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An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlet An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlete in “the zone,” you were called to a harmonious attunement with the world, so absorbed in it that you couldn’t make a “wrong” choice. If our culture no longer takes for granted a belief in God, can we nevertheless get in touch with the Homeric moods of wonder and gratitude, and be guided by the meanings they reveal? All Things Shining says we can. Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly illuminate some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our passionate engagement with and responsiveness to the world. Their journey takes us from the wonder and openness of Homer’s polytheism to the monotheism of Dante; from the autonomy of Kant to the multiple worlds of Melville; and, finally, to the spiritual difficulties evoked by modern authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert. Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, for forty years, is an original thinker who finds in the classic texts of our culture a new relevance for people’s everyday lives. His lively, thought-provoking lectures have earned him a podcast audience that often reaches the iTunesU Top 40. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University, is an eloquent new voice whose sensitivity to the sadness of the culture— and to what remains of the wonder and gratitude that could chase it away—captures a generation adrift. Re-envisioning modern spiritual life through their examination of literature, philosophy, and religious testimony, Dreyfus and Kelly unearth ancient sources of meaning, and teach us how to rediscover the sacred, shining things that surround us every day. This book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves. It offers a new—and very old—way to celebrate and be grateful for our existence in the modern world.


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An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlet An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact it's quite new. In medieval Europe, God's calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlete in “the zone,” you were called to a harmonious attunement with the world, so absorbed in it that you couldn’t make a “wrong” choice. If our culture no longer takes for granted a belief in God, can we nevertheless get in touch with the Homeric moods of wonder and gratitude, and be guided by the meanings they reveal? All Things Shining says we can. Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly illuminate some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our passionate engagement with and responsiveness to the world. Their journey takes us from the wonder and openness of Homer’s polytheism to the monotheism of Dante; from the autonomy of Kant to the multiple worlds of Melville; and, finally, to the spiritual difficulties evoked by modern authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert. Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, for forty years, is an original thinker who finds in the classic texts of our culture a new relevance for people’s everyday lives. His lively, thought-provoking lectures have earned him a podcast audience that often reaches the iTunesU Top 40. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University, is an eloquent new voice whose sensitivity to the sadness of the culture— and to what remains of the wonder and gratitude that could chase it away—captures a generation adrift. Re-envisioning modern spiritual life through their examination of literature, philosophy, and religious testimony, Dreyfus and Kelly unearth ancient sources of meaning, and teach us how to rediscover the sacred, shining things that surround us every day. This book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves. It offers a new—and very old—way to celebrate and be grateful for our existence in the modern world.

30 review for All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anna Keating

