George Grant | The Canadian Encyclopedia


George Grant

Grant, George Parkin

George Parkin Grant, political and religious philosopher (b at Toronto 13 Nov 1918; d at Halifax 27 Sept 1988), son of William Lawson Grant, principal of Upper Canada College and grandson of George Monro GRANT, principal of Queen's University and Sir George PARKIN, founding secretary of the Rhodes scholarships. A public intellectual and one of the most influential Canadian thinkers of his age, Grant was a Christian and a Platonist who always thought of philosophy in terms of its Greek root words that mean "love of wisdom."

Educated in history at Queen's and theology at Oxford, Grant taught philosophy at Dalhousie from 1947 to 1960, then joined and almost immediately resigned from York University on a point of academic principle. He then joined the department of religion at McMaster. In 1980 he returned to Dalhousie as a professor of political science, classics and religion.

An extraordinary public communicator, his first book, Philosophy in the Mass Age (1959), began as a series of CBC lectures. In it he posed the question of how human beings could reconcile moral freedom with acceptance of the view that an order existed in the universe beyond space and time. In 1965, furious that the Liberal government had accepted nuclear weapons, he published LAMENT FOR A NATION. This short work created a sensation with its argument that Canada was destined to disappear into a universal and homogeneous state whose centre was the United States. Technology and Empire (1969), a collection of essays edited by poet and friend Dennis Lee, deepened his critique of technological modernity and Time as History, his 1969 Massey lectures, explained the worsening predicament of the West through an examination of the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche. Grant's works of the 1960s had a strong influence on the nationalist movement of the 1970s, though many of the New Left were uncomfortable with Grant's deep though unconventional religious thought.

In the 1970s Grant's writings began to change. Previously he had been concerned with how to communicate his thought to a wide audience, as his radio broadcasts indicate. Now, although he never wrote in jargon or for a professional audience, his writings became more complex and placed greater demands upon the reader. English-Speaking Justice (1974) asked the Platonic question of how we could know that we had a duty to treat other human beings justly, especially after the American Supreme Court had declared that a fetus was not a person. Grant was beginning to come to the conclusion that the science of human and non-human nature, which had begun 400 years earlier with Francis Bacon, had led to a society in which human beings were not fitted to live.

His last collection of essays was Technology and Justice (1986), which he prepared together with his wife Sheila Grant. Drawing on his 30-year meditation on the French philosopher Simone Weil, he came to the conclusion that western civilization was fundamentally flawed, both morally and spiritually. It was fated to disappear and was collapsing from within. As a Christian, however, Grant expressed faith that something nobler would replace it. During his lifetime Grant's reputation was primarily as a political thinker. Since his death, attention has increasingly focussed on the religious dimension of his thought, and many scholars consider him one of the most original Canadian theologians of the second half of the twentieth century.

In spite of these views, Grant received many honorary degrees, as well as The Order of Canada and many other honours.

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