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"[This] magnificent critical survey, with its inherent respect for both the 'Westt's mainstream high culture' & the 'radically changing world' of the 1990s, offers a new breakthrough for lay & scholarly readers alike...Allows readers to grasp the big picture of Western culture for the first time".-- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Here are the great minds of Western civilization & "[This] magnificent critical survey, with its inherent respect for both the 'Westt's mainstream high culture' & the 'radically changing world' of the 1990s, offers a new breakthrough for lay & scholarly readers alike...Allows readers to grasp the big picture of Western culture for the first time".-- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Here are the great minds of Western civilization & their pivotal ideas, from Plato to Hegel, from Augustine to Nietzsche, from Copernicus to Freud. Richard Tarnas performs the near-miracle of describing profound philosophical concepts simply but without simplifying them. Ten years in the making & already hailed as a classic, THE PASSION OF THE WESERN MIND is truly a complete liberal education in a single volume.


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"[This] magnificent critical survey, with its inherent respect for both the 'Westt's mainstream high culture' & the 'radically changing world' of the 1990s, offers a new breakthrough for lay & scholarly readers alike...Allows readers to grasp the big picture of Western culture for the first time".-- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Here are the great minds of Western civilization & "[This] magnificent critical survey, with its inherent respect for both the 'Westt's mainstream high culture' & the 'radically changing world' of the 1990s, offers a new breakthrough for lay & scholarly readers alike...Allows readers to grasp the big picture of Western culture for the first time".-- SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE Here are the great minds of Western civilization & their pivotal ideas, from Plato to Hegel, from Augustine to Nietzsche, from Copernicus to Freud. Richard Tarnas performs the near-miracle of describing profound philosophical concepts simply but without simplifying them. Ten years in the making & already hailed as a classic, THE PASSION OF THE WESERN MIND is truly a complete liberal education in a single volume.

30 review for The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View

  1. 5 out of 5

    Karl-O

    I really can’t remember how this book ended up on my to-read shelf. As I recently wanted to read a book on the history of thought like that of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, I picked this up since it is relatively recent and thus it would give an idea of some modern schools of thought like those of Postmodernism and Deconstructionism, something Russell’s book lacked since it is written in 1945. As a history of western thought, this book is excellent. I would highly recommend i I really can’t remember how this book ended up on my to-read shelf. As I recently wanted to read a book on the history of thought like that of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, I picked this up since it is relatively recent and thus it would give an idea of some modern schools of thought like those of Postmodernism and Deconstructionism, something Russell’s book lacked since it is written in 1945. As a history of western thought, this book is excellent. I would highly recommend it if you are seeking to understand how the modern mind developed from the Greeks all the way to the present era. It is erudite and beautifully written. The author is extremely intelligent and observant (up to a point anyway) that I was aghast at the thought trajectories he cleverly traced and by which he connected thinkers from diverse periods and contexts with one another. However, as the book drew to its end, I became more and more surprised by the claims Tarnas started making. What these boil down to is that it is inconceivable that the world we live in is materialistic and without meaning. Why it is inconceivable we are unfortunately not told. Also, he believes that our mere understanding of the world implies that there is meaning in it and the subject-object duality (separation between us as observers and the world) is an illusion. That how someone who wrote a history of western thought (including empiricism) that is so eloquent and perceptive is making such insupportable claims is really beyond me. Consider for example the following excerpt: " Why do these myths ever work? If the human mind has no access to a priori certain truth, and if all observations are always already saturated by uncertified assumptions about the world, how could this mind possibly conceive a genuinely successful theory? Popper answered this question by saying that, in the end, it is “luck”—but this answer has never satisfied. For why should the imagination of a stranger ever be able to conceive merely from within itself a myth that works so splendidly in the empirical world that whole civilizations can be built on it (as with Newton)? How can something come from nothing? I believe there is only one plausible answer to this riddle, and it is an answer suggested by the participatory epistemological framework outlined above: namely, that the bold conjectures and myths that the human mind produces in its quest for knowledge ultimately come from something far deeper than a purely human source. " This is certainly amazing, especially if you read what he had to say about Galileo, Kepler and Newton in his rendering of some of their mistakes resulting from their flawed assumptions and worldviews, let alone Popper's notion that whenever a theory is non-falsifiable it is outside the purview of science. This certainly is the most peculiar author I came across. I read in incredulity the extraordinary claim he made that the modern materialist scientific worldview (which supposes that humanity may very well be an accident that is very likely not to occur if we rewind and replay the tape) is, wait for it, anthropomorphic since it presupposes that the human mind can understand the Cosmos in a mechanistic framework, whereas the participatory epistemological framework (outlined in the excerpt agove) is not anthropomorphic at all (!!!). I really, really kid you not.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    For a book that describes itself as one the encompasses the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View, there was very little mention of the roles women played. I took a class with the author, and when we brought up the invisibility of women in history, and in his book, he became defensive and told us we had an "allergy" towards him...still not sure what that means. As he explained throughout the three day course, he understands what it means to be a woman because he's experienced childbirth during L For a book that describes itself as one the encompasses the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View, there was very little mention of the roles women played. I took a class with the author, and when we brought up the invisibility of women in history, and in his book, he became defensive and told us we had an "allergy" towards him...still not sure what that means. As he explained throughout the three day course, he understands what it means to be a woman because he's experienced childbirth during LSD and breathwork trances. I have never met anyone who was so neatly able to usurp the role of women,(he says he felt the pain of childbirth in the crowning of the birth of the world) while at the same time, misunderstand our experience so completely. He was utterly clueless in regard to how offensive his assumptions of what it means to be a woman.

