Monthly Archives: May 2019

Breakthrough insight at “the level of essence”

My own approach, following Harold Innis, is a transformation theory, thus homeostasis of the perceptual factors (…) requir[ing] much redistribution of emphasis among the senses. (McLuhan to Hans Selye, 1974, full citation and discussion below.)

Throughout the 1950s (hence his delay in completing The Gutenberg Galaxy that whole decade), McLuhan was puzzled by the fact that the movement in new media analyzed by Havelock, Innis, Richards and himself beyond the eye and back towards the ear, somehow seemed to have occurred through intensely visual innovations like photography, film, comics and, above all, television. How had the eye come to trump the eye?

An answer came to him at last at the start of the following decade. As he reported in Project in Understanding New Media: “Early in 1960 it dawned on me that the sensory impression proffered by a medium like movie or radio, was not the sensory effect obtained.” That is, the effects of media were not to be found in their sensory input toward us from an external source (eg, television or telephone), but in the experience derived from them (“proffered”) as internal sources: “the sensory effect obtained”.1 

This revolution in focus from purportedly neutral input to an output giving access to variously interpretable input, implicated2 the notion that media had to be understood on two fundamentally different (though interconnected) levels, the literal level (Voegelin’s “factual level of history”3) where media were found objects (like newspapers and computers, or like spoken languages, or even like abstractions such as orality and literacy) and the level of formal cause (Voegelin’s “level of essence”4). The former was the level of the explanandum, that which required explanation, as opposed to the latter level of the explanans, that which would explain.

Studying with Rupert Lodge at the University of Manitoba in the early 1930’s, McLuhan had imbibed the notion that human experience was differentiated into three fundamentally different types and that the multilevel study of these types as explanans could help solve the explanandum of practical problems in education, commerce and politics.5 His PhD thesis awarded in 1943 put forward the notion that these types could be identified and investigated in terms of the three arts of the trivium. But through his exposure to the ‘synaesthesis’ of I.A. Richards at Cambridge,6 and to Catholic theology regarding sensibility and the common sense,7 he came to think by 1950 that the dynamic order of the senses might be the best way to characterize the “level of essence” and therefore also the “factual level of history” via the linked working of these explanandum-explanans strata. 

In 1974 he wrote to Hans Selye:

My own approach, following Harold Innis, is a transformation theory, thus homeostasis of the perceptual factors in a rapidly changing environment requires much redistribution of emphasis among the senses. For example, a blind or deaf person compensates for the loss of one sense by a heightening of activity in the others.  It seems to me that this also occurs in whole populations when new technologies create new sensory environments.8

Communication via media did not occur through the ‘transportation’ of some meaning through a ‘pipeline’ or linear chain, but though instantaneous “transformation” as when a child first learns to speak.9  In this understanding, all mental activity may be imagined as a series of Gestalts10 which displace each other so completely from moment to moment that there is little or no explanatory power to be derived from looking at their series.11 Instead, understanding came from investigation of the Gestalts themselves and the key here was to define what Voegelin called “theoretically justifiable units”12In his note to Selye, McLuhan called the unit of experiential Gestalts the “homeostasis of the perceptual factors” and the dynamism accounting for differences between the units he termed the “redistribution of emphasis among the senses”. That is, the unit of experience which is expressed at the “factual level of history” as explanandum, and which explains at the “level of essence” as explanans, is the constant (in sum) but dynamic relation or ratio of “the perceptual factors” — the elementary structure of the senses together in some or other “distribution of emphasis among the senses” = the variable Gestalt of “common sense”.13

To compare, the explanans in chemistry is the element — the constant relation, or “homeostasis”, of electrons and protons which expresses itself in Mendeleev’s table as a “redistribution” between the two. This “redistribution” takes place in chemistry through the increasing number of the two which yet always remains in homeostatic balance.14 Meanwhile the explanandum of chemistry is the entire universe of physical materials.

In the case of media, the  constant (though dynamic) relation or “homeostasis” between the eye and the ear, as the elementary structure of communication, varies not through a changing  matching number (as the chemical elements do), but through the co-variance of the two.15 Here, although their total does not change, the relative contribution between the eye and ear varies over a spectrum stretching between all eye at the extreme end on one side of the spectrum and all ear at the other extreme. Along the spectrum between these extremes each point is defined by a different eye/ear ratio or “redistribution of emphasis among the senses”, but is always equal to 1 (= the dynamic constant of the Gestalt of “common sense”). The full spectrum of such ratios, in similar fashion to Mendeleev’s table, defines the complete range of the possible forms of elementary media. Meanwhile the explanandum of McLuhan’s “new science”, or sciences, is the entire universe of human experience.