    I'm so grateful to the friend who sent me this book, and someday when I have more time I'd love to write a full review of it, especially as it has garnered so much praise. On the one hand, it was a pleasure to read a book length essay about the books I teach and some I don't (Eat, Pray, Love?!) It was also enjoyable to read authors I disagree with who say things like, whatever diety or system of belief one's gratitude is directed toward is totally irrelevent. The gratitude is the point. This sou I'm so grateful to the friend who sent me this book, and someday when I have more time I'd love to write a full review of it, especially as it has garnered so much praise. On the one hand, it was a pleasure to read a book length essay about the books I teach and some I don't (Eat, Pray, Love?!) It was also enjoyable to read authors I disagree with who say things like, whatever diety or system of belief one's gratitude is directed toward is totally irrelevent. The gratitude is the point. This sounds good, but of course, no one actually believes that ANY god or system of belief is equally benign as long as one is grateful to it. If someone was a white supremicist, for example, and worshiped a god that shared that worldview, his gratitude to said god would be quite different in kind from the gratitude practiced by an egalitarian. Even the authors don't think this is true, as they spend the entire book decrying Judeo-Christian monotheism while at the same time saying that no set of ritual practices is any better or worse than any other set . . . For example, "When Christianity accounts itself the one true faith, when it claims a total, unique, and transcendent truth it leads to isolation and lack of community. For in its search for some transcendent Divine it forsakes the multiple, communal goods that are to be found here on earth." Which brings up the author's view that Chrisitians hate the body and see life as merely waiting for death and the opportunity to be disembodied . . . So many problems so little time . . . Basically, I'm sad to report that, after reading All Things Shining, I think Gary Wills was actually being more than fair in his review. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi... Dreyfus and Kelly over-simplify and often flat out misrepresent the Greek and Christian authors they use to prop up their paper thin vision of a life well lived. It's all warm fuzzy feelings of "community" at sporting events and coffee shops, without any real obligations or responisbilities to one's neighbor or one's self, because those would mean competing truth claims and self-sacrifice without reward. The authors want the readers to be swept up in whoosh moments which "give life meaning" and yet recognize that people must discern the difference between an MLK rally and a Hitler rally, and yet they think any system of belief which would allow one to discern the difference between those two events would be problematic since their is no ultimate truth about the universe that is ultimately discernable. They're not so much into polytheism, which is itself a worldview that is totalizing as they are into "polytheistic truth claims", by which, I think they mean dabbling in this and that and enjoying it. Fair enough.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    This is the first book I’ve read as a direct result of reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work. The problem All Things Shining addresses is that the more choice of thought and actions we have, the more we are prone to nihilistic tendencies. This is counter-intuitive but in many ways, it's true. Being free from the shackles of religion, superstition, fate, and god-ordained kings should be empowering and joyful. But it's not that simple. Freedom can be whatever we make it which, it turns ou This is the first book I’ve read as a direct result of reading Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work. The problem All Things Shining addresses is that the more choice of thought and actions we have, the more we are prone to nihilistic tendencies. This is counter-intuitive but in many ways, it's true. Being free from the shackles of religion, superstition, fate, and god-ordained kings should be empowering and joyful. But it's not that simple. Freedom can be whatever we make it which, it turns out, is a problem. The paradox of so much choice can lead to paralysis. Not knowing with certainty what our role in society is, or what the future of the universe and humanity might be can leave us conflicted, anxious, and worried about wasting time and energy. As Dostoyevsky’s observed, “when nothing matters, everything is okay.” All Things Shining implicates everyone from Descartes and Kant to Luther and St Augustine, luminaries usually spared much criticism, in the unfortunate spread of nihilism and existential angst in modern society. Fortunately though, we're not left to wallow in our discontent. The authors suggest that rather than endless speculation about things we can't know, or fretting over things we can't change, we should focus on the shining things. Their examples of finding the shining things come from the Greeks and their gods, the last professional full time wheelwright, Herman Melville, whose white whale graces the cover of the book, David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert When the Greeks were blessed with good fortune, cursed with bad, or captivated by whatever passion the gods brought them, they fully embraced it, allowing it to consume their attention until, like all shining things, it passed. There was no question about where the feeling came from, only acceptance. Today we can't blind ourselves to the fact that the Greek gods don't exist, but we can occasionally allow ourselves to be carried away in the passion of a crowd watching football or dancing together or joined in awe of any human accomplishment. We can master skills and crafts and find the hidden value in working with materials in the physical world. As we master these skills, we can enter flow states, and find lasting passion in our craftsmanship. We can feel the meditative bliss of being caught up in a moment of gratitude or acceptance. We can allow the creative muses work within us or simply appreciate the creativity of others. In short, we can find pleasure, joy, and even meaning in the realm of human action. If we work at it, enough pleasure to forget the trap of nihilism and flourish, confident in our place in the world and in the skills we've mastered. For me, this was a new way of thinking about meaning. I love the idea and I’m excited to keep going down the path of books Cal Newport mentions.Rapt is next.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I think over the past couple years, without being aware directly of what I was doing, I was testing the authors' hypothosis. I was looking for a way to innoculate myself against the gravity of a postmodern despair. I started to carve a life that included the classics. I started to look for a positive beauty within and near the Western Cannon. Anyway, this book was a nice framework to continue my 'experiment' with the classics. Favorite part of this book was the chapter on Melville. I think this I think over the past couple years, without being aware directly of what I was doing, I was testing the authors' hypothosis. I was looking for a way to innoculate myself against the gravity of a postmodern despair. I started to carve a life that included the classics. I started to look for a positive beauty within and near the Western Cannon. Anyway, this book was a nice framework to continue my 'experiment' with the classics. Favorite part of this book was the chapter on Melville. I think this book really shines in the descriptive, but falls short on the proscriptive. But, then again, most everything and everyperson on the planet has fallen short in the proscriptive attempt to find the shinning.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    The highest praise that I can give this book is that it makes me want to reread the classics, particularly Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY and MOBY DICK, the latter of which the authors regard as crucial in understanding what 21st century western humanity believes in, or doesn't. As well, it makes me want to read, for the first time, the contemporary writings of David Foster Wallace which are at the heart of our existential questioning. At just over 200 pages this is a short book but packed with prov The highest praise that I can give this book is that it makes me want to reread the classics, particularly Homer's ILIAD and ODYSSEY and MOBY DICK, the latter of which the authors regard as crucial in understanding what 21st century western humanity believes in, or doesn't. As well, it makes me want to read, for the first time, the contemporary writings of David Foster Wallace which are at the heart of our existential questioning. At just over 200 pages this is a short book but packed with provocative thoughts. The authors see 20th and 21st century culture as a series of responses to the "death of God", that is, a lack of a religious dimension which began with the enlightenment, especially Descartes, followed by Kant's elaborations on the idea of the "self" as the determiner of all meaning. David Foster Wallace's characters torture themselves trying to create meaning in an essentially meaningless universe. In contrast to this grim self-direction are the Greeks whose gods (it's irrelevant how much the Greeks literally believed in their existence)reflect a "phenomena of gratitude and wonder." In contrast to the modern view that we are entirely responsible for our own behavior is the Homeric idea that we act best when we open ourselves to being drawn from without by this multitude of polytheistic gods, however arbitrary and capricious they might be. With brief stops to discuss Christ, Augustine, and Dante in their contributions to the rise of monotheism, the bulk of the book is devoted to Melville's MOBY DICK, especially Ahab's obsessive urge to "strike through the mask". In his pursuit of the whale, he is trying to determine whether any montheistic and transcendent meaning of the universe exists. Ahab is a weird mixture of Kant's autonomy and Dante's vision of eternity, and of course, he fails to resolve much of anything. Interestingly, the author sees Pip, the black cabin boy who, while considered insane, as the figure who is able to hold multiple and conflicting view of reality at the same time - a reality which truly is "in-sane", or more accurately, "ex-sane." That's to say that his vision goes beyond what we consider rational thought processes. The conclusions the authors reach are particularly interesting - we feel most alive when we are engaging in an activity which lifts us beyond ourselves. This often occurs in sports, with the sensation of what the authors call "whooshing." The dangers of modern technology are too often that they drive us inward and dull our sense of making distinctions. The "gods" (in modern or ancient terms) call us to "cultivate our sensitivity", the sense of wonder and surprise that is too often missing in our lives.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Grabbed this on a whim at a cozy independent bookstore in DC over the break. Started reading it over a pint of porter. The in-depth discussion of David Foster Wallace's suicidal nihilism was pretty interesting, as were some of the bits about Homer. The chapter on Melville was oustanding. Otherwise, it was a mish-mash of woo-infected academic BS trying to pass itself off as "secular." Now I just want to read Moby Dick again. To grapple with some serious, secular, useful ideas about human life and m Grabbed this on a whim at a cozy independent bookstore in DC over the break. Started reading it over a pint of porter. The in-depth discussion of David Foster Wallace's suicidal nihilism was pretty interesting, as were some of the bits about Homer. The chapter on Melville was oustanding. Otherwise, it was a mish-mash of woo-infected academic BS trying to pass itself off as "secular." Now I just want to read Moby Dick again. To grapple with some serious, secular, useful ideas about human life and meaning, just read the Greeks themselves. I tend to agree with Nietzsche (who is typically misinterpreted, once again, in this book) - everything after the Greeks is just an unnecessary, confusing tangent. I feel bad giving it only two stars, because the good parts were really, really good, and the book was compellingly written, so much so that it wasn't too much of an awful slog to get through the long, meaty "Christian" center; and, as aforementioned, some aspects of it were truly eye-opening, and led this English MA and former bookseller to go so far as *dog-earing pages*. But, alas, there was no real thesis, and it did not live up to its promise.

