The Passion of the Western Mind
Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World VieweBook - 2011
From the critics
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This book traces the evolution of Western thinking from the Pre-Socratic philosophers to post-modernism. While the author discusses religion, literature and science, the emphasis is on philosophy. This is as thorough and objective a history of western thought as one might hope to find in a single volume. The thought system of every major thinker or school is described with virtually no editorial comment. These thought systems are woven into a cogent and easily followed narrative by exploring several major themes. First, the history of Western thought is presented as virtually synonymous with the rise and fall of modernity. Secondly, this evolution is presented as the dismantling of classical philosophy, with empirical evidence eroding the foundations of cosmology, ontology and eventually epistemology. In the end empiricism itself is brought into question. Thirdly, the author describes the constant tension between empiricism and idealism. One of the most compelling aspects of this narrative is the unexpected effects of various schools. For example the Catholic late medieval scholastics’ rediscovery of empiricism contributed to the Reformation’s emphasis on the Bible as the source of knowledge, which in turn pushed the Catholic Church to oppose the findings of early astronomers. Throughout this presentation the author maintains a most admirable impartiality. The tone shifts in the Epilogue which can be seen as a critique of post modernism and an argument for how we might make sense of the apparently dead end reasoning of the post-modern perspective.
The writing and language are very clear and easy to follow, although some sentences tend to run on. Some of the imagery, particularly once the author begins to stake a position in the Epilogue is most enjoyable, for example:
…by and large the philosophy that has dominated our century and our universities resembles nothing so much as a severe obsessive compulsive sitting on his bed repeatedly tying and untying his shoes because he never quite gets it right-while in the meantime Socrates and Hegel and Aquinas are already high up the mountain on their hike, breathing the bracing alpine air…
All in all, a most enjoyable read.
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