  1. Nevertheless, McLuhan all too often confused (or at least disguised) this insight by talking about the seemingly raw input from media: the 360 degree field of sound, the assembly line of letters on the printed page, the ‘charge of the light brigade’ of television, etc. His purpose in doing so was doubtless to help along the closer inspection of all media as surrounds, as directives, as dynamic formal causes, whose properties are types of experience as effects. Thus, sound as a surrounding field in ordinary experience could be taken as illustrating any medium considered at the level of formal cause, or essence, even print. However that may have been, so far at least, 40 years on from McLuhan’s death, this purpose has gone unrealized and the technique has proved to be only misleading and counter-productive because seemingly appealing to literal incoming sense data.
  2. The implication here was triggered by the idea that the “factual level” did not provide satisfactory explanation either through “the units thrown up in the stream of history” (Voegelin) or through their sequence in that stream. Therefore the implication that other units at another level had to be isolated. And this seemed further to imply that instead of one “stream of history” there must be at least three: the “stream of history”, the stream of “essential units”, and the stream of their interconnection.
  3. See Voegelin and the question of “intelligible units” for citation and discussion.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See The Comparative Method of Rupert Lodge and, in general, these Lodge posts.
  6. ‘Synaesthesis’ was treated by Richards and his co-authors in The Foundations of Aesthetics and The Meaning of Meaning from the early 1920s, but remained a central concern of his for the rest of his life as, eg, ‘complementarity’.
  7. Here McLuhan was prompted especially through his study with Bernie Muller-Thym of his (Muller-Thym’s) ‘Common Sense, Perfection of the Order of Pure Sensibility’ (1940), but also through his related reading of Maritain, Gilson and Phelan (where Muller-Thym served as his expert guide).
  8. McLuhan to Selye, July 25, 1974, cited in Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 150.
  9. McLuhan to Marshall Fishwick: “I have the only communication theory of transformation — all the other (communication) theories are theories of transportation.” (July 31, 1974, Letters 505)
  10. Similarly, quantum physics is based on the notion that momentary Gestalts at the quantum level and their series in time are so fundamentally incompatible that it is impossible to have both at once.
  11. Voegelin: “the self-formation of movements in history, institutionally and ideologically, is not (the same thing as) theoretical formation. The investigation inevitably will start from the phenomena, but the question of theoretically justifiable units in political science cannot be solved (simply) by accepting the units thrown up in the stream of history at their face value.” See Voegelin and the question of “intelligible units” for citation and discussion. Study of historical series is necessarily study mainly of the past (so far as one knows it) and is therefore an exercise of what McLuhan called the “rear-view mirror” (which is both a framework and the deployment of such a framework).
  12. See the preceding note.
  13. Just as the electron and proton are only two of many different particles in the atom, but are central for investigation and explanation, so the eye and the ear are only two of the five senses — but are central for investigation and explanation.
  14. The “homeostasis” of electrons and protons is always preserved in elements. But ions, of course,  are constituted by its loss. The latter are the key to valence and to investigation of the huge variety of chemical combinations, but are dependent on a prior understanding of the nonionic elements.
  15. For discussion, see Relativity and topology.

Voegelin and the question of “intelligible units”

the epiphany of structures in reality — be they atoms, molecules, genes, biological species, races, human consciousness, or language — is a mystery inaccessible to explanation.  (Voegelin, In Search of Order)1

McLuhan and Voegelin exchanged four letters in 1953.2 But the most important aspect of their brief correspondence may have been what they did not discuss (at least not directly). For the two of them, although on separate tracks, were pursuing a strategy that was then, and remains today, almost 70 years later, what may be the one way out of the global crisis in which the planet was and is ensnared.3 This is a crisis that expresses itself everywhere along the whole register of human activity — extending to our alienated relation with God.

