In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

578 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 21:4 OCT 198 3 physical, and in writings later than this one, the psyche is increasingly seen as independent of the body, even able to survive the death of the body. Cabanis is similarly unfocussed on a subject which he takes very seriously, human nature. At p. 13 he says, "for only by leaning on the constant and universal nature of man can one hope to make progress in these sciences." But in other places he tells us that acquired traits are heritable (p. 366), that man is the most flexible, changeable of animals (pp. 366, 39o, 397), that man is "perfectible," that human desires are modifiable (p. 367), and that "to live is nothing else than to receive impressions and to carry on the movements induced by these impressions." (p. 433) Time has been cruel to Cabanis's writing. Perhaps nine-tenths of his 700 page book is of this sort: "A person placed in a bath absorbs a lesser quantity of water the closer his temperament is to the phlegmatic" (author's emphasis, p. 679 ). His "philosophical " discussions are merely the "in" talk of the avant garde clique to which he belonged; he seems to us not to think, but to talk. The Enlightenment has sputtered out. For whom, then, is this translation intended? Scholars of the period will want to read Cabanis, of course, but hardly in translation. I suppose students of the history of ideas will find him a useful representative of his time and place. Although not such a student myself, I cannot resist reporting some reflections his book aroused. How did we ever come to believe in "historical forces"? irreducible "social laws"? the total power of culture over human thought and motivations? In Cabanis we see an intermediate stage in the growth of these notions from Montesquieu to Hegel and beyond; a highly romantic sense of the influence of the environment upon the elemental human pattern of feeling and motivation, a belief, based on bad biology, in the volatility of man's genetic nature and in the notion of human perfectability----of which Saul Bellow says in his "The Dean's December": .... a simple belief in progress goes with a deformed conception of human nature." (p. 199) Once the assumption , universal among the major secular thinkers from Plato to Hume, that human nature is stable, uniform, and powerfully determinative, is thus undermined, all things that the febrile minds of ideologues may conceive become equally possible. Robert J. McShea Boston University John W. Elrod. Kierkegaard and Christendom. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. Pp. xxiv + 32o. $22.5o. In this careful, closely-reasoned study of Kierkegaard's "second literature" (writings after the Concluding Unscientific Postscript in 1846, usually designated as the "religious writings"), generously augmented with excerpts from the Journals and Papers, Elrod continues the project begun in Being and Existence m Kierkegaard's Pseudonymous Works (Princeton, 1975). He builds on the unifying thesis of the earlier work, the self as the thread of unity through the existence spheres, and argues forcefully for the social dimension of the ethical-religious mode of existence in Kierkegaard's later works. BOOK REVIV.WS 579 Emphasis on the centrality of the social and the ethical along with a shift from indirect to more direct communication in the second literature may come as a surprise to those who have interpreted Kierkegaard largely through the "teleological suspension of the ethical" in Fear and Trembling and the individual subjectivity which pervades the "first" literature. Elrod sees the social emphasis in Kierkegaard's later writings to have a positive and a negative side, positive in that the self cannot "exist or know itself without the other" (88), negative in that all of the social focus of self-understanding in Christendom (nationalism and liberalism), even the virtues of freedom, equality, justice, truth, and happiness, are given a political rather than an ethical-religious meaning. From the Journals and Papers, Elrod quotes Kierkegaard: "Here again we see.., that the whole modern trend is a disastrous caricature of religiousness--it is politics... But politics is egotism dressed up as love, is the most frightful egotism; is...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 578-581
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.