools, we are told, pupils often receive no adequate preparation for serious work, and on this point representations from high school teachers themselves and from university professors are in general agreement. The teaching profession in Canada is said to suffer from bad working conditions, low salaries and, perhaps most serious of all, lack of prestige. We must, according to one of Canada's senior scholars in the humanities, cultivate the idea that the teacher is a man whose opinions are important.7 We learn from the Humanities research Council that it is now difficult to secure qualified persons to teach humanities in the high schools. We present these reports on conditions in Canada as we have received them; the fact that there is every reason to believe conditions to be equally serious elsewhere does not affect the gravity of our problem.

17. The general question of the place of the humanities in university studies is discussed in an earlier chaper [sic]. We have been informed that the problem in the universities is to persuade people of first class abilities and qualifications to teach under trying conditions. As in the high schools, the work is heavy, salaries are low and, perhaps most important of all, there are few non-material compensations for these material hardships. According to the Canadian Social Science research Council:

"The obvious preference given the natural scientist in university policy, and in the benefactions of governments, corporations and even individuals, constantly reminds the social scientist that he is not very important in the scheme of things. This tends to make him act in accordance with the estimate, and to lower his enthusiasm for his work. Some reasonable income in the form of deference is necessary for all of us if we are to do our best work."8

18. The man who must work under these somewhat difficult conditions does not find it easy to attract many of the best students to his field. They are likely to go where people and prospects are more hopeful. And, it is recalled, these students are the professors and scholars of the future. Moreover, the professors in these depressed areas may be prevented by circumstances from doing their best work. They have little time for research, and often they lack the facilities. "It is always easier to get appropriations for cyclotrons for natural scientists than it is to get com-


parable appropriations for books and documents."9 It is but seldom that any adequate provision is made for travel or for stenographic help. Serious study and research is thus made very difficult, and yet without it teachers cannot transmit the inspiration and enthusiasm necessary to attract and hold the best students.9a

19. Moreover, Canadian scholars are greatly restricted by the difficulty of access to materials necessary for their work. We need not repeat the observations of scholars and of others everywhere on the absence of a National Library, or of any library in the country which might serve a similar purpose. The sad comment of a professor, now retired, on a university which can spend upwards of five millions on a building for one of the natural sciences when "[the] library as a building and as a collection of books can only call forth . . . apologies and explanations"10, must be mentioned because our evidence shows that it is echoed in substance nearly everywhere in Canada. The want of proper facilities in books and libraries is a symptom and a cause of the condition of the humanities. The breadth of knowledge and the critical capacity essential to the humanist must rest on habits of constant and discriminating reading; these habits must be formed early. Traditionally, as we were reminded, the scholar was known not for his wealth but for the fact that books held a central place in his life. Much of the weakness in Canadian scholarship from the undergraduate up, stems from the lack of good reading habits and a dearth of good books.

20. We have had many other comments on the lack or inacessibility [sic] of materials essential for serious work, especially in history. We may mention again complaints of the inadequacy of archival collections, local and national, and, in particular of the unsatisfactory condition of our public records. Historians also mention the need for published collections of documents required for their work in teaching and in research. The brief from Carleton College draws attention as well to the wealth of materials, in fields other than history, existing in Ottawa but largely unknown and inaccessible.

21. Another less tangible influence operates on Canadian scholarship. Most scholarship is conducted in the universities, under conditions not very inspiring. This concentration is a characteristic of the western world, and particularly of Canada. It is probably inevitable. Everywhere the leisured class which may be expected to produce a few men in each generation devoted to the pursuit of learning and to the revelation of truth for its own sake is disappearing. In Canada we have never had such a class. The restricting effect on Canadian arts and letters is apparent. In the field of scholarship it has resulted in a professionalization which has certain serious disadvantages. Since in humane studies it is impossible and even undesirable to achieve scientific detachment by


eliminating the personal factor, it is most important to correct personal bias by enlisting in the work individuals from various environments and with differing philosophies. The intellectual life of Western Europe has been nourished in the universities, but has been constantly stimulated by vigorous intellectual movements which have appeared outside their walls. To regret the concentration of Canadian scholarship in Canadian universities is not, however, to deny the essential contribution of these institutions. We have indeed been told that in French Canada where scholarly interests are more widely dispersed, there is the corresponding disadvantage that the lack of university positions which at least enable the scholar to live has had a restricting effect on his output.

22. The concentration of scholarly work in universities has increased the isolation of the scholar. Working, for example, in a small department with at most three or four colleagues engaged in widely different fields, he is likely to be completely separated for most of the year from those who would stimulate his work. He suffers more from this than does his scientific colleague, partly because there are far fewer humanists than scientists in any university and partly because the nature of his work makes such contacts even more necessary.