As indicated in the titles of Voegelin’s 1953 New Science of Politics and McLuhan’s (posthumous) 1988 Laws of Media: The New Science, both saw that science could and should be pursued in the social sciences. And both saw this possibility as crucial to human survival in a planetary condition of “continuous  warfare” (as  Voegelin already observed in his New Science and as has been hideously maintained ever since).4 Regarding our situation in “continuous warfare”, Voegelin specified:

The causes of this phenomenon will receive careful attention in the course of these lectures; but their critical exploration presupposes a clearer understanding of the relation between theory and reality.5 

Voegelin’s New Science originated in his 1951 Walgreen lectures entitled ‘Truth and Representation’.  Now the key in any area of inquiry to the relationship of theory and reality or of representation and truth (relations which are not necessarily the same)6 is, as may be seen particularly in the birth and development of chemistry in the nineteenth century after the identification of its elements, the specification of what Voegelin called “theoretically justifiable units” . He made this point particularly in an exchange with Hannah Arendt early in 1953 — the very year in which Voegelin and McLuhan conducted their brief correspondence — concerning her 1951 book, The Origins of Totalitarianism:

I shall do no more than draw attention to what we agree is the question at stake, though Arendt’s answer differs from mine. It is the question of essence in history, the question of how to delimit and define phenomena of the class of political movements. Dr. Arendt draws her lines of demarcation on what she considers the factual level of history; arrives at well-distinguished complexes of phenomena of the type of “totalitarianism”; and is willing to accept such complexes as ultimate, essential units. I take exception to this method because it disregards the fact that the self-formation of movements in history, institutionally and ideologically, is not [the same thing as] theoretical formation. The investigation inevitably will start from the phenomena, but the question of theoretically justifiable units in political science cannot be solved [simply] by accepting the units thrown up in the stream of history at their face value. What a unit is will emerge when the principles furnished by philosophical anthropology are applied to historical materials. It then may happen that political movements, which on the scene of history are bitterly opposed to one another, will prove to be closely related on the level of essence.7

In 1981, almost thirty years later, a few years before his death in 1985, Voegelin again commented on “theoretically justifiable units”, here called “intelligible units”, in a letter to Gerhart Niemeyer:

Now let me thank you…for your contribution to the Festschrift8 on ‘intelligible units’ of history. (…) While I agree with your condemnation of the misuse of ‘intelligible units’, I wonder whether one can9, and perhaps must, use the concept without misusing it. What shall we do with ethnic cultures, empires, religions, sects, ideological movements, national states? Are they not intelligible units? Did Augustine not treat the Roman Empire as an intelligible unit in history? And what, after all, is Christianity?10 The problem seems to be [that of] a critically tenable conception of intelligibility…11

The characterization of “the question of theoretically justifiable units” as that of “a critically tenable conception of intelligibility” pointed to a logical and temporal circularity in the question at stake: what was to be achieved later, as a goal, namely “a critically tenable conception of intelligibility”, had to be already active earlier in order to make ‘a critically tenable’ beginning of the required process to that goal. Voegelin: “this invisible harmony is difficult to find, and it will not be found at all unless the soul be animated by an anticipating urge in the right direction” (NSP, 103); compare: “the openness of the soul is experienced through the opening of the soul itself” (NSP, 101). This was at once confounding and potentially indicative. For the fact that discovery of “a critically tenable conception of intelligibility” would itself require the exacting exercise of “intelligibility” (otherwise, the conception could hardly be “critically tenable” and could certainly not reach its goal) served to illuminate a further requirement. Namely, that discovery had to be at once sudden and revolutionary in effecting a decisive break in time and understanding from what had previously been perceived — and yet also at the same time be applicable to the whole chronological experience of human beings, especially to the past as the laboratory in which any proposed intelligibility would have to demonstrate itself.12 

In the same way, the discovery of the elementary structure in chemistry and of the structure of DNA in genetics served to break inquiry into a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ in their respective fields, and yet did so in a manner that was just as applicable to the ‘before’ as to the ‘after’. At such a moment, illumination is suddenly and for the first time possible — of what has always taken place and always will take place.13 It is the stupendous reach of such conceptions somehow occurring to utterly finite minds that underlies Voegelin’s wonder at “the epiphany of structures in reality” as “a mystery inaccessible to explanation”.  