  3. 4 out of 5

    WarpDrive

    This is a very important, well written and dense treatise about the history of ideas in Western Civilization. The author manages to condense, in a single book, all the major stepping stones of the intellectual history of the West, and he manages to achieve this result without seriously compromising on depth and accuracy. The great drama of the evolution of the Western Mind is described passionately and in a gripping and enjoyable book, where the critical concepts and world-views, as expressed by This is a very important, well written and dense treatise about the history of ideas in Western Civilization. The author manages to condense, in a single book, all the major stepping stones of the intellectual history of the West, and he manages to achieve this result without seriously compromising on depth and accuracy. The great drama of the evolution of the Western Mind is described passionately and in a gripping and enjoyable book, where the critical concepts and world-views, as expressed by the major philosopher throughout history, are beautifully expressed in a concise but scholarly valuable way. Remarkable. Let me highlight some of the points made by the author that I found particularly worth discussing: - The author remarks that the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece did not happen in a vacuum, significantly owing to the cultural substrate existing at the time (where the mythological structure of the Olympian world presented the Universe as an ordered and structured whole, a cosmos rather than a chaos, where the natural and the human world are not distinguishable domains). In particular, Hellenic culture attained a delicate and fertile balance between the ancient mythological tradition and a more “modern” secular rationalism. The temples to Zeus, Athena and Apollo are clearly a celebration of mathematical elegance and human rationality as much as a celebration of the divine. - The author manages to express the beauty and complexity of Plato's philosophical system, stressing how for Plato the ultimate reality is not only rational and mathematical in nature, but also profoundly aesthetic. In Plato, the Good, the True and the Beautiful are united. In this, Plato represents the pinnacle of the unique synthesis of "eros" and "logos" – of passion (love of wisdom), and rational mind. For Plato (and for most of the ancient Greek philosophers), the direct apprehension of the world' deeper reality satisfies not only the mind but also the soul. - The Greek fundamental concept of “logos” (that incredibly beautiful and quintessentially Greek concept representing mind, reason, intellect, organizing principle, word, wisdom and meaning) is also nicely explained as developed and enriched in history by the Western philosophical thought. - Finally, here we have one author who does not follow the politically correct current trend of negating the important part played by the legacy of the Classical Era in the subsequent evolution of the Western Mind and of the Western World, which ultimately was one of the causes and enablers of the revolutionary developments of the Scientific Revolution and Industrial Revolution. It is good to see an author who is not scared to stress the uniqueness of Western intellectual thought and civilization, and its debt to the Classical World legacy - even if he correctly recognizes the also very important contribution of the Eastern Civilizations to the formation of the Greek civilization. - Neo-Platonism is briefly explained by the author, who recognizes that it became the final expression of classical Pagan philosophy. Unfortunately, I must say that here I was disappointed by the lack of depth with which the author treats the amazingly beautiful and very important philosophical system of Plotinus, system which left a very important intellectual legacy influencing, directly or indirectly, many subsequent important Western systems of thought (including Christianity). - No sufficient recognition is given by the author to the intellectual developments of the Roman Civilization which, while being substantially influenced by the Greek Civilization, nevertheless (and contrary to what many may think) actually did develop its own peculiar and unique culture. - The author beautifully conveys the inner tensions between the different ideologies, approaches and world-views of what is called “Christianity”, which has never been a monolithic system of thought. The great tension between the Judaic and the Hellenistic legacies of the Christian Creed is compellingly highlighted. The intimacy between the “Hellenistic” side of Christianity and (Neo)Platonism is clearly highlighted: after all, Augustine regarded Plato's thought as the “most pure and bright in all philosophy” and he also posited that the Platonic Forms existed within the creative mind of God. On the other hand, while God was seen by the Hellenic Christian perspective as the universal Mind, the Logos, the Neoplatonic One, the Judaic conception leaned towards a jealous, almost capricious, almost nationalistic, completely transcendent entity to be feared as much as loved. The Hellenic Christian God was quite different to the Judaic God promising a political victory for "Israel" and the physical destruction of the political enemies of the Judaic State. - I really liked how the author highlights how the Christian world view, even in its most “medieval” form, was not as simple or one-sided as many may think. And the great scholastic awakening which happened in the late Middle Ages is a testament to this, as represented in its most magnificent form by the intellectual quest of Thomas Aquinas. The greatness of the intellectual synthesis accomplished by Aquinas is beautifully expressed by the author. I also like how the author dispels the myth that Aquinas' philosophical system is purely Aristotelian in character: Aquinas quintessentially Neoplatonic notion of participation in “being” is an example of the influence of Neoplatonism in Aquinas thought. - The author very nicely demonstrates how the “Neoplatonist mathematics, added to the rationalism and nascent empiricism of the late Scholastics, provided one of the final components necessary for the emergence of the Scientific Revolution.” It was Copernicus and Kepler's tenacious Neoplatonic faith that the Universe was regulated and structured according to simple, elegant and beautiful mathematical forms that allowed them to go beyond any form of naïve empiricism and trigger the Scientific Revolution. - The extremely important role played by the Classical Legacy (and in particular, Neoplatonism) in the explosion of the Renaissance intellectual revolution is nicely explained. The multifaceted complexity of this period is also conveyed very effectively. - I really enjoyed how the author lucidly and compellingly explains, without trying to be politically correct, the profoundly contradictory and ambivalent character of the “Reformation” triggered by Luther. The Reformation was as much a reactionary counter-revolution against the relaxed cultural syncretism displayed by the Renaissance Church's embrace of the Classical pagan culture, as it was a quest for the Church purification (undoubtedly needed at the time) and return to its "pure" roots. It was the Reformation which was pushing for a literal, word-by-word interpretation of the Scripture, which was pushing for a Bible-based Christianity ontologically dualistic and very pessimistic in relation to the rational capabilities of the human mind. It was first Protestants who initially reacted almost violently against the Copernican world-view revolution. But, on the other hand, the focus on the individual freedom from institutional constraints, and the breach of the monolithic, potentially suffocating spiritual an intellectual power of the Church, proved in the longer term very positive developments for the evolution of the modern Western Mind. - Jumping now to more modern philosophers, I did like how the author explains the Cartesian-Kantian thought revolution. However I am not sure that I fully agree with some aspects of the author's interpretation of the Kantian thought, in particular I think that the stress on Kant's subjectivism is not warranted. I also think that the author should really have explained the absolutely critical Kantian concept of “synthetic a-priori”, without which the Kantian system cannot really be fully appreciated. -The Romantic sensibility is nicely explained in its important philosophical implications, and I really