  6. 5 out of 5

    JE VM

    Terribly biased, unfounded and poorly argued. Fundamental errors in the concepts with which he tries to explain cultures and religions. Quite uninformed on most religious doctrines with an incredible ability to put everything out of its context. Not to mention his extremely subjective interpretation of most philosophical claims. I couldn't be more disappointed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Rick Muir

    In the beginning of this book, a premise/opinion is presented as a fact. Most of the rest of the book tries to prop up that opinion. That makes alot of what comes after weak and one-sided. The authors attempt to make their case for nihilism in every chapter with little or no balance to be found. The chapter regarding Herman Melville again makes assumptions presented as fact. Regarding the books cover illustration; Moby Dick appears to be smiling.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    The message of the book is to advocate for a return of our feelings of gratitude and awe in this disenchanted world and insist that nihilism is misplaced while advocating openness to the moods that surround us and trust our feelings towards the divine. The authors know the problem with ‘whooshing up’ (what the Greeks called ‘physis’ for nature, aka a revealing of the presence in the present as truth but what the authors call ('whoosh up’). Donald Trump with his Nuremburg rallies wants nothing mo The message of the book is to advocate for a return of our feelings of gratitude and awe in this disenchanted world and insist that nihilism is misplaced while advocating openness to the moods that surround us and trust our feelings towards the divine. The authors know the problem with ‘whooshing up’ (what the Greeks called ‘physis’ for nature, aka a revealing of the presence in the present as truth but what the authors call ('whoosh up’). Donald Trump with his Nuremburg rallies wants nothing more than for his followers to ‘stop thinking and follow me, since only I know the truth and trust your feelings as I tell you who to hate’ even if it means one of his sycophantic fans will murder a dozen or so Jews in a synagogue because they blame George Soros for financing the ‘caravan’ to sneak in ‘terrorist’, all of which can only make sense in the fevered imagination of people who irrationally trust the ‘wooshing up’ of a mad man rather than their own reason. The book was written in 2007 or so and the authors are explicitly aware of the potential problems with how they want to bring back enchantment into a secular world. They obviously were referring to the fascist past of Nazi Germany, not the hate mongers of today as exemplified by Donald Trump who says that ‘all news that goes contra to the lies I spread is ‘fake news’”, but the authors are aware of the problem their 'wooshing up’, gratitude and awe could lead to. Dante put homosexuals and people who commit suicide into a seventh level of hell because one of the greatest wrongs according to him is to go against God’s nature and Love in a divine universe where everything must have a reason and serves God’s purpose and to go against that is a sin, according to Dante as explained by the authors. To me, that phrase, ‘everything happens for a reason’ wreaks of vacuity because within it exist a tacit teleology since it makes the individual seem special and as if we were ordained to exist because we currently exist. By that way of thinking our existence makes for specialness because we exist and thus becomes a tautology, nothing more. The authors’ want us to give thanks by way of gratitude for the universe when it smiles on us because they think ‘everything happens for a reason’ and the world must have a meaning since they want to reintroduce enchantment back into the world, at least that’s what they say. Charles Taylor’s take of the inner self in a secular age as advocated by these authors who definitely appeal to Taylor will lead to an inverted form of identity politics as exemplified by Fukuyama’s latest book ‘Identity: The Demand for Dignity’ (as if my claim for self dignity justifies the privileging of the privilege because of my privileged identity, or as the bigot will always say ‘I don’t want to take rights away from others, I just want to safe guard my own rights (at their expense)’)’ Fukuyama made Taylor’s books his template for his book. Steven Pinker’s ‘Enlightenment Now’ has an inverted ‘anti-identity and anti-political correctness’ tone to it also, and seemed to me to be written myopically with a specialness of being special post hoc rationalization while losing sight of the fact that not everyone is as privileged as the author pretends to be. I found each book loathsome, manipulative and unenlightening. I’d even say that each author really did not like and in Pinker’s case understand the Age of Enlightenment. To be clear, this book is not odious in those ways and the authors are aware of the fine line they tread and go to pains to warn against identity politics being inverted wrongly which the above sited books did not. I despise the spiritual take these authors advocate. I knew my wife would love it and I recommended she read this book because of the sections on Jesus, David Foster Wallace, Homeric Greeks, Stoics, Dante, and Moby Dick. The pieces all get intelligently tied together. Those parts of the book I really appreciated. The overall theme was nauseating to me, though, but I can appreciate other peoples’ perspectives especially if I learn something worthwhile and get to see the world through somebody else’s paradigm. Even if, as with the last part of the book, the authors call for reassessing our reliance on technologies such as the GPS, because they say it makes us lose our gratitude and awe of the now. I want my GPS in my car regardless and I’ll give my gratitude to Einstein and his General Theory of Relativity which accounts for the slowing time of time because of the mass of the earth verse the satellites in space thus making a GPS possible. I’m always most in awe when I understand the science and I see disenchantment as the elimination of magic and superstition, clearly a good thing not something to bemoan. I do love ‘Infinite Jest’ by Wallace and the authors’ detailed description of it reminded me why I think it’s such a great book. I would suggest that ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, by Pynchon is a counter perspective to that book, ‘there is not extinction only transformation’, and I think it’s the better book by far, but they don’t mention it in this book but I would recommend that for those have not read it yet. The authors of this book want to show the line of nihilism that starts after the Homeric Greeks goes through Luther and culminates in Nietzsche and is expressed by the post-modernist writer such as Wallace and according to them as infested our current culture. The authors seem to be more than happy to create meaning when none may be present, and will advocate gratitude and awe in the everyday even when nothing but time and chance explains the world. I will quote from my favorite book of the bible, Ecclesiastes: ‘The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all’.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Gross

    One possible summary: don't look for a unifying intelligence or purpose to life, the universe, and everything. Instead, develop an attentiveness, intelligence, and craft that aligns with what you care about, and be receptive to the emergence of opportunities to apply these things. This worldview corresponds less with scientific reductionism and with monotheism than with the ancient polytheism, and we would be wise to investigate how this polytheism worked and may work for us again in some form.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Sasaki