What was ultimately at stake in Voegelin’s remarks to Arendt and Niemeyer, then, was just such a break in the history of the social sciences that would reveal itself as being “critically tenable” through its application as much to the past as to the present and future. Furthermore, this was a break that would occur as much subjectively (in the before and after of the discoverer) as objectively (in the before and after in research in the domain).14

What happens to our knowledge in such a case is that it goes through a kind of wormhole, only to emerge on the other side with a revolutionary new appreciation of what had always been going on, on the other side of the wormhole, leading up to it. The implicated figure is

A >< B

where a real knowledge of A (representing the entire cultural history of the world to this point) is obtained only through the exponentially expanding findings of the new science, or sciences, suddenly enabled in B.15

The enormous practical effects of this sort of scientific breakthrough may be seen by comparing the world in 1800 to the world today after only two centuries of chemistry and the derivative sciences chemistry has enabled. It is, indeed, just such revolutionary effects — resulting from collective open research — which at once offer hope in the face of the contemporary world crisis and account for the intense resistance to such science from the bellicose partisans of the status quo. 

Certain indications for authentic contemporary research in the humanities and social sciences seem to follow. First, history and commentary should be abandoned except as they are pursued as modes of searching for “theoretically justifiable units”.  As is plain from the genesis and development of sciences like chemistry and genetics, all history and commentary will have to be recast on the basis of such units when they are, at last, isolated and demonstrated.16 In the event that units of this sort remain manifestly lacking (since the practice of science they would enable is manifestly lacking), history and commentary are at best premature and at worst  themselves part of the “crisis of Western civilization” they often purport to address.17 Second, the primary focus of research in the humanities should be on candidates for “theoretically justifiable units” that have been suggested in the past, particularly by its single greatest mind, Plato.18 The “recovery”19 that is fundamental to science involves, as Voegelin was clear in his reply to Arendt, a complete reformulation of history and this would necessarily  include a reassessment of whether or not Plato (for example) did indeed put forward “a valid formulation of principles”.20 To compare, once chemistry received its proper conceptualization in the course of the nineteenth century, it became possible to sort out for the first time who in the past had had genuine insights into chemical processes and who had not. The central questions here are: if proposals for “theoretically justifiable units” have been made, what was deficient in them that they failed to yield the required intelligibility? how might these deficiencies be cured? Further, were there deficiencies in the appreciation of such proposals? And how might these be cured?21 If “theoretically justifiable units” can be isolated for the humanities and social sciences, dedicated work on these two fronts of definition and appreciation offer the one hope for doing so.22

The history of the physical sciences shows that crises can be revelatory. An essential step is acknowledgement of the crisis and of the need to address it with adjusted subjective and objective presuppositions. A kind of subjective-objective Rubik’s cube needs to be manipulated with a passion until, at last, the tesserae reveal their pattern and, with it, the way to and from it.

Both because of the inherent interest of such a breakthrough in the investigation of human being and of its potential importance in addressing the dire situation of the contemporary world, intense focus on the question of “theoretically justifiable units” is indicated.