liked how the author manages to highlight the most important features of Hegelian's thought. Hegel has been always misunderstood and underestimated in the post-modern thought, and the author renders him justice. - On the other hand, I disagree with the author's view of post-modern existentialism, which the author perceives as being profoundly pessimistic. I actually think that this is a profoundly misguided perspective of existentialism, whose main message is, in my opinion, profoundly optimistic and liberating, a deeply Promethean cry for the power of man to choose, to radically self-define and create the meaning of himself and his own role in the Universe: “existence precedes essence”. - I also profoundly disagree with the author's myopic view of the aims and character of the scientific inquiry: the author has a quite restricted and one-sided view of the scientific enterprise, which he tends to see as a purely quantitative, reductionistic and reductive approach to the understand of the Universe, and as such not spiritually fulfilling. This is simply NOT what science is about: science is as much about an holistic, passionate approach to the understanding of the Universe as it is about a rigorous and structured approach based on mathematical consistency and experimental accuracy and confirmation. The author probably never took the time to read the likes of Penrose, Bohm, Wheeler, Davies, Einstein or Feynman. Unfortunately, and sadly, this is an attitude that can be seen in many individuals who had an education only in the so-called humanities and who had never been seriously exposed to the beauty of mathematics and of the sciences on general, and who simply do not understand them. - Finally, the author believes that the missing key in the philosophical quest can be found in depth psychology and the exploration of the unconscious. He uses Freud and Jung as compelling examples and he also believes we have to “embrace the feminine in all its various forms” as well as ecological, mystic, and other counter cultural and multicultural perspectives. Well, to be honest I find this mumble-jumble, out-of-the-70's, LSD-driven approach deeply unsatisfactory and obsolete (Freud in particular has been discredited and even within the psychologists confraternity his views are not widely popular either). Overall, it is a really important, provocative, insightful book worth reading and well deserving a 4 stars. Highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    This was a very interesting book about cultural philosophy. 95% of the book is a survey from Plato to Postmodernism. In the last 5% of the book, Tarnas uses the entire trajectory of western thought to present his reflections regarding the direction in which culture may be headed. Although my comprehension of what he describes remains incomplete, I'll attempt a brief review of only the epilogue: Tarnas shows that the Scientific Enlightenment created a paradigm shift in the collective human psyche, This was a very interesting book about cultural philosophy. 95% of the book is a survey from Plato to Postmodernism. In the last 5% of the book, Tarnas uses the entire trajectory of western thought to present his reflections regarding the direction in which culture may be headed. Although my comprehension of what he describes remains incomplete, I'll attempt a brief review of only the epilogue: Tarnas shows that the Scientific Enlightenment created a paradigm shift in the collective human psyche, which resulted in a disenchanted worldview and the modern characteristic of existential alienation. The inner tension between the quest for meaning and a cold impersonal world tends to lead to an entire spectrum of psychological distortions and disorders. The solution to the modern predicament is to be found in epistemology. The counter cultural response to the Enlightenment was expressed by the Romantics who turned inward to discover the mysteries of life. Rather than relying on the scientific method, the Romantics placed more emphasis on the emotions, imagination, and intuition to explore a vast array of human experience. But it was the scientific mind that dominated the cultural paradigm. Tarnas believes that the missing key in the philosophical quest can be found in depth psychology and the exploration of the unconscious. Drawing upon powerful psycho therapeutic methods that serve as catalysts to reveal the realms of the unconscious, Tarnas identifies numerous implications with respect to religion, psychology, and philosophy. But the most important implication has to do with epistemology. Particularly the subject-object dichotomy that has defined modernity. According to Tarnas, the dualistic shift that began with Descartes and the Enlightenment was not just a fractured way of seeing the world nor the opposite of the Romantics, but rather an archetypal birth process in the evolution of the human mind. All of cultural history can be seen not just as random events, but an evolving process where every contraction and death provides for an expansion and birth; the mind participates in this archetypal process. Modernity begins in a movement toward freedom and individualism, but inevitably evolves into existential alienation leading to a 'deconstructive frenzy'. Yet this existential crisis is necessary for new birth. This archetypal process found in culture and every aspect of nature is the same potentially unfolding process found within us. Tarnas suggests that a very different epistemology is called for, which has its roots in thinkers like Goethe, Hegel, Schelling, Coleridge, Emerson, and Rudolph Steiner. What these thinkers have in common is the understanding that mankind's relationship to the cosmos is not dualistic, but participatory. A participatory epistemology implies that these archetype processes within us are in fact an expression of nature itself. And it is through the inner life of the mind (using a plurality of faculties) that the deeper truths of nature can be revealed. Thus, the mystical experience is not just a private distorted experience of an isolated ego, but rather the emergence of nature herself, a direct intuitive apprehension of reality itself. Or in Tarnas' words, the "imaginal intuition is the human fulfillment of that reality's essential wholeness, which had been rent asunder by the dualistic perception." Tarnas claims that this is not a regression to a naive participation mystique, but rather an evolution through dualistic alienation. It incorporates postmodern thought, but transcends it. "The human spirit of nature brings forth its own order through the human mind when that mind is employing its full complement of faculties - intellectual, volitional, emotional, sensory, imaginative, aesthetic, epiphanic. Then the world speaks its meaning through human consciousness." Finally, Tarnas reflects on the past several decades, with its deconstruction of so many cultural components suggesting that a new birth is emerging. This new birth can be seen in the holistic approach now seen in nearly every field of study (social ecology, feminism, going green, alternative medicine, etc.). Culture is beginning to discover a more holistic ecological worldview that sees the interconnectivity among all living systems and that the mechanical worldview may turn out to be an ironic projection of man's alienated condition. Last, Tarnas shows how this trajectory of the Western mind "has been driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self by separating itself from the primordial unity with nature." To achieve this, the Western mind has repressed the feminine. Western culture tends to be characterized by rationalism, masculinity, individualism, contractual relationships, colonialism, capitalism, imperialism, and science. It is an imbalance. Eastern culture (that has not been westernized) has been the counter balance to the west. It’s characteristics tend to be collective, passive, intuitive, feminine, and mystical. Tarnas believes it is time to embrace the feminine in all its various forms as well as ecological, archaic, and other countercultural and multicultural perspectives. The social and environmental problems we now face are rooted in dominatory political and social systems. The hope for western culture is a synthesis between the east and west, mysticism and science. When the masculine is balanced with the feminine, not only are they complimentary to each other, but the balance also enables each to transcend themselves.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Clay Kallam

