The George Grant Reader


495 pages
ISBN 0-8020-7934-2
DDC 191




Edited by William Christian and Sheila Grant
Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


George Grant was a Canadian philosopher who was brilliant at what he
did, by any standards anywhere in the world. Most readers know his name
and some are familiar with his beautifully argued Lament for a Nation
(1965), but too few have penetrated the breadth of his writing. The
George Grant Reader offers us a readable outline of his life’s work.

In a 1982 article on poet Dennis Lee, Grant confesses “a deeply
neurotic fear of poetry,” but it seems appropriate to say, as editor
Christian does, that he “experienced the world as a poet does.”
Grant displays a probing commitment to think in the face of what he
himself called “the complexity, immensity, and uncertainty of that
which calls to be questioned.” The “great job in Canada” is “to
bring quality and beauty of existence” to the modern world;
philosophers must attend the contradiction between “the perfection of
God and the affliction of human beings”; public servants should add
“a higher conception of well-being” to policy; legislators must
avoid “unthough ontology” that reduces law to the “mad inhumanity
of action.” Reading Grant’s words one slides imperceptibly into a
way of thinking that is outdated yet all the more appealing because it
is quite impossible for most of us.

His work on education offers the most relevant channel for his ideas.
In a 1951 Royal Commission study Grant condemned the disciplinary rift
between practical and contemplative study: “philosophers must
recognize the relation of philosophy to the problem of society, and the
spirit of philosophy must be infused into those who must act.” In a
1975 article he said that universities have lost “the idea of
objective human excellence” and become “multi-versities” dedicated
to professionalization. After his resignation from McMaster in 1980, he
argued that teaching cannot be carried out in research-driven
institutions where scholarship supplants thinking and where students are
listless consumers of “museum culture” that has little bearing on
their lives.

It is fitting that Grant’s work relentlessly turns to education, not
only because so much of it defends the role of thinking in utilitarian
society, but also because the selection of works reprinted here serves
as an invitation to learn his works in their entirety.


Grant, George., “The George Grant Reader,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 22, 2024,