  1.  Order and History 5, CW18, 31. As McLuhan was very much aware, such an epiphany is already operative in the first use of language, phylogenetic or ontogenetic. Language is nothing other than the recognition of “structures in reality”. In fact, Voegelin’s list of structures has application to language but little to science. Scientifically, structural comparison between “atoms” and “biological species” or “races” is misleading at best.
  2. For discussion, see McLuhan and Voegelin 1953.
  3. The one way out of the crisis — that is, the one way out that is in our control. Heidegger, for one, saw only the possibility of a divine solution: Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten.
  4. The full passage at this point in NSP is eerily prescient of the state of the world today almost 70 years latter: “Our own foreign policy was a factor in aggravating international disorder through its sincere but naive endeavor of curing the evils of the world by spreading representative institutions (…) to areas where the existential conditions for their functioning were not given. Such provincialism, persistent in the face of its consequences, is in itself an interesting problem for the scientist. One cannot explain the odd policies of Western democratic powers leading to continuous warfare, with weaknesses of individual  statesmen — though such weaknesses are strongly in evidence. They are rather symptomatic of a massive resistance to face reality, deeply rooted in the sentiments and opinion of the broad masses of our contemporary Western societies. Only because they are symptoms of a mass phenomenon is it justified to speak of a crisis of Western civilization” (NSP, 1987 ed, 81). As for McLuhan, he wrote to Ezra Pound in 1951 (the same year Voegelin delivered the lectures behind NSP) as follows: “2nd (World) War produced great discovery of war as new way of life. Financial pages simply chortling these days over prosperity rooted in 3rd (World) War. Ordinary guy eats this up. Total war = total security he figures. THAT is the scale of imbecility now current.” (McLuhan to Pound, Jan 1951, Letters 219, emphatic ‘THAT’ in original.) See McLuhan and Voegelin 1953 for further citation and discussion.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The relations of “theory and reality” and of “truth and representation” may be considered as the same or as different. They are the same when “reality” and “truth” are brought together and contrasted to the “theory” or “representation” that would give access to them and so enable their collective study. They are different when truth is considered as a potential property of theory and representation in their relation to reality. The important thing in this context is only that the question of the relation between the two relations be left open and not decided in advance.
  7. Voegelin, Concluding Remark‘ (to Arendt), The Review of Politics, 15:1 (Jan., 1953), pp. 84-85. Voegelin included an offprint of his initial review of Arendt in his second letter to McLuhan. It appears that he did not include Arendt’s reply to his review or his reply to her reply. But McLuhan may, of course, have gone on from Voegelin’s review to look into the further pieces by Arendt and Voegelin that continued from it.
  8. The Philosophy of order: essays on history, consciousness, and politics (For Eric Voegelin on His Eightieth Birthday January 3, 1981), ed Peter J. Opitz and Gregor Sebba, 1981.
  9. Voegelin (not improperly, but strangely in combination with “perhaps must”): “cannot”.
  10. This late letter seems to show that Voegelin may never have seen the fundamentally important distinction broached in note #1 above between linguistic and scientific units — even though his own reply to Arendt in 1953 was prescient in differentiating historical or linguistic units from essential ones!
  11. Voegelin letter to Gerhart Niemeyer, February 24, 1981, Selected Correspondence 1950-1984, CW30, 862-863. This reference was kindly supplied by Fritz Wagner.
  12. At least at this point in his career, Voegelin seems also to have argued that such discovery is oriented only to the future: “this center (of the human psyche) is not found (by the Greeks) as if it were an object that had been present all the time and only escaped notice. The psyche as the region in which transcendence is experienced must be differentiated out of a more compact structure of the soul; it must be developed and named. With due regard for the problem of compactness and differentiation, one might almost say that before the discovery of the psyche man had no soul. Hence, it is a discovery which produces its experiential material along with its explication” (NSP, 101). Just what was at stake in this passage would, however, have to be gleaned in comparison with his statement later in NSP that “we must distinguish between the opening of the soul as an epoch in experiential differentiation and the structure of reality which remains unchanged” (208).
  13. The isolation of definitive structures in a scientific discipline does not at all entail that research into those structures is no longer required. Far rather, research is only now properly grounded and guided. Future research might well, indeed, require modification or even overthrow of those ‘definitive’ structures at some point — such is ‘the structure of scientific revolutions’.
  14. In the early 1950s, at least, Voegelin himself may not have realized the implications of his own insight into “theoretically justifiable units” as effecting a scientific revolution. As previously noted above, he began NSP by observing that the field of politics will “prove amenable to theoretization as an intelligible succession of phases in a historical process” (NSP, 1987 ed, 21). A process was postulated “through (…) degrees (!) of compactness and differentiation — from rite, through myth, to theory” (52). But this is exactly how a new theoretization in science does not take place. Instead, the possibility of “theoretically justifiable units” must first of all be ontologically based. This entails the presence of abysmal borders or gaps in the deepest level of reality that accounts for real plurality (“essential units”) and that prohibits gnostic conflation into seamlessness. A scientific revolution occurs when research aligns itself, at last, with the transitive borders of reality so as to formulate revolutionary insight into a field (which only now becomes rigorously identifiable). Such insight does not result from “an intelligible succession of phases in a historical process”, but from an unaccountable leap, “a mystery inaccessible to explanation” (as Voegelin himself would put it 30 years later). Strangely, however, in just this same context at the start of NSP, Voegelin correctly saw the ontological crux of the matter: his “new science” was to arise from “the principles of order in general” (21). Hence his definition of “science as a truthful account of the structure of reality” (26). It may be that the remainder of Voegelin’s long career amounted to an attempt to understand the problems and opportunities which arise at this point where the “mystery” of “the epiphany of structures in reality” crosses with “historical process”. His 5-volume main work would begin to be published in 1956, a few years after NSP, and would be called Order and History.
  15. The information available in B increasingly exceeds that in A, both because B’s research into every aspect of A always increases while at the same time new events occur in B with research into these new events always increasing as well.  This increase in entropy accords with the second law of thermodynamics and correlates closely with Voegelin’s and McLuhan’s arguments against gnosticism. Whereas gnosticism always attempts to compress complexities into simplicities (eg, historical time and eschatological time into the end of history), the scientific figure of A >< B obviates this possibility through an ever increasing complexity — ie, through entropic resistance to compression. Cf, Voegelin: “Can the monadism of such representation not be broken by questioning the validity of the truth in each case?” (NSP, 92)
  16. As cited above from his reply to Arendt, Voegelin was clear about this: “What a unit is will emerge when the principles furnished by philosophical anthropology are applied to historical materials. It then may happen that political movements, which on the scene of history are bitterly opposed to one another, will prove to be closely related on the level of essence.”
  17. See the preceding note.
  18. With a counterfactual faith in “advancing articulation” (67) through “the very historicity of human existence” (22), Voegelin maintained in NSP: “One cannot restore political science today through Platonism, Augustinianism, or Hegelianism. Much can be learned, to be sure, from the earlier philosophers concerning the range of problems, as well as concerning their theoretical treatment; but the very historicity of human existence, that is, the unfolding of the typical in meaningful concreteness, precludes a valid reformulation of principles through return to a former concreteness” (22). But this was to make the very mistake of confusing historical with essential units that Voegelin rightly found in Arendt. Essential units may well have been formulated in the past by Plato, and/or by others, but then not have been appreciated as such and thereby conformed to historical ones.
  19. A restoration of political science to its principles implies that the restorative work is necessary because the consciousness of principles is lost. The movement toward re-theoretization must be understood, indeed, as a recovery” (NSP, 3-4). For discussion see McLuhan and Voegelin 1953.
  20. As cited above, Voegelin’s phrase is “a valid reformulation of principles”.
  21. It may be that Aristotle should be read as addressing exactly these questions in reference especially (but not only) to the work his mentor, Plato.
  22. On account of the circularity of the deployment of intelligibility in the specification of “a critically tenable conception of intelligibility”, it is inevitable that definition and appreciation work together —  first of all in the individual researcher working toward such definition. The moment of insight comes only when each of these, intelligibility and appreciation, come together to inform the other.