    I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values. David Foster Wallace Somewhere in the digital ether I'm sure an NSA surveillance bot is concerned that I'm having an existential crisis. Last week I read Man's Search for Meaning and now this week, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I promise, I'm not having an exist I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values. David Foster Wallace Somewhere in the digital ether I'm sure an NSA surveillance bot is concerned that I'm having an existential crisis. Last week I read Man's Search for Meaning and now this week, All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I promise, I'm not having an existential crisis. Last week I was in Seattle's seductive Elliot Bay Books where I stumbled on All Things Shining and was immediately drawn to its opening essay on David Foster Wallace's nihilism as representative of our society's "gut-level sadness." On a whim I decided to take it with me. Really, All Things Shining is two books written by two eminent philosophers from two different generations and with two very different writing styles. Sean Dorrance Kelly, the chair of Harvard's philosophy department, tackles the first two introductory chapters on contemporary nihilism and David Foster Wallace. He also writes most of the final two chapters on Melville's Moby Dick and then concludes by returning to David Foster Wallace. Hubert Dreyfus, a widely respected philosopher of existentialism and artificial intelligence who was Kelly's teacher and mentor at UC Berkeley, tackles the middle chapters on the philosophical implications of the Western classics. Kelly is a clear, engaging writer and should publish his own work of non-fiction for a general audience. Dreyfus belongs to an older generation of academics. He struggles to connect with his audience in a way that transcends lecturing behind the podium. Too often the middle of the book feels like sitting through a boring secular sermon. Much like Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday , which explores what contemporary Western civilization can learn from traditional societies, All Things Shining looks back to the classics to explore how we can address the "indecision and sadness" that characterize contemporary life. Unlike past generations, whose lives, beliefs and identities were defined by religion, ideology and hierarchy (a firm sense of one's place in the world), today we suffer the "burden of choice." Even those who are avidly religious must make choices that did not burden their ancestors. Most Christians in the US today must choose whether they support gay marriage, whereas their grandparents simply assumed that to be gay was to sin because the bible says so. Similarly, we are inclined to reflect on our every behavior through the lens of psychology and cognitive biases, whereas our grandparents could behave with the freedom of not questioning the why behind each action. This burden of choice wears us down. Unlike our ancestors, we must choose our beliefs, our identity, our work, our ethical justifications. We are each responsible for developing our own toolkit to lead our lives and evaluate the lives of others. The hit HBO show Girls can be interpreted as a struggle to find meaning in a modern New York City that offers no guidance as to how we should make decisions. The protagonists address meaninglessness with a combination of sarcasm, sadness, and sex. "What's sacred is whatever you’re not allowed to laugh at in a given culture," write Dreyfus and Kelly paraphrasing Nietzsche. There is an aspect of meta-hilarity to see Kelly tell this to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, the show that is perhaps most representative of our culture's inability to treat anything as sacred. Ultimately the authors and David Foster Wallace find contemporary sacredness in sports, citing Foster Wallace's New York Times Magazine essay on "Federer as Religious Experience." Colbert pokes fun: "We're trading in Jesus for football? But Kelly responds with a straight face that sports is one of the few common domains that the majority of society treats as sacred. It allows us to get lost in the ecstasy of the crowd at the enjoyment of superhuman performance, whether it's Roger Federer's tennis, Michael Jordan's pull away jumpshot or Lou Gherig's unbelievable perseverance. "Getting lost in the excitement of the crowd" is one of the authors' prescriptions to reclaim meaning, though they are cognizant that the fervor of the crowd can also lead to mob violence and conformity. We must first develop a strong ethical backbone to distinguish between a crowd calling for vigilante justice and a crowd experiencing the thrill of collective rhapsody. For too many of us, our knee-jerk reaction is to either always join the crowd or never join the crowd. The most challenging suggestion by the authors is to craft an image of who we would like to one day become in order to develop the craftsmanship necessary to dedicate our lives to becoming that person. We can appreciate the freedom of choice while still basing our decisions on a framework that guides us to become our better selves. With a clear idea of who we are and who we aspire to become, the authors argue, we can cultivate the same awareness in life that Bill Bradley exhibited on the basketball court. At our best, we are never frozen by indecision and yet we are always aware of the why behind each decision we make.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Schwarze

    "Rubbish" is the best word to describe this book. It's too bad, given how good Dreyfus' work on Heidegger is.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tom Quinn

    Too often this reads like an undergraduate's final paper being padded for word count. But I can't fault the enthusiasm. And there are a number of inspiring quotes amid a few warm and fuzzy passages. 3 stars.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    Polytheism. Greek polytheism. That's the solution to modern nihilism, according to the two very clever philosophers who have written this book, a quick overview of the highlights of Western Civilization as interpreted by literary and religious figures. Sounds pretty dull but it's actually crackling with electricity. I would have said it was not humanly possible to write a chapter entitled, "From Dante to Kant: The Dangers and Attractions of Autonomy" and keep me on the edge of my chair but Dreyfu Polytheism. Greek polytheism. That's the solution to modern nihilism, according to the two very clever philosophers who have written this book, a quick overview of the highlights of Western Civilization as interpreted by literary and religious figures. Sounds pretty dull but it's actually crackling with electricity. I would have said it was not humanly possible to write a chapter entitled, "From Dante to Kant: The Dangers and Attractions of Autonomy" and keep me on the edge of my chair but Dreyfus and Kelly have done so. Their theory is that the Greeks, who thought people were "whooshed" away by the gods, taken out of themselves and motivated to do things they did not choose on their own to do, have provided the best explanation for our behavior at its best. Moderated by the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason, this provides a world in which people are grateful to the gods (or whatever) for the shining things that happen to them: a sunset, being delighted by music, even acting in a heroic manner, as did Wesley Autrey, the man who, seeing another man waiting on a subway platform fall onto the tracks, jumped down, threw himself on top of the other man, and held him safe until the train stopped, on top of them with only a few inches to spare. When asked why he did it, Mr Autrey said he didn't know, he just saw someone who needed help and he helped him. This, say the authord of All Things Shining, is the kind of unthinking action that sports figures talk about when they perform exceptionally well, and that surgeons perform in emergency situations. The Renaissance emphasis on humanism has destroyed religion in the West, say the authors. God is, indeed, dead. When there is no God, everything is, indeed, permitted, as Dostoyevsky said. And we are now in a world of nihilism. To escape from this we must cultivate a sense of wonder and sacrifice to the gods in thanks. Not by slaughtering hecatombs of oxen but by creating our own small rituals that recognize that we are not always (perhaps not usually) responsible for what happens to us. I disagree entirely with the philosphy here but if these guys have backed up everything with clear enterpretation, footnotes, and cross references. A chapter on Melville's polytheism in Moby Dick is brilliant and if they wrote this as a term paper in my sophomore English class I would give them an A. Not a book for everyone but for amateur philosophers and lovers of literary criticism and Moby Dick, it's terrific. 2011 No 24 Coming soon: Envious Casca