    Though this book was written in 1991, it still serves as an excellent analysis of the paralysis of the modern world. Richard Tarnas is primarily focused on philosophers and philosophy, but a glance at the present political situation reveals how strong the connection is between the loss of a common paradigm (or even two or three) and the confusion that confounds the global society. Tarnas, though, grounds that grasp of the present in the intellectual traditions that shaped the modern world, and be Though this book was written in 1991, it still serves as an excellent analysis of the paralysis of the modern world. Richard Tarnas is primarily focused on philosophers and philosophy, but a glance at the present political situation reveals how strong the connection is between the loss of a common paradigm (or even two or three) and the confusion that confounds the global society. Tarnas, though, grounds that grasp of the present in the intellectual traditions that shaped the modern world, and begins in ancient Greece. Though he is distilling numerous complex philosophical and religious views into a (relatively) few pages, he does so with grace and precision. His long analysis of Christian thought, and how it affected our ways of thinking, is excellent, and he also shows how the cracks in the iron theology of the middle ages allowed the light of the Renaissance to seep in. And though his lining up the Copernican revolution (which removed man from the center of the cosmos), the Darwinian revolution (which removed man from the crown of creation), and the Freudian revolution (which removed reason as the master of humanity's future) is far from new, he clearly states the postmodern dilemmas, and makes it clear why it is so hard to reach consensus on any aspect of 21st century life. Tarnas' semi-mystic embrace of Stanislav Grof's theory about how an infant's passage through the birth canal echoes the constrictions of our culture, and how human culture can be saved by the masculine domination of the past 5,000 years returning to the feminine (womb) that it left so long ago seems like the product of a few too many psychedelics, it cannot detract from Tarnas' achievement. And who knows? Maybe he's right, and maybe we will, as a culture, step back from the dangerous excesses of our male-dominated culture. As Leonard Cohen said, "I wish the women would hurry up and take over" -- and twenty years on from the publication of "The Passion of the Western Mind," I feel safe in saying Tarnas would agree.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Nine-tenths or so of this book is a very conventional, albeit prolix, survey of the history of philosophical thinking in the West from the pre-Socratics to the present. As a brief introduction to the history of ideas it is to be recommended. Even the wordy repetitiveness of Tarnas' exposition may function as an aid to retention and understanding for beginners. Having devoted decades to such studies myself, I found most of the book to be a rehash of familiar ideas and would never have gone through Nine-tenths or so of this book is a very conventional, albeit prolix, survey of the history of philosophical thinking in the West from the pre-Socratics to the present. As a brief introduction to the history of ideas it is to be recommended. Even the wordy repetitiveness of Tarnas' exposition may function as an aid to retention and understanding for beginners. Having devoted decades to such studies myself, I found most of the book to be a rehash of familiar ideas and would never have gone through the whole thing were it not given me as a gift by a distant friend I'll be seeing soon. As it was, however, I did have the satisfaction of finding its very familiarity a confirmation that I have obtained a decent philosophical education. Furthermore, I had the satisfaction of seeing some of my own judgments (my prejudices), such as regards the vital centrality of Kant, reinforced by the author. What surprised me was the emphasis that Tarnas puts on C.G. Jung. Again, I had the satisfaction of reading his claim that Jung was a thoroughgoing Kantian, the very topic of my textually definitive master's thesis on that topic. But beyond that Tarnas goes further than I would, seeing Jung as propounding a synthesis and resolution of conflicting worldviews much as Kant (at least temporarily, as he puts it) reconciled the physical sciences to ethics and religion. Tarnas doesn't so much focus on Jung, though, as he does on the psychotherapist Stanislas Grof, seen substantially in terms of Jungian archetype theory. Here, building on a weak foundation, a conceptual structure is built in the last tenth of the book which I found unsupportable. Basically, the idea is that we, in this 'post-Modern' era, are alienated from the world, that, in fact, the history of philosophy is a history of successive alienations via the thought of such figures as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche and Darwin, all of whom overturned old certainties while attempting to posit new models of understanding. In other words, its the old (simplistic and, according to Walter Kaufmann, unfair) Hegelian three-step of thesis/antithesis/synthesis-at-a-higher level. Jung and Grof, to Tarnas' thinking, offer the next step in this evolution toward the Absolute with the archetypes of birth and the feminine. Here Tarnas gets too fuzzy for me to appreciate his thinking. First of all, neither Jung nor Grof were/are philosophers. Second, archetype theory itself is (like, admittedly, Kant's table of categories), in its detail (the shadow, the anima/us, the wise old man, the puer aeternas, the Self and so on indefinitely), poorly evidenced, some of the archetypes having more, some much less, evidential basis, some of them having more, some much less, logical necessity, some of them having more, some much less, biological correlation. Grof, he tells us, offers the ultimate achetype, 'ultimate' for this era at least, in the rediscovery of what Otto Rank called 'the birth trauma'--the progressive from uterine bliss, to the trauma of passing through the birth canal, to the awakening in the greater world. Here one isn't sure if Tarnas wants his readers to believe that one can actually remember the experience, an outrageous claim on the face of it, or is he's simply offering a metaphor which Grof, his clients and Tarnas himself have found to be fruitful. If it's just a metaphor, fine, fuzzy as it is, especially as Tarnas doesn't go into the fundamental difference between birthing-as-a-mother and being birthed, irrespective of gender--a difference one would expect to be emphasized given the weight he gives otherwise to gender differences. But that, very weak interpretation isn't clearly distinguished from the stronger, existential one that we, all of us, collectively and at the very core of our experience, KNOW its truth. Where he is stronger, as regards Jung-think applied to civilization and its discontents, is in reference to Jung's observation that the universe becomes conscious in us. That makes some sense, but he hardly develops the idea, spending much more time with Grof's birth business than with Jung's rather commonplace, but potentially profound, observation (some of the implications of which are explored by Heidegger and other phenomenologists hardly even mentioned in the text. Still, all my objections to Tarnas' concluding fuzziness aside, the bulk of this book is a worthy introduction to the history of philosophy in the West...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Bashaar