Lodge and Wright in Faces of Reason

In The Faces of Reason, their 1981 history of philosophy in Canada, Leslie Armour and Elizabeth Trott include a chapter on ‘The Fragmentation of Reason: Rupert Lodge and Henry Wright’.1 They begin:

Lodge and Wright arrived at the University of Manitoba in the same year, 1920, and served as joint heads of the Manitoba philosophy department for fourteen years. Both spent their whole careers there, though after 1934 Lodge became sole head of the philosophy department while Wright went to the [newly established] psychology department.
Lodge had come to Manitoba from England [graduating from Oxford], by way of Germany, [the University of] Minnesota, and [the University of] Alberta. He had already distinguished himself as the author of a work on modern logic 2, was an expert on Locke3, and the translator of the now largely forgotten Italian Bernardino Varisco. Despite this array of interests, he continued to be a proponent of the Oxford idealism.
Wright had been educated at Cornell, taught there briefly, and then became professor of philosophy [and acting president] at Lake Forest College in Illinois where he had written books on ethics and religion and distinguished himself as an expert on self-realization theories.4 He, too, had been reared on the moderate kind of idealism, sustained at Cornell by Jacob Gould Schurman.5 

Armour and Trott comment in regard to Wright’s move from the Chicago to Winnipeg: “in a way, Schurman’s idealism had come home” (405) to Canada from Cornell. Jacob Gould Schurman was born in PEI and, after studying in England and Europe, taught at Acadia and Dalhousie before becoming the chair of philosophy at Cornell, the founding editor of Philosophical Review there and eventually the longtime Cornell University president.6 To compare, Wright was born in Michigan on the Canada/US border and reversed Schurman’s itinerary by studying at Cornell7, teaching in the US, and ultimately becoming acting president at Lake Forest University in Chicago — before ending up in Winnipeg. 