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mishehu

    The book in sum: why we're cynics, and what we can do about it. Dreyfus and Kelly spell out the why in a succinct and incisive survey of key moments in the evolution of western civ (as filtered through the lens of a number of its most cherished texts) -- with the aim of explaining how it is that we, as a many-society-ed culture, progressed from a state of wonder-in-the-world, in Classical Greek times, by stages (some more direct than others) to a prevailing state of nihilism today. Their sketch The book in sum: why we're cynics, and what we can do about it. Dreyfus and Kelly spell out the why in a succinct and incisive survey of key moments in the evolution of western civ (as filtered through the lens of a number of its most cherished texts) -- with the aim of explaining how it is that we, as a many-society-ed culture, progressed from a state of wonder-in-the-world, in Classical Greek times, by stages (some more direct than others) to a prevailing state of nihilism today. Their sketch analysis is persuasive and compelling. It's also quite sobering. But though the authors mean not just to educate but to inspire as well, the weakest part of their book (its closing chapter) has precious too little of the advice they promise for the wonder-lorn. Like so many books that purport to both describe and prescribe, All Things Shiny falls disappointingly short on useful prescription. But the rest of the book I thought was first rate. And the story it tells -- and the alarms it raises -- couldn't be more pertinent today. I highly recommend this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Are you kidding me? We go from a heady discussion about the nature of the sacred and the evolution of thought on the character of the divine, and conclude that it's all meaningless compared to watching Roger Federer work his magic from the baseline? After the chapter on Moby Dick, I was thinking this is a 4- or 5-star book. Brilliant insights and well-thought themes from the literature reviewed. And then to conclude that the ideal state for man is a polytheistic culture that worhips at the altar Are you kidding me? We go from a heady discussion about the nature of the sacred and the evolution of thought on the character of the divine, and conclude that it's all meaningless compared to watching Roger Federer work his magic from the baseline? After the chapter on Moby Dick, I was thinking this is a 4- or 5-star book. Brilliant insights and well-thought themes from the literature reviewed. And then to conclude that the ideal state for man is a polytheistic culture that worhips at the altar of Federer, Jordan and Ali? What a waste. Of my money and time, and of the authors' obvious literary talent.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Caren

    I very much enjoyed the literary criticism parts of this book, but was less enchanted with the final "self-help" chapters. (But then, I wasn't looking for a self-help sort of book...) The authors are philosophy professors and the book is at its best when they relate ideas of philosophers to their chosen literary texts. The western classics explored at length are Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey", works of Aeschylus, Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Melville's "Moby Dick". I only read Homer fairly recentl I very much enjoyed the literary criticism parts of this book, but was less enchanted with the final "self-help" chapters. (But then, I wasn't looking for a self-help sort of book...) The authors are philosophy professors and the book is at its best when they relate ideas of philosophers to their chosen literary texts. The western classics explored at length are Homer's "Iliad" and "Odyssey", works of Aeschylus, Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Melville's "Moby Dick". I only read Homer fairly recently, as an adult and with the guidance of a wonderful teacher, so this discussion was very interesting to me. I never finished reading "Moby Dick", even though it was an assignment for a high school English class. It seemed painfully boring to me all those years ago. The authors' remarks about the book made it quite interesting and also made me think the ideas were probably far above my young head as a teen. "Moby Dick", as with many classics, is probably one of those books that should be revisited at different points in one's life, as wisdom grows. For me, time with this book is well-spent if you stick to the central chapters that discuss some of the Western classics. There were no big "ah-ha" moments; rather, there were many times when I murmured "how interesting" and kept reading.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Muzzy

    Yikes, somebody hire an editor. On page 18, the authors repeat the exact same sentence we read at the bottom of page 17. Later, they misuse the word "nonplussed" when they clearly mean to say "not surprised." A very bad sign: the first sentence of chapter two gushes: "David Foster Wallace was the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether." Anybody else sick of the DFW worship? Reading this book is like overhearing a pair of college professors over-explain an idea to Yikes, somebody hire an editor. On page 18, the authors repeat the exact same sentence we read at the bottom of page 17. Later, they misuse the word "nonplussed" when they clearly mean to say "not surprised." A very bad sign: the first sentence of chapter two gushes: "David Foster Wallace was the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether." Anybody else sick of the DFW worship? Reading this book is like overhearing a pair of college professors over-explain an idea to someone who's never been to college. And they keep repeating their theses so many times, it's as if they're worried us poor dumb readers might not get the point. I can't stand it when authors talk down to their readers. As other reviewers have noted, the chapter on Moby-Dick is actually pretty good at pointing out some less-than obvious aspects of that novel. Hubert Dreyfus has done some excellent work on interpreting Heidegger, and I actually enjoyed that short documentary he did about Being in Time. But this too-long pamphlet did not deserve to go to print.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This book seemed adrift, as if the authors didn't really know where they were going with it. It jumped around way too much and the conclusion was pretty disappointing. I think my own personal approach to life is less complicated and more in-tune with big ideas than anything they wrote about. I was very disappointed by this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Sierra

    From Polytheism to (Chrisitan) Monotheism and back again. Dreyfus and Kelly find the pervasive nihilism of modern people as the inevitable outcome of the West's progress towards monotheism. Instead of situating persons in an enchanted universe where the gods charge reality with meaning, Christian monotheism, as articulated by the Apostle Paul and Saint Augustine, inaugurated the West on its decline towards a desacralized universe (the authors admit that much of their thought is influenced by C. From Polytheism to (Chrisitan) Monotheism and back again. Dreyfus and Kelly find the pervasive nihilism of modern people as the inevitable outcome of the West's progress towards monotheism. Instead of situating persons in an enchanted universe where the gods charge reality with meaning, Christian monotheism, as articulated by the Apostle Paul and Saint Augustine, inaugurated the West on its decline towards a desacralized universe (the authors admit that much of their thought is influenced by C. Taylor's work, but they see Christianity as something to "get over" instead of a means of reenchanting reality). Melville, like the prophets of old, stands as somewhat of a hero in this book because he proclaims the end of the West's monotheism in "Moby Dick". The Sperm Whale is a new form of deity: unapproachable, apophatic, and open to a variety of interpretations. The authors encourage readers to reorient their experience of the sacred away from monotheism and its totalitarian metaphysical claims. Instead, they offer Sport as the modern experience of the divine. It is in Sport that moderns are exposed to heroic acts of super-human abilities. In sports, there are moments of ecstasy that overflow with meaning. The Greeks would attribute such moments to work of the gods. For Dreyfus and Kelly, moderns, with a proclivity towards nihilism, would do well to seek such moments. This is the antidote to an otherwise meaningless universe.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Luna Saint Claire