    I am glad I read this book, but, woo, am I glad I'm done with it. It took me 6 weeks to read and was very intellectually challenging. It is a very well-done history of Western thought, just at the right level for me. It gets a little depressing when he gets to the post-modern era. Bottom line: after centuries of the best minds trying to understand ourselves and the world we live in, we can know nothing with certainty. Then the epilogue gets kind of woo-woo, with the hypothesis that our collectiv I am glad I read this book, but, woo, am I glad I'm done with it. It took me 6 weeks to read and was very intellectually challenging. It is a very well-done history of Western thought, just at the right level for me. It gets a little depressing when he gets to the post-modern era. Bottom line: after centuries of the best minds trying to understand ourselves and the world we live in, we can know nothing with certainty. Then the epilogue gets kind of woo-woo, with the hypothesis that our collective consciousness is the co-creator of reality. Definitely don't read this book if you are a religious fundamentalist or if you love certainty for some other reason. But if you are intellectually curious, it is like a vigorous walk in a mental garden.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    The subject matter is fascinating. I can't say the same thing for Tarnas' writing style, however. Tarnas seems to think his book is a game of Scrabble. But you don't win points with readers when you employ unnecessary extended metaphors every other page, write the same thing over and over in different ways, and use complicated words when simpler ones would suffice. With a good editor, this book could be condensed into a more readable form- one that allows the average person to engage the materia The subject matter is fascinating. I can't say the same thing for Tarnas' writing style, however. Tarnas seems to think his book is a game of Scrabble. But you don't win points with readers when you employ unnecessary extended metaphors every other page, write the same thing over and over in different ways, and use complicated words when simpler ones would suffice. With a good editor, this book could be condensed into a more readable form- one that allows the average person to engage the material a bit better. That said, the material itself is interesting, and Tarnas does make good points here. I just wish I didn't have to plow through a pile of sludge to get to them.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom Lombardo

