Philosophy and Freedom: The Legacy of James Doull
This collection commemorates and continues the work of James Doull, who died in 2001 after a long career in classics at Dalhousie University. With an evident command of ancient and medieval intellectual culture, but also with a considerable grasp of the history of Western philosophy in general, which he read as a Hegelian, Doull sought a philosophy of history that would make explicit what is essential in what we are becoming today. Throughout, the question of freedom - fundamental for the human - guided his investigations.
An inspiring preface by Graeme Nicholson, and a helpful general introduction by Peddle and Robertson, former students of Doull, prepare the way. The principal contributor is Doull himself, from whom we have a brief opening lecture which surveys the history of Western thought, followed by nine investigations of its particular stages, with each investigation being followed by one or two commentaries by scholars influenced by Doull.
Greek drama and philosophy, Plato's Parmenides, Virgil's Rome, and the legacies of Augustine and Neoplatonism are the subjects of Doull's first [End Page 317] five investigations. If in the beginning we lived as animals dominated by natural forces - especially by our own physiological inclinations - Judaism would liberate us from nature by comprehending both the wholly transcendent principle of all things, and the human as a fallen image of that principle. Although Plato provided the adequate expression of that transcendence (tragically beyond us), Greek religion cast divinities in roles which imitated merely finite beings (somewhat comically). Ultimately, a unity of transcendence and finitude would come to pass - beyond the limits of Neoplatonic theory and Roman practice - in 'Christ,' 'the full and adequate revelation of the God who ... knows all that is different from himself as himself.' This logos, presaged by Aristotle, and culminating in Augustine, would become the logic of Hegel: that the infinity of free rational thought (or the Word) does not transcend the finitude of natural inclination (or the flesh) by opposing it as an ontological other, for that would leave the finite equally opposed to the infinite, rendering the latter finite; rather, the infinite transcends the finite by accommodating it within itself as one moment of its unopposed infinity. Thus, the concretely free life requires reason in the state to accommodate inclination (expressed by the interests of individuals and groups) in civil society.
Two of Doull's investigations interpret Hegel - including a very interesting debate with Emil Fackenheim on the twentieth century. Then comes Doull's critical investigation of Heidegger on freedom and the state, matched by a lucid response from Nicholson. The final investigation turns directly to contemporary political institutions. If Christianity understood every individual to be rational freedom incarnate, modernity would become the social and political project of actualizing that freedom for all. Today, however, subjective freedom recites a measureless litany of petitions to which we respond with a fidelity we no longer understand, demanding right after right in a world in which 'I think, therefore I am' has been eclipsed by 'I have interests, therefore I have rights.' Because we misunderstand our freedom as merely opposed to past institutions, the stages of its development, which could help us accommodate it within reason, have been lost. Europe's early twentieth-century afflictions manifest the nation state's political incapacity to transcend (in the Christian-Hegelian sense, by accommodating, not in the totalitarian sense, by opposing) a politics of mere interests. A country like Canada, founded as a federation of multiple nations and regions rather than as a traditional nation state, may contain within itself sufficient distinction between particular interests on the one hand, and a state universality able to accommodate rationally those interests on the other, such that a rational freedom may take hold in it. Ultimately, Philosophy and Freedom aims to realize an adequate comprehension of that very possibility. And although its argumentation can be very challenging, and the sheer number of historical texts it discusses overwhelming, its authors - most of whose [End Page 319] contributions exceed what can be discussed here - deserve our thanks for continuing to take both freedom and the history of Western thought as seriously as James Doull did.
John Duncan, University of King’s College Halifax