    A truly valuable book to read bringing philosophy, metaphysics, and literature together.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    This book was interesting, although I was not sure I liked it until I got all the way through it. It came to my attention in a joint review with "Examined Lives" about books that look at ethics and morality through the point of view of the classics. The intended punch line seemed to be a reaffirmation of the liberal arts perspective and the generalist approach to dealing with the big questions of life. There was an early chapter on David Foster Wallace that really whetted my appetite. But then i This book was interesting, although I was not sure I liked it until I got all the way through it. It came to my attention in a joint review with "Examined Lives" about books that look at ethics and morality through the point of view of the classics. The intended punch line seemed to be a reaffirmation of the liberal arts perspective and the generalist approach to dealing with the big questions of life. There was an early chapter on David Foster Wallace that really whetted my appetite. But then it turned more into a general overlook of the western intellectual tradition from Homeric Greeks through the classical Greeks through the Hebrews and Christianity and into the moderns, including Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, and Melville. Get the idea?? A broad survey! But there was a point and the authors kept at it. The idea is that our meaning in life comes from sources outside of us that we respect and follow - that our value comes from how we fit into a broader set of values, rules, and relationships - provided in different ways by different cultures throughout history. Modernity, in this view, involves the destruction of these outside sources of meaning such that we are left on our own and have no way of achieving the meaning that we need as part of our makeup. Our extreme and subjective independence is touted as a positive development but in this view it is the end of the road in which values and meaning have been taken away and we have nothing with which to replace them. So far, so good. . . . and the book is interesting for clarifying how Homeric Greek, Classical Greek (Plato), Christianity, and modern philosophy fit together (or not as the case may be). The book outlines the same bankruptcy of modern man that was chronicled by others and it is done so clearly. You may or may not buy the argument, but it is an accessible argument. Compare this to the later work of Philip Rieff, who outlined the modern death of the sacred (God is dead and all that) but is very hard to work through. The point is what to do about it. The authors make a good try and note a variety of situations that permit the possibility of encountering "sacred" experiences and meaning. While they spend too much time on sports metaphors, the authors clear note the downside of losing oneself in the crowd. Much more interesting to me was the chapter on craft as a mode of interacting with and experiencing sacred value in the world. It reminded me of Richard Sennett's work on craftsmanship. Ultimately, however, the authors have written one chapter too many and end up dodging the issue of sacred value. Why its all around us and all we need to do is notice it! That is a cop out! Even worse, the perspective is "phenomenological" meaning it focuses on our experience of the sacred. What that sacred order is and where it comes from is not addressed (how could it be?). The problem is that if the moderns have done their work and killed God and morality, then what is to be put in its place. The authors suggest nothing - it is already there of course and we just need to notice it. This strikes me as a too facile answer that dodges more questions than it addresses. Then again, it they acknowledged that they don't have a solution, the next question is why they should be paid attention to, since they are not adding anything new. And it they had a real solution to this modern human condition, then wouldn't that be special? Overall, the book was sufficiently thought provoking but in the end comes across as what you would expect from two liberal arts professors. Still, on the whole a fine and useful book that is well worth the day or two it takes to read it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Holliman

    It was the title that attracted me: All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I felt that the authors were making two assumptions outright: 1) that we dwell in a fallen age devoid of the intensely passionate lives that our ancestors enjoyed and 2) that great books can cure this. Sure enough, the authors suppose that the overarching zeigeist of our time is nihilism, marked by a loneliness and alienation familiar to us all. They also take for granted that t It was the title that attracted me: All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age. I felt that the authors were making two assumptions outright: 1) that we dwell in a fallen age devoid of the intensely passionate lives that our ancestors enjoyed and 2) that great books can cure this. Sure enough, the authors suppose that the overarching zeigeist of our time is nihilism, marked by a loneliness and alienation familiar to us all. They also take for granted that the people of, say, Homer's world lived a rich existence connected to an otherworldly sphere of gods that made their days deeper and more meaningful. If you can swallow these assumptions, then this book may be for you. Follow the authors as they trace the fall of Western humanity's mind from the passionate heights of Homer to the lonely depths of David Foster Wallace. The main milestones along the way are Dante's Divine Commedia and Melville's "Moby Dick." The journey is thrilling, but the final chapter is weak. The authors attempt to find sources of transcendence in our current age. Their anwsers, the "whoosing up" emotion of a crowd, the intense study of craft, seem...easily arrived at.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Angie Boyter

    This book sounded so interesting I talked my Sunday Philosophers group into choosing it for our discussion this month. Bad idea; now they'll blame me. I found myself disagreeing with the authors on page 3. I should have realized when they described David Foster Wallace as "the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether" that the authors and I were not sympatico ( for more reasons than that they apparently do not know how to use a semi-colon properly). Then things got This book sounded so interesting I talked my Sunday Philosophers group into choosing it for our discussion this month. Bad idea; now they'll blame me. I found myself disagreeing with the authors on page 3. I should have realized when they described David Foster Wallace as "the greatest writer of his generation; perhaps the greatest mind altogether" that the authors and I were not sympatico ( for more reasons than that they apparently do not know how to use a semi-colon properly). Then things got even worse as the book proceeded, because most of it was downright boring, which is even worse. The examination of the classics was too drawn out and the discussion of the lessons for today was too sketchy. I also did not like the oblique way he defined his terms.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Carder

    When I first perused this book I thought 'noooooo ~ totally weird book, misinterpretation of Moby Dick . . . . all-adoring worship of 'existentialism' making it into a religion' ------ that was my first take. Now that I've studied with Dr. Hubert Dreyfus [UC Berkeley online "From the gods to God and Back,"] I now get what this book was driving after. To gain the greater, larger view, you have to have many many more discussions with Professor Dreyfus. . . . . https://archive.org/details/Philosoph When I first perused this book I thought 'noooooo ~ totally weird book, misinterpretation of Moby Dick . . . . all-adoring worship of 'existentialism' making it into a religion' ------ that was my first take. Now that I've studied with Dr. Hubert Dreyfus [UC Berkeley online "From the gods to God and Back,"] I now get what this book was driving after. To gain the greater, larger view, you have to have many many more discussions with Professor Dreyfus. . . . . https://archive.org/details/Philosoph...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aileen

    Interesting and thought-provoking literary criticism, although the last self-help-esque chapter can easily fall short of expectations. This book doesn't do much in terms of telling you what you should do, but it has changed the way I think about certain things.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve Walker

    Very flawed book that runs out of steam at the half way point. They pose an interesting question, in a post-God world what really matters? They fail to answer the question.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I'm over a week overdue on this book already, and YET, and YET I have to finish it despite its density.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rich Yavorsky