    Joseph Campbell called this book "the most lucid and concise presentation I have read of the grand lines...of Western thought." High praise from someone who would know! Tarnas' greatest achievement, to my mind, is the lucidity of his prose which makes this an enormously readable survey of the Western Mind from the Greeks to the Post Moderns. Tarnas' objective for creating this opus is similar to what Campbell wished to do: that is, to create the possibility for an integration of all cultures and Joseph Campbell called this book "the most lucid and concise presentation I have read of the grand lines...of Western thought." High praise from someone who would know! Tarnas' greatest achievement, to my mind, is the lucidity of his prose which makes this an enormously readable survey of the Western Mind from the Greeks to the Post Moderns. Tarnas' objective for creating this opus is similar to what Campbell wished to do: that is, to create the possibility for an integration of all cultures and all peoples into a new holistic consciousness. In his Epilogue, he says that "[a]s the plant at a certain stage brings forth its blossom, so does the universe bring forth new stages of human knowledge." His effort in this book is to show the stages that have led up to where we are now, and to contribute to our discovery of the next stage. This next stage largely involves synthesizing the masculine nature of Western philosophy and science with a feminine, holistic understanding of the unity of all living things. For Tarnas, doing this involves delving deep into consciousness, where we find that "the bold conjectures and myths that the human mind produces in its quest for knowledge ultimately come from something far deeper that a purely human source. They come from the wellspring of nature itself..." One of our favorite things about this book is the way it builds upon itself. When Tarnas describes the ideas and influence of any particular philosopher, event, or innovation, he does so in such a way that he can refer to it again later on and you will understand the connections. For example, in medieval times, scholars working within the Church -- the only institution capable of supporting scholars -- went through a transition in thought similar to the transition from Plato to Aristotle. Plato believed that truth took the form of otherworldly ideals, and that this world was but a poor reflection of them. Augustine seized upon this concept to reinforce the Christian emphasis on life after death. Plato was followed by Aristotle, who elevated the importance of this world and the importance of this life to the center of his philosophy, and something similar happened in Europe in the Middle Ages: That shift was sparked in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the West's rediscovery of a large corpus of Aristotle's writings, preserved by the Moslems and Byzantines and now translated into Latin. With these texts, which included the Metaphysics, the Physics, and De Anima. (On the Soul), came not only learned Arabic commentaries, but also other works of Greek science, notably those of Ptolemy. Medieval Europe's sudden encounter with a sophisticated scientific cosmology, encyclopedic in breadth and intricately coherent, was dazzling to a culture that had been largely ignorant of these writings and ideas for centuries. Yet Aristotle had such extraordinary impact precisely because that culture was so well prepared to recognize the quality of his achievement. His masterly summation of scientific knowledge, his codification of the rules for logical discourse, and his confidence in the power of the human intelligence were all exactly concordant with the new tendencies of rationalism and naturalism growing in the medieval West -- and were attractive to many Church intellectuals, men whose reasoning powers had been developed to uncommon acuity by their long scholastic education in the logical disputation of doctrinal subtleties. The arrival of the Aristotelian texts in Europe thus found a distinctly receptive audience, and Aristotle was soon referred to as "the Philosopher." This shift in the wind of medieval thought would have momentous consequences. Under the Church's auspices, the universities were evolving into remarkable centers of learning where students gathered from all over Europe to study and hear public lectures and disputations by the masters. As learning developed, the scholars' attitude toward Christian belief became less unthinking and more self-reflective. The use of reason to examine and defend articles of faith, already exploited in the eleventh century by Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury, and the discipline of logic in particular, championed by the fiery twelfth-century, dialectician Abelart Ranidlv ascended in both educational popular and theological importance. With Abelard's Sic et Non (Yes and No), a compilation of apparently contradictory statements by various Church authorities, medieval thinkers became increasingly preoccupied with the possible plurality of truth, with debate between competing arguments, and with the growing power of human reason for discerning correct doctrine. It is not that Christian truths were called into question; rather, they were now subject to analysis. As Anselm stated, "It seems to me a case of negligence if, after becoming firm in our faith, we do not strive to understand what we believe." Moreover, after a long struggle with local religious and political authorities, the universities won the right from king and pope to form their own communities. With the University of Paris's receipt of a written charter from the Holy See in 1215, a new dimension entered European civilization, with the universities now existing as relatively autonomous enters of culture devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. Although Christian theology and dogma presided over this pursuit, these were in turn increasingly permeated by the rationalist spirit. It was into this fertile context that the new translations of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators were introduced. Anselm was the Archbishop of Canterbury who created Scholasticism, a means of dialectical reasoning that he used to prove the existence of God. He also openly opposed the Crusades, which means he was incredibly bold and defiantly compassionate. From here, and in the same snowballing, story-telling mode, Tarnas goes on to describe Thomas Aquinas in one of my favorite parts of the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    St Jerome

