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550 BOOK REVIEWS The Passion of the Western Mind. By RICHARD TARNAS. New York: Harmony Books (a division of Crown Publishers), 1991. Pp. 543. $25.00 (hardcover). Huston Smith says of Richard Tarnas's The Passion of the Western Mind that it is, for its length, "the best intellectual history of the West I have ever seen." Such a judgment is difficult to argue with. In the span of 445 pages, the author gives a concise and extraordinarily thematic intellectual history of Western culture, from its dawn in early Greece, to what perhaps may be its twilight in the final stages of postmode :rnity. In Ta:rnas's own words, the book is "a concise narrative history.... of the evolution of the Western mind and its changing conception of :reality "; it is a study in " the West's cultural and intellectual history," which focuses " on the crucial sphere of interaction between philosophy, religion, and science" (xi-xii). One of his central tasks is " to follow the complex evolution of the Western mind from the medieval Christian world view to the modern secular world view, a long and dramatic transformation in which classical thought would play a pivotal role " (169)" There a:re really two sections of the work: the first, comprising 410 pages, contains this narrative history; the second-a 35 page Epilogue -reflects Tarnas's understanding of the meaning of that history. The first section stands on its own as intellectual history; the second, written in the first person and more tentatively set forth, is certainly thought provoking, though it may appear problematic in some ways to those who nonetheless enjoy and agree with the first section (as did this reviewer ). Some words about each will follow. Tamas gives a clear and powerful presentation of what he considers the two legacies of ancient Greek thought: "metaphysical idealism" and " secular skepticism." These two aspects of the Greek mind, he holds, found paradigmatic embodiment in the richly ambiguous figure of Socrates, ... vivid contrapuntal expression in the Platonic dialogues, and ... a brilliant and seminal compromise in the philosophy of Aristotle (71), and consistently recur, under various guises, throughout the later history of Western thought. The author gives singularly strong treatments of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant, as well as powerful synthetic understandings of early and early medieval (Augustinian) Christianity , the high Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Scientific Revolution , Enlightenment, and the paradoxical reality (or realities) of postmodernity , with its ultimate roots in the Kantian critique. BOOK REVIEWS 551 Tamas is especially acute in analyzing the paradoxes inherent in the Reformation, paradoxes resulting from its combined Judaic (antiHellenic ) and Renaissance roots. The following passage highlights one aspect of that paradoxical reality which has had monumental consequences for the development of the Western mind: For Luther's appeal to the primacy of the individual's religious response would lead gradually but inevitably to the modern mind's sense of the interiority of religious reality, the final individualism of truth, and the pervasive role in determining truth played by the personal subject. As time passed, the Protestant doctrine of justification through the individual 's faith in Christ seemed to place more emphasis on the individual's faith than on Christ-on the personal relevance of ideas, as it were, rather than on their external validity. The self increasingly became the measure of things, self-defining and self-legislating. Truth increasingly became truth-as-experienced-by-the-self. Thus the road opened by Luther would move through Pietism to Kantian critical philosophy and Romantic philosophical idealism to, finally the philosophical pragmatism and existentialism of the late modem era (243). He also notes an essential irony of the Enlightenment, indeed, of the whole thrust of modernity. The Enlightenment project par excellence was to bring everything under the light of rational investigation. By the nineteenth century, Darwin had extended this investigation to humankind 's own biological history, Freud to its personal unconscious, and Marx to its social unconscious. Ironically, they found non-rational forces underneath. So the initial insights of the post-modern era were that the human heing was conditioned by non-rational forces, rather than purely rational and progressive ones. As the religious rebellion of the Reformation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 550-553
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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