Athens and Jerusalem? A Critique of the Relationship between Philosophy and Religion in George Grant's Thought

By Angus, Ian | Journal of Canadian Studies, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Athens and Jerusalem? A Critique of the Relationship between Philosophy and Religion in George Grant's Thought


Angus, Ian, Journal of Canadian Studies


The teleology of George Grant's thought was towards Christian Platonism. Such a synthesis of Platonic philosophy and Christian religion is utilized in his critique of contemporary society through the concept of tradition. Such a concept of tradition is based on grace, which is understood as the placing of humans within a moral order that is not of our own making. The relationship between philosophy and religion is formulated in Grant's writing in five ways. The most important is in the comparison of Socrates and Jesus as the two originating figures of Western civilization. A critical analysis of this comparison shows that it is one-sided and that philosophy does not make an independent contribution to Grant's thought comparable to that of Christianity. In conclusion, the possibility of such an independent contribution of philosophy is demonstrated and it is suggested that such a contribution may not require supplementation by Christian religion.

La téléologie de la pensée de George Grant tendait vers le platonisme chrétien. Une telle synthèse de la philosophie platoniste et de la religion chrétienne est utilisée dans sa critique de la société contemporaine en se servant du concept de « tradition ». Un tel concept se fonde sur la « grâce » que l'on décrit comme le placement des êtres humains dans un ordre moral qui est défini par quelqu'un d'autre. Le rapport entre la philosophie et la religion est formulé de cinq façons dans les écrits de M. Grant. La plus importante est la comparaison entre Socrate et Jésus qui seraient les deux personnages émanant de la civilisation occidentale. Une analyse critique de cette comparaison montre qu'elle est unilatérale et que cette philosophie ne fait pas une contribution indépendante à la pensée de M. Grant, comparativement au christianisme. La possibilité d'une telle contribution indépendante de la philosophie est démontrée et il est suggéré qu'une telle contribution ne nécessite peut-être pas une supplémentation de la religion chrétienne.

George Grant is best known as a critic of technological civilization and Canada's acceptance of its modern technological fate. His concrete critiques of technological civilization, however, were based upon a reflection on justice that became increasingly focussed on the relationship between Christianity and philosophy. His reflections thus take us from Canadian issues towards the fundamental issues in the construction and critique of Western civilization. Grant's final position can be termed Christian Platonism since it is centrally organized by the claim that the concept of good, or justice, in Plato is the same as that inherent in the Gospel stories of Jesus' life: "That [central, pre-technological, western] account of justice was written down most carefully and most beautifully in The Republic of Plato. For those of us who are Christians, the substance of our belief is that the perfect living out of that justice is unfolded in the Gospels" (Grant 1974, 93). Such a sameness, or identity, does not extend to all the details, even all important ones, of either source. It refers to their animating centre. This animating centre is the basis for a synthesis between Christianity and philosophy that was never thoroughly articulated by Grant but that nevertheless unifies his many statements about religion and philosophy.

The Platonic element of this synthesis is the notion that Being, "what is," is itself good (and not merely a resource for human use). The Christian element is that the goodness of Being was revealed to humans in the life of Jesus. The necessity of the Christian element thus implies that Greek philosophy was in some manner deficient in expressing the goodness of Being. This deficiency was called by Grant in classical language "charity." Greek philosophy (due to its orientation to reason, which is unequal in humans) did not see the truth that all humans are due charity, or consideration for what they need. The necessity of the Platonic element suggests that the exemplary character of the life of Jesus requires some supplementation by philosophy, or reason, in order that what is due for humans be understood as rooted in Being itself (and not merely, or only, as a human choice).

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