23. Canadian learned societies do help to bring scholars together once a year. But they reflect the academic monopoly that we have noted in that their membership is made up very largely of university professors, with the interesting exception of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. We received important briefs from the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Mathematical Congress and others. For their annual meetings most of these societies accept the hospitality of one of the universities. Some of these societies have explained to us that lack of funds makes it difficult for them to carry on, especially in the publication of their journals and other scholarly work. The Canadian Historical Association, a society which holds annual meetings where papers are heard in French and in English, has for many years published these papers in their original languages. The loss on publications in 1948-49 was over five hundred dollars. The total revenue of the Association for that year was much less than a thousand dollars. The Society has no funds to meet such a deficit. Like other learned societies it suffers from the fact that many younger members cannot afford to attend the annual meetings.

24. We heard much, too, of the problem which affects every Canadian writer, scholarly or creative: how to find a publisher. In a country where few but professors write learned books, it may be expected that few but professors will buy learned books. Canadian publishing houses cannot as a rule bear the inevitable loss, nor can the professor who has written the book. It may be assumed that much useful material goes unpublished,


and it is probable that in the past many potential scholars have been discouraged even from writing. Some significant work appears in the journals of learned societies, or in the very few quarterlies designed for scholarly and creative work. Nearly all of these are supported entirely by or receive material help from one of the universities. Apart from this help, in the past, the publication of books by Canadians in the humanities and social sciences has depended on the generosity of American Foundations. In the past few years the situation has improved. We have heard particularly of the work of the University of Toronto Press which contributes $40,000 a year to the publication of important works in every field of study from every part of Canada. The University of Toronto Press also publishes and supports financially seven learned journals in the humanities and social sciences.

25. Apart from these difficulties, most of them associated more or less directly with the material preoccupations of our age, there has been brought to our attention by scholars in the social sciences a tendency which they consider dangerous to the very integrity of their work. They are concerned with the financial and social pressures which are brought to bear on the scholar to do, in the name of "research", work which may even be inimical to true scholarship.

"'research' has become a magic word. It commands money in a way true scholarship does not. The usual Canadian social scientist is a man of the middle class, on a fixed income in a period of rising prices, and facing a strong social pressure to maintain certain appearances. . . If he devotes such leisure as he has, his summers particularly, to real scholarship, he may eventually produce a book which will advance the frontiers of knowledge, and we must never forget that that is what he is supposed to have dedicated himself to when he sought this profession, and he may enrich his mind and his experience so that he will stimulate and inspire his students. If, however, he goes to Ottawa or takes up a business offer to do a job of 'research', he can earn probably $2,000 additional to his salary. . . 'research' pays, scholarship does not."11

26. From the same source we learned of another threat to true research in the social sciences, the danger that the scholar will turn from serious fundamental investigations to the relatively simple accumulation of facts which may have some immediate practical application:

"Government and business today have discovered that they require accumulations of facts to operate. They have come to have almost a religious passion for 'research', meaning the patient accumulation, and, sometimes, skilled manipulation, of facts. They have the money to induce scholars to undertake this work. Moreover, where they have not seduced the scholars themselves, they have seduced the university authorities. 'research Institutes' of various sorts have been set up. The specious excuse is offered that factual research is necessary, and that some things of genuine theoretic interest may


emerge, so that the social scientist may contribute to his science, to his community, and to his own financial well-being. In fact, of course, what happens is that a great deal of money is spent, much time and creative energy wasted, on problems which may occasionally have a slight theoretic interest; but that time and energy might otherwise have gone into creative scholarship. Only a real passion for scholarship protects men from this kind of appeal. We have seen, only too often, in the operation of such institutes in American Universities, the results of these efforts. They are meagre and unimportant. Frequently, 'research' problems are dressed up to appeal to unsuspecting donors, large sums of money are acquired and spent, and the resulting 'research' elaborately provides information which any respectable social scientist would already know."12

27. In discussing Canadian achievement in the humanities and social sciences we have been compelled to give on the whole a discouraging picture. We have not attempted to lighten the gloom because the problems submitted to us have, as we have heard, a vital connection with the development of arts and letters and of science in Canada. This opinion, we believe, is shared by many scientists. We do, however, find encouragement in the general awareness that we are in fact neglecting matters essential to a healthy national life. We have received a number of suggestions showing that serious thought is being given to this matter not alone by those with a special interest in the problem but by many others concerned with intellectual life in Canada.

28. Several briefs have stressed the urgency of the matter. That of Dalhousie University, after commenting on the significance of humane studies so easily neglected in a new country, continues:

"With our widespread territories, the diverse background of our racial origins, and the pressure of economic interests, encouragement in the diffusion of knowledge in the realm of the humanities is of prime importance".13

The same idea is presented by the University of British Columbia which refers to the importance of study and research in the humanities in the life of the nation. "It has become increasingly clear", says the Canadian Social Science research Council, "that much more thought and reflection must be put into the study of human relationships."14 That thoughtful people are aware of the need for "a native tradition of Canadian philosophy", is the view of the author of a special study on the subject:

"Canadians are beginning to realize that they should not simply accept their assumptions about human life from the more important nations of the western world, and they cannot count on their spiritual tradition remaining alive automatically. They begin to realize even how much of that tradition has already been trodden under foot in our concentration on developing the mass society."15

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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