Brian M. Keenan (1938-?) grew up in Ontario where he attended Lakehead University, Mc Master and The University of Toronto, before ultimately receiving a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Waterloo. His first and only teaching position was at the University of Winnipeg beginning in 1972 and culminating, after 37 years of service, with his retirement in 2009. Twenty years of Dr. Keenan’s service was providing leadership as the Chair of the Department of Philosophy.
Although he published a bit, mainly on the alleged neutrality of Political Science, the ultimacy of liberalism as the account of political reality, and the historicity of human consciousness, Keenan’s overriding concern was undergraduate teaching. The University of Winnipeg’s stress on liberal arts education thus made for a happy relationship.
Dr. Keenan’s virtue as a professor was, in the eyes of many students, quite simply unmatched. Noted for his razor sharp wit, keen analytic mind and thoughtful regard for the intrinsic value of Education, Dr. Keenan inspired generations of students at the University of Winnipeg to recognize themselves as critical thinkers. It is Keenan’s settled belief that philosophy not only enables students to integrate the various subjects they study, but also brings to bear a critical intelligence on extant social reality.
Brian Keenan was the 2005 recipient of the Clifford J. Robson award for excellence in teaching and is currently Senior Scholar in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Winnipeg.
A Colleague’s Reflection
The University of Winnipeg’s department was unique among undergraduate programmes in Canada during Dr. Keenan’s tenure. While the course offerings appeared in the catalogue to match the offerings of other institutions in Canada and the United States, the idea that history provides an essential mode of human self-understanding shaped the development of curricula and as a consequence the intellectual development of the student body. While not solely responsible for the department’s unique character, Dr. Keenan’s own commitment to teaching and history, and his leadership, made the department an important alternative to the largely ahistorical orthodoxies of the well discussed analytic-continental divide. Even while important voices in philosophy decried the reified status of the divide in contemporary philosophy, the department at the U of W did for many years soldier on without such crass encumbrance. Teachers taught; students wrote papers and engaged important philosophical ideas. Their education not mirroring programmes in Canada, students were not in philosophy solely for a promise of graduate study, but because philosophical questions had to be engaged for higher purposes. This was the Department’s inheritance to Dr. Keenan. While Dr. Keenan was a full-time faculty member and Chair, the department became well known as having an historical orientation unique in the Canadian context.
Dr. Keenan is a teacher. He has never called himself a philosopher. From Members of Parliament to Rhodes Scholars, Dr. Keenan is thought of as a teacher and, indeed, a teacher’s teacher. For those of us who have worked alongside Dr. Keenan, he is a philosopher—a philosopher’s philosopher.
Karim Dharamsi, Ph.D.
Formerly of University of Winnipeg
Carly, Dylan, Aaron, Neil, Nick and Dr. Keenan. Courtesy of The Winnipeg Foundation. (2011)
In the spring of 2009, a group of Professor Keenan’s students were meeting occasionally to discuss philosophy, and the particular and peculiar perspective that they had developed regarding philosophy’s state, purpose and use. Lamenting Keenan’s retirement from the University of Winnipeg Philosophy Department, and desiring a way to honour his legacy and the lasting impact that he had on his students, the idea of a scholarship in Keenan’s honour was broached, and met with enthusiastic support. Over the course of the next few months, that group of students set out to create and secure the Brian M. Keenan Prize, and as founders of the endeavour, became the scholarship’s first board of directors.
One of the key aspects of the particular perspective that these students had gleaned about philosophy over the years in Keenan’s classroom was that philosophy, as the fundamental locus of human endeavour, ought to be undertaken seriously. Furthermore these students recognized, through comparing the tradition and history of philosophy against its contemporary condition, the concern that philosophy may, to some degree, have run aground in modern liberal society. The prize, then, was also forwarded in part as a way of encouraging and supporting discussion about the importance and role of philosophy, along with its tradition and history, within the corpus of modern thought. As the founding participants desired to demonstrate their own commitment to these concepts, and to Keenan’s influence in their lives, it was decided that the principle portion of the award would be contributed by the board members themselves. Contributions to a trust in the name of the award would be sought in order to increase the amount of the award and guarantee its perpetuity.
The award will be presented annually, at the beginning of the fall semester, for papers received at the end of the winter semester prior. The initial portion of the award will be provided solely by the board through equal donations from its members, for a total of $1,500 CAD. Once the perpetuity of the scholarship has been secured through the growth of an endowment, a portion of the interest derived from the trust over the previous year may be added, for a total amount that will be determined by interest rates over that year.