    "Man can embody the truth, but he cannot know it." - W. B. Yeats What a title. "All Things Shining" takes the reader on a tour of Western philosophy to discover how our world migrated from divinity to nihilism over the past three millennia, and what might the reader today be capable of in order to find a life of meaning. A point of departure for the discussion is modern-day nihilist David Foster Wallace, a writer who in his own 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College stated "if you cannot cont "Man can embody the truth, but he cannot know it." - W. B. Yeats What a title. "All Things Shining" takes the reader on a tour of Western philosophy to discover how our world migrated from divinity to nihilism over the past three millennia, and what might the reader today be capable of in order to find a life of meaning. A point of departure for the discussion is modern-day nihilist David Foster Wallace, a writer who in his own 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College stated "if you cannot control how your mind thinks you are totally hosed," then sadly to took his own life three years later. Literary milestones covered in ATS include Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Aeschylus, Dante, Shakespeare, Jesus, Augustine, Luther, Descartes, Melville, Kant, Nietzsche, and Wallace, among others. The book concludes with some great discussion on the Greek concepts of physis, poiesis, and modern-day technology. This book had excellent density: many chapters warranted slow reading, but the book assumes nothing about reader's own background. Any book that leaves me pining to read Dante, Melville, and Wallace is worth its weight in gold, and any author who epigraphs Melville is a friend of mine. Pocket notes below (tl;dr) for reference. ________ - Man who rescues subway track victim. He made a choice. But not. the circumstance drew the choice out of him. - People avoid choices through egotism or addiction like social media. - How to make choices? Or, how to determine the criteria that is the basis for a choice? They leave no room for the human indecision that plagues us all. - Dante's Akrasia, Greek weakness of the will. - Dante v Shakespeare. To be our not to be as the divine order crumbles. - Nihilism and religious fanaticism don't satisfy. Infinite jest and eat pray love offer answers, unlike The Waste Land - Wallace: Kenyon 2005 liberal arts education. If you cannot control how your mind thinks you are totally hosed. The mind is an excellent servant but a terrible master. - Nietzsche's free spirit vs Dante's happiness. Must we have shining emotions to be happy? Is Wallace's assertion even achievable to Dante's standards? - The mature Martin Luther. Gods grace is constant and unconditional. Like writing is for Gilbert (Eat Pray Love). Which is a great relief from the Nietzsche/Wallace point of view. A Gestalt shift from pressure-filled to beyond-our-control. What is between? Last chapter. - Homes arete: to be in sync with the gods. Gratitude and amazement. Even Helen's adultery spurred on by Aphrodite. - Roman stoicism goddess Fortuna is the grandfather to secular nihilimsm. Opposite of Greek arete. - "Be silent. Curb your thoughts. Do not ask questions. This is the work of the Olympians." --Odysseus, The Odyssey - Greek play Oresteia united all Athenians. Enhanced patriotism, citizens became something they did not want to let go of, and they built a tragic kingdom. - Heidiggers works of art. Works bring focus and energize a group of people. - Gods: articulators vs reconfigurers. Or madmen. Jesus and Decartes: the only two reconfigurers in western history. Jesus: savior, saints and sinners. Descartes: subjects and objects. - Jesus. Background practice of Hebrew understanding of being. God had to be unrepresentable. Paradoxical relationship between Jesus and the world. - Paul reports on his own experience. Paul reports on the middle ground of the paradox. Hebrews were all about laws (Leviticus). Jesus reorganizes based upon inward desires. Hebrews would think that inward desire/accountability is crazy. Jesus takes the tenth commandment (coveting) and makes it the most important. - "A man is not defiled by what goes into his mouth (leviticus), but by what comes out of it." Matthew 15:18 - Jesus: Don't obey the law. Fulfill it. Hebrews: righteous v wicked. Christians: saints v sinners. - Internal agape: love for all people requires an assistant. A departure from the Grecian gods and the Athenian pride in state unity. Now from St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas to Luther to Decartes to Kant to Nietzsche. - Plato's greek: rational agents could find universal truths, the Good. Hebrews were law abiding and their truths were local to their compliance with tradition. - Other cultures have differences but they are more complementary, e.g. China. The West has conflicting influences. - Jesus needed to set the example of agape, was not a universal truth. - St. Augustine struggled with wanting the divine incarnate. Platos Good wasn't good enough. He found reconciliation in Jesus, flesh but God. Augustine observed St. Ambrose reading to himself, and that transformed Augustine to look inward. It could be a storehouse of truth, a la Paul. This leads to Descartes self sufficient cogito and Kant's fully autonomous selves. - Aquinas and Dante interpret Christianity via Aristotalean terms and fail. Luther will come to sort it out. - Dante: Divine Comedy. Medieval. Aristotle: the embodied is perfect. Dantes freedom: the choice to retrain your desires to the most fulfilling. Dante's source of affection Beatrice is the way, not the truth. All joys are replaced by the prime mover, a spiritual nihilism of sorts. Does not reflect agape love a la Paul/Augustine. - Luther: the individual and Christ have a direct relationship. We should be Jesus to each other. Acts must be done in humility. Faith cannot be willed, it is like any other emotion. - Descartes: the other reconfigurer. Focuses on one's own will. - Descartes mods are private inner states. Ethics are rational, but never developed them. Dante's free will has been brought to the forefront. Kant articulates: enlightenment means taking responsibility for your own actions. Luther: here I stand, I can do no other, God help me. Kant: I alone, and this is maturity. Sartre echoes. So what is meaningful? Enter Melville. - Moby-Dick. The painting at the Spouter Inn. Ahab anointing the spears in Queequeg's blood, a la Satan. Ishmael being Queequeg's bedfellow. Queequeg's resilience to sickness, a life within him. The imperfection of cetology. The moodiness of Ishmael. - Ahab is manifestation of Kant and Dante. - Whiteness being a spectrum of meaning, but chaos when looked at directly. - Ishmael bridging Father Mapple and Queequeg's idol worship. The exclusivity of christianity is its isolating downfall, and Ishmael sees this. - Pip lost at sea with the sun (i.e., "the center of the universe; god"), which is also lost at sea. - Federer, Gehrig, and sport. Greek physis is about meaningful events, not causal particles. However, this definition of meaning doesn't give us guidance for what to do after the event is over. Physis gives us focus and community and is overwhelming, it doesn't have to be sport. Its dangerous though because you're out of control - Kant: "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self imposed immaturity." - Poiesis: Aristotle's definition of a mutual relationship between person and material. Metapoiesis: our rational discernment between physis and brainwashing. - Coffee cups and wheelsmiths. Prevailing theory: people always care about something, they just haven't discovered it yet, just like the world is filled with undiscovered meaning. This flies in the face of the enlightenment. But without poiesis in our daily lives, what could be meaningful ritual is simple rote empty routine. Technology deadens our poiesis. Example: seafaring vs GPS navigation. - Pursuing meaning has the risk of regret. Must be dexterous when encountering an activity that does not satisfy. The alternative? Boredom and angst. - Kant: resist the madness of crowds. - Physis, poiesis, and technology stand in tension with each other. It's up to you to find the balance. - Ask not why the gods have abandoned you, but why you have abandoned the gods.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clare Cannon

