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The early idealists include George Paxton Young (1818–1889) who began teaching at Knox College in 1851, Samuel Dyde (1862-1947), and John Watson (1847–1939) who began teaching at Queen's University in 1872. The more recent idealists include philosophers George Parkin Grant (1918–1988), Leslie Armour (1931–2014), and Charles Taylor (born 1931).
Both the British and Canadian idealists draw from Georg W. F. Hegel's absolute idealism. There are three pillars to this philosophy. The first pillar is the response to the materialism of the Enlightenment. Idealists argue that the scientific reason of the Enlightenment artificially suppresses a significant dimension of human experience; that is, the cultural framework and historically inherited ideas with which we make sense of the world around us. Idealists hold that knowledge and reason are socially cultivated, not only with our contemporaries but also with our history.
The second pillar is the philosophy of history. For idealists, philosophy includes a study of history. To reflect on what we currently believe we must understand the historical dialogue and the conflict of ideas that has brought us to this point. A wide range of subjects from economic rights to the notion of the family come into consideration, but the central question of idealists is how to reconcile civic unity (or the common good) with individual freedom.
The third pillar is the formulation of a philosophy of freedom. The concept of culturally embedded knowledge and the historical approach to philosophy set the groundwork for idea of freedom as something that is achieved through a commitment to the community rather than in opposition to it, as is the case with the contract theory of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke for whom freedom is the absence of external interference with our choices (negative liberty). Freedom for the idealists is achieved through the ethical life of our community, not despite it. By participating in our society, engaging in dialogues with others about our proper ends, and giving and receiving the recognition of others that we are free, we cultivate the elements that make us self-governing (or autonomous) individuals, and hence truly free (positive liberty).
- Armour, Leslie; Trott, Elizabeth (1981). Faces of Reason: An Essay on Philosophy and Culture in English Canada, 1850–1950. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. ISBN 978-0-88920-107-1.
- Campbell, Colin J. (2013). "Review of Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom by Robert Meynell". Philosophy in Review. Victoria, British Columbia: University of Victoria. 33 (1): 54–56. ISSN 1920-8936. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Cooper, Barry (2012). "An Invented Tradition: Review of Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom: C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor by Robert Meynell". The Review of Politics. Cambridge University Press. 74 (3): 535–538. doi:10.1017/S0034670512000605. ISSN 1748-6858. JSTOR 23263393.
- Dodd, Susan (2014). "Review of Canadian Idealism and the Philosophy of Freedom: C.B. Macpherson, George Grant, and Charles Taylor by Robert Meynell". Canadian Journal of Political Science. Cambridge University Press. 47 (3): 627–629. doi:10.1017/S0008423914000675. ISSN 1744-9324.
- McKillop, A. B. (1979). A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-2141-4.
- Meynell, Robert (2005). Canadian Idealism: Forgotten, Not Lost (PhD thesis). Ottawa: University of Ottawa. doi:10.20381/ruor-12840.