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  • The Quest for God and the Good: World Philosophy as Living Experience by Diana Lobel
  • Dimple Dhanani
The Quest for God and the Good: World Philosophy as Living Experience. By Diana Lobel. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Paper, isbn 978-0-231-15315-7.

In The Quest for God and the Good: World Philosophy as a Living Experience, Diana Lobel surveys some of the world’s major philosophical and religious traditions to uncover various perspectives on the nature of God and the good. The “Quest” in the title seems to refer both to the quest of the communities and individuals who developed the worldviews covered in this book and to the quest of the reader, whose journey the author hopes to encourage. Her stated goal is “to explore the insights of central thinkers from throughout the world that address fundamental existential questions. Specifically, we will explore the connections between concepts of divinity or an absolute and the good of life” (p. 2). Rather than a perennialist perspective, Lobel searches for an appreciation of the “aesthetic beauty of multiple visions of God and the good” (p. 3). This aesthetic beauty is achieved through a layering of ancient and modern perspectives, and a mixture of technical definitions and accessible examples.

Having taught courses with titles similar to this one at both Boston University and Harvard, Lobel elucidates issues that have confused her students, often citing the students who asked the questions she answers. The definition of God and the good across these worldviews does not remain stagnant, but is recast with each new tradition, creating a fluid and evolving conception of these terms. Looking across multiple visions of what fits into the categories of “God” and “the good,” Lobel examines such concepts as “ultimate reality” and “nirvāṇa” as belonging to similar categories as [End Page 668] “God.” Instead of a critique of these traditions per se, this work serves as a guide for students through complex subject matter.

The Quest includes an examination and comparison of the major philosophical and religious traditions. In addition to scrutinizing Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, she includes discussions of individual philosophers such as Augustine, Maimonides, al-Fārābī, al-Ghazālī, Aristotle, and Plato. She elaborates to further frame her points citing, among others, thinkers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Taylor. Encapsulated in the investigation of God and the good is a discussion of Lobel’s essential conception of happiness. This discussion of happiness, which is universally accessible, along with textual and philosophical anecdotes, makes this work all the more appealing to beginners in philosophy.

Lobel begins with the two Biblical accounts of the Creation (Genesis 1 and 2)—a fitting beginning for readers from an American or “Western” background. She offers an original interpretation of how and why “God saw that it was good” in terms of this study. In chapter 2 of The Quest she briefly introduces some of the key perspectives on God and the good to frame the works of Plato. Lobel is able to give an overview of basic Platonic thought that includes a comparison of Plato’s Timaeus with Genesis and, as with each chapter, ties her discussion to an analysis of the same subject by a more recent scholar. By utilizing Plato and Iris Murdoch she deduces that the Good is a singular unitary principle, and thus she is able to begin building a framework for discussing the Good—with a capital “G”—and sees it according to Plato’s perspective: “A Thing is good or excellent insofar as it fulfills its function” (p. 37). In further discussing Murdoch’s position on attachment in relation to an argument for the good, Lobel states: “A person can shift his or her entire sense of identity based on love for a form of dance, dress, and music, [when] we seek inspiration from a charismatic entertainment figure or political leader, from a political or musical ideal” (p. 47). At times, her examples seem formulated specifically for students in the field.

In chapter 3 Lobel discusses Chinese perspectives and “creation without a creator” by focusing on the I Ching and the Tao Te Ching. With regard to...