    A full response to this book would require a doctoral thesis. Below are some brief thoughts about what I understood were the books claims and why I agreed or disagreed. This is a complex discussion of some philosophical problems of our age, which considers aspects of philosophies discovered in the cultural or religious traditions of Western history. Many of the philosophical concerns are valid, as are many of the historical philosophies they look to for insight, but the authors formulate the cont A full response to this book would require a doctoral thesis. Below are some brief thoughts about what I understood were the books claims and why I agreed or disagreed. This is a complex discussion of some philosophical problems of our age, which considers aspects of philosophies discovered in the cultural or religious traditions of Western history. Many of the philosophical concerns are valid, as are many of the historical philosophies they look to for insight, but the authors formulate the contradictory proposition of a universal claim that many things are true (the one thing that is true is that many things are true.) Some of the valid philosophical concerns the authors consider relevant to our age: - Without the objective guidelines of past ages which determined meaning in things, we risk falling into nihilism where nothing has meaning. - Can people still find meaning without this guideline? - Nietzsche thought nihilism was liberating because it frees us to live any life we choose, but the authors think nihilism is every bit as closed-minded as fanaticism. - It leads us to become passive observers of life, hesitating over the uncertainty of too many choices and not knowing which one is best. - There is endless uncertainty, qualifying and changing and un-making our commitments. Some other philosophical concerns the authors consider relevant to our age: - They are sceptical that Judeo-Christian monotheism can be culturally satisfying in the modern age. *Perhaps this is because they consider only some aspects of it, not the whole in its entirety. Their historical study of how different philosophies addressed these concerns - Helen of Troy embodied responsiveness to the goddess of love by running off with Paris, by embodying beauty for everyone around her, in her look and in her grace. This is living according to the sense of Homer’s gratitude and wonder. - Jesus transforms the Jewish law from a focus on outward acts to inward motives. Not just a matter of doing or not doing things on the outside, but of doing or not doing them in one’s heart. - They criticise Augustine for trying to combine the Greek abstraction of a perfect ideal with the Christian embodiment of the practical life and teachings of Christ, because it reflects Plato's dichotomy of the abstract and the embodied. - Later Christian philosophers (like Aquinas) turned to Aristotle instead of Plato. They define the 'hierarchy' of goods, topped by the supreme good, and hierarchy of acts, good and bad as well. But the authors claim that the medieval synthesis of conceptualising the Christian revelation in Aristotelian terms is not the answer to nihilism but another step in its direction, because in valuing the supreme agape there is no room for the individual self. - But while Luther 'rescues' Christianity from Aristotle, he overemphasises the individual, detracting meaning from things outside the individual and taking a different step towards nihilism. - Descartes takes this one step closer to nihilism by denying that one receives anything from outside oneself and determines all from within. - Melville and Moby Dick: The authors interpret Melville as saying "I let you find all those polytheistic truths yourself; live in them, find joy in them, and even sorrow. But in these joys and sorrows rest content with the thought that they give meaning to our world." Some of the valid philosophical ideals the authors suggest our secular age should seek: - An active engagement with life, a heightened awareness beyond ourselves that draws us out of ourselves and helps us to respond as we know we should. - Gratitude is the appropriate response to a happy event, not falsely claiming to have brought it about oneself. They refer to this as ‘Homeric excellence’, a sense of gratitude and wonder. - The fully human notion of the sacred that lives not in the repudiation or transcendence of pain and boredom and anger and angst, but rather in the recognition that these difficult aspects of our existence live together with the sacred moments, that they complete one another, and make sense of one another. *However, the authors derive this from a philosophy of polytheism which values the good and the bad feelings or events of life for their own sake, while Christianity finds meaning in the good and bad of life based on one’s free response to them which generates an ultimate meaning in one’s life which will last beyond time. Some other philosophical ideals the authors believe our secular age should seek: - But gratitude to what, if God does not exist? Luck? The authors shift the focus from whether God is the agent to whether gratitude is the appropriate response. - They claim that to live gratitude and wonder we need to give up the modern notion that we are fully responsible for our actions. - They claim we should foster an ability to live at the surface, to take the events of daily life with the meanings they present rather than to seek their hidden purpose, to find happiness and joy in what there already is, an approach that finds its easiest expression in a pre-Christian age, a pre-Buddhist, pre-Platonic, pre-Hinduist, and pre-Confucian one as well. - They assert that there is a pantheon of gods because the universe is malicious and vindictive and joyous and divine by turns. These are the ‘shining moments’ or ‘shining things’, the sacred moments and things which give meaning to life. o Such moments can be glimpsed in sporting events, or emotive speeches like Martin Luther King Jr, these are sacred gratitude, recognition of achievement or encouragement. o They find some problems with Homer's polytheism too, when people get carried away and do bad things 'in the moment', (like Achilles after killing someone dragged his body around for three days) o Need to cultivate the 'poetic' or 'craftsman' skill of discovering the meaning in things, rather than generating the meaning (this could be true, but not the kind of meaning they are referring to) o They identify a difference between dangerous and benign ways of being swept away. To recognise when it is appropriate to let oneself be swept up and when it is appropriate to walk away is a higher-order skill that is crucial for us in the contemporary world. o Not to decide what to care about, but to discover what one already cares about. - Their main claim: The world is in manifold ways, and now, released from the ancient temptation to monotheism, the polytheism that gets all these ways in balance will be more varied and more vibrant than anything Homer knew. This contemporary Polytheistic world will be a wonderful world of sacred shining things. For an alternative understanding of meaning, one that is compatible with Christianity, more comprehensive, and more powerful for intellectual stimulation and a clearer guide for one's actions, read the works of Jacques Philippe. www.GoodReadingGuide.com

  30. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    Felt like I was back in college! Fascinating analysis of Moby Dick, and interesting run through some of the major Western philosophers which made me want to go back and read all of them again but I won't, so it was kind of a useful "Cliff Notes." Ultimately, I will say the takeaway of the book is: "To recognize when it's appropriate to let oneself be swept up and when it's appropriate to walk away is a higher-order skill that is crucial for us in the contemporary world." I mean - duh! and yet, gi Felt like I was back in college! Fascinating analysis of Moby Dick, and interesting run through some of the major Western philosophers which made me want to go back and read all of them again but I won't, so it was kind of a useful "Cliff Notes." Ultimately, I will say the takeaway of the book is: "To recognize when it's appropriate to let oneself be swept up and when it's appropriate to walk away is a higher-order skill that is crucial for us in the contemporary world." I mean - duh! and yet, given human nature -presciently since the book was published in 2011: "Like Ishmael being drawn into the contagious mood of Ahab's monomaniacal quest, one can only survive its fiery darkness if one learns by experiences the dangerous world it reveals. Only by having been taken over by the fanatical leader's totalizing rhetoric, and experienced the dangerous and devastating consequence it has, does one learn to discriminate between leaders worth following and those upon whom must turn their back."

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