Armour and Trott remark further:

Both [Lodge and Wright] wrote continuously and extensively and remained amongst the most productive philosophers in Canada for nearly thirty years. (405)

McLuhan took courses from both Lodge and Wright at the University of Manitoba and, in fact, his whole career may well be seen as a combination of the work of the two of them. From Wright he took the notion that modes of “intercommunication” — aka media — are decisive across the spectrum of human activity from psychology to sociology, politics and religion. Further, that the mechanical media of communication necessarily build on the foundation of the complex human psyche.8 From Lodge he took the notion that the forms of human experience are fundamentally plural and that it is the business of the humanities and social sciences to probe that plurality.9 Arising from both Wright and Lodge are the great questions: if experience is irreducibly plural, what experience is fitted to study it? how arrive at this enabling experience?  how demonstrate its suitability to the task? how communicate its findings? and what do these questions have to do with the media deployed by humans, from oral language to electronic devices?

Both Lodge and Wright emphasized the practicality of these questions for non-academic life. This is particularly to be seen in what Armour and Trott call Lodge’s “practical philosophy books”: The Philosophy of Education (1937), The Philosophy of Business (1945) and Applying Philosophy (1951). McLuhan, too, would come to see practical problems in education and business as keys to his enterprise. Unlike the academy, especially business had no incentive to leave problems unsolved. Furthermore and all importantly, solving actual problems there could serve to establish the study of communication beyond mere argumentation. And this, in turn, might solve the world-historical problem of how to communicate about communication.

  1.  It might well be asked what sort of genitive is in play in the phrase ‘the fragmentation of reason’. Is this a fragmentation affecting reason as an object? Fragmentation of what? Or is fragmentation in some sense fundamental to reason itself as a subject? Fragmentation belonging to whom? While both Lodge and Wright were hardly oblivious to historical and sociological effects on human experience, both treated the types of reason as inherently plural and hence as fundamentally fragmented in this subjective way. But this was a fragmentation for both that did not contradict communication across its divide (or divides). Further, given that analysis (to break down) and synthesis (to bring together) are central to the deployment of reason, fragmentation might be thought to be inherent to reason in other senses as well, both methodological and creative.
  2.  An Introduction to Modern Logic, 1920.
  3. Lodge published The Meaning and Function of Simple Modes in the Philosophy of John Locke in 1918. Meanwhile Wright’s 1899 BPh thesis at Cornell was on Locke’s Theory of Knowledge.
  4. Henry Wilkes Wright, Self-Realization: An Outline of Ethics (1913).
  5. A preview of The Faces of Reason is available in googlebooks. This passage is from p 405 there.
  6. Cf, ‘Hegel in Canada’ by John Burbidge in Hegel and Canada: Unity of Opposites? (2017): “There is some evidence, indeed, that this Canadian tradition (of Scottish Hegelianism) spilled over into the United States. Jacob Gould Schurman, born in Prince Edward Island and educated in Nova Scotia and London, England, was offered the chair of philosophy at the recently founded Cornell University in 1885 on the strength of his Kantian Ethics and the Ethics of Evolution: A Critical Study (1882). A comment in his Belief in God: Its Origin, Nature, and Basis (1890 as cited by Armour and Trott) noted that Hegel was right to insist ‘that identity and difference are both necessary to the being of the infinite spirit’. In 1892 Schurman became president of Cornell, and, in due course, American ambassador to (in succession) Greece-Macedonia,  China, and Germany. One of his graduate students, James Edwin Creighton from Nova Scotia, became first co-editor with him, and then editor of the Philosophical Review, which provided a forum for a number of Canadian authors.” (52)
  7. One of Wright’s teachers at Cornell was James Edwin Creighton, who was born in Pictou NS and was was the founding president of the American Philosophical Association. The 1917 Festschrift for Creighton, Philosophical Essays in Honor of James Edwin Creighton, has an introduction by Schurman and an essay by Wright: ‘Is the Dualism of Mind and Matter Final?’.
  8. For citations and discussion, see Henry Wilkes Wright and Henry Wilkes Wright 2.
  9. For citations and discussion, see The Comparative Method of Rupert Lodge and Rupert Lodge: Synthesis or Comparison?