    ‘The world is said to have been built on ideas, that which has so far shaped our conception of it. The Western mode of thinking and doing things has evolved through the ages bringing it to where it now stands. The book ‘Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World’ by Richard Tarnas aims at producing a chronological narratives of how ideas and thought have evolved in the Western world through time especially in the history of philosophy and how also these thoug ‘The world is said to have been built on ideas, that which has so far shaped our conception of it. The Western mode of thinking and doing things has evolved through the ages bringing it to where it now stands. The book ‘Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that have Shaped our World’ by Richard Tarnas aims at producing a chronological narratives of how ideas and thought have evolved in the Western world through time especially in the history of philosophy and how also these thought and ideas have changed the world and it’s still undergoing some transformation. Tarnas approaches this history from a chronological dimension beginning with the ancient Greek period down to contemporary time. He believes it is the task of every generation to examine the ideas that have helped shaped its understanding of it.’ I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, if I have only one issue with it is the author ultimately pessimist view of the future but then again he concludes his tome by quoting Hegel ‘...a civilisation cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognize its own significance, until it is so mature that is approaching it own death’. A solid ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sohaib

    Tarnas aptly delineates the trajectory of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic era to postmodernism: a long laborious journey from Homer, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (Greek era); to Jesus Christ, Paul, Augustine and Aquinas (Christian Medieval era); and then Copernicus, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Freud and Jung (Modern era); and finally a quick turn at Nietzsche and (Postmodernism). Of course, these figures are central; the narrative encompasses more. Yet it neglects othe Tarnas aptly delineates the trajectory of Western philosophy from the pre-Socratic era to postmodernism: a long laborious journey from Homer, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (Greek era); to Jesus Christ, Paul, Augustine and Aquinas (Christian Medieval era); and then Copernicus, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Freud and Jung (Modern era); and finally a quick turn at Nietzsche and (Postmodernism). Of course, these figures are central; the narrative encompasses more. Yet it neglects other influential figures —some of my favorites— for brevity’s sake. The style and structure of Tarnas’s narration is circular, repetitive and overlapping, with constant reiterations, summaries, and rewordings of issues and thinkers previously described. This helps immensely in imbibing central ideas and developments in the course of history. The wording is often literary—sometimes even “poetic” and metaphorical; nothing like scientific dryness: this will sure keep any reader engaged. An important thing to note is that in the section, “The Transformation of the Medieval Era”, the narrative becomes too eclectic, drawing forth from different figures in a synoptic integrative fashion. Hence, Tarnas here does not elaborate thoroughly on some philosophers and contributions. Nietzsche’s influence, for example, is not delineated fully, and so is the case for other individuals. In addition, other important thinkers are overlooked, like Henry Bergson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Anyway, this book serves as an indispensible primer that will make branching out and zooming in for deeper study on specific figures or periods more congenial. I highly recommend it for those new to philosophy or just want to get a wholistic overview of western thought.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    An impressive synthesis of a lot of material; excellent review of the "Greek mind" and how it persists; of the "Judeao-Christian mind" and how it persists. Perhaps most provocative is the suggestion that we are somehow mystically evolving into a new consciousness (Gaia), and that the roots of this come out of Freud, Jung, Groff, and the psychedelics, with an accompanying shift from a masculine dominated intellectual culture to a feminine one. One HUGE omission: what about the non-Western mind? T An impressive synthesis of a lot of material; excellent review of the "Greek mind" and how it persists; of the "Judeao-Christian mind" and how it persists. Perhaps most provocative is the suggestion that we are somehow mystically evolving into a new consciousness (Gaia), and that the roots of this come out of Freud, Jung, Groff, and the psychedelics, with an accompanying shift from a masculine dominated intellectual culture to a feminine one. One HUGE omission: what about the non-Western mind? There is no attention to where the rest of the world's "world view" has come from and no mention of whether this revolution in Western thinking is visible anywhere else. It may be, but there's no case for that in this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Beautiful synthesis of the development of Western thinking (starting with the Greeks), but with a a very narrow focus on philosophy (metaphysics and epistomology) and strangely also on astrology. The first 400 pages seem really excellent, at times even brillant, but then Tarnas deviates into a rather psychedelic ally.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  15. 5 out of 5

    David D'Andrea

    Sweet, lucid and concise overview of western thought. I'm familiar with a fair amount of the material that Tarnas surveys here, and I'd say that he accurately and effectively conveys the essentials of their arguments. It's like the best SparkNotes ever written, except that rather than summarizing an author in isolation he integrates them in an intelligible historical narrative. I’d recommend this as resource material for anyone doing an arts degree - especially for those studying philosophy, his Sweet, lucid and concise overview of western thought. I'm familiar with a fair amount of the material that Tarnas surveys here, and I'd say that he accurately and effectively conveys the essentials of their arguments. It's like the best SparkNotes ever written, except that rather than summarizing an author in isolation he integrates them in an intelligible historical narrative. I’d recommend this as resource material for anyone doing an arts degree - especially for those studying philosophy, history or psychology. Tarnas' own thesis, which he reveals at the end of the book, is that the passion of the western mind is towards reunification with its ground. Western thought: male, directed, linguistic (phallogocentric) is ultimately animated by the purpose of the cosmos, the telos which exists in nature. It thus tends to reveal the meaning which modern thought had removed from a world conceived as disenchanted. Tarnas thus sees hope beyond the impasse and alienation of post-modern (I'd say: late-modern) thought, in the rise of the archetypal feminine, within feminism and pluralistic articulations of "the other" (e.g. ecological spirituality, minority and queer studies, etc). I largely sympathize with his thesis, with the qualification that no apocalyptic total reunification is possible, that western philosophy must be seen as participating in rather than comprehending the purpose of nature, that the pinnacle of male thought cannot be seen as encompassing an essentially passive female archetype, and that we are the children rather than the fulfillment of creation. In sum: this brilliant survey ultimately articulates a left-feminist Jungian interpretation of western thought. It could be usefully paired with the conservative-masculine Jungian account of Jordan Peterson.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    The author had the ability to write the story of the development of understanding our place in the universe and how we fit in it as if he were writing a novel. The narrative flows that well. He's a very good writer. The author steps the reader through the development of how we think about knowledge. The heavens above, the home of the Gods, are first thought of as perfect: universal, necessary, and certain. Overtime, through rational thought and coupling with experience we start to understand the The author had the ability to write the story of the development of understanding our place in the universe and how we fit in it as if he were writing a novel. The narrative flows that well. He's a very good writer. The author steps the reader through the development of how we think about knowledge. The heavens above, the home of the Gods, are first thought of as perfect: universal, necessary, and certain. Overtime, through rational thought and coupling with experience we start to understand the world around us antithetically namely as particular to the data, contingent to our current understanding and never certain but probable. I would recommend this book to anyone. Unfortunately, in that recommendation I would have to give a couple of caveats. He gives this bizarre extra place in our understanding of the world to Freud and Jung and he sprinkles it throught the whole text. It amazes me that we ever really got out of the 80s (yes, the book was published in 1993, but he thinks in 80s paradigms) with its non refutable pyshoanalytical thought and its archetypal forms ("I know your repressed because you deny your own repression"). If the reader ignores the author's obvious bias towards pyschobabble, the reader will have one of the best written surveys of human thought and progression they'll ever read within one book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jenell

    Richard Tarnas' book, The Passion of the Western Mind, descriptively and eloquently chronicles the evolution of human discoveries and consciousness (from the time of ancient Greece to modern times). I'm a homeschooling mom and am currently using Tarnas' book to prepare myself for history lessons with my child. It provides a wonderful context by describing the leading ideas of an historical time period. In that way I can help my daughter understand the culture and motivations of a people so that Richard Tarnas' book, The Passion of the Western Mind, descriptively and eloquently chronicles the evolution of human discoveries and consciousness (from the time of ancient Greece to modern times). I'm a homeschooling mom and am currently using Tarnas' book to prepare myself for history lessons with my child. It provides a wonderful context by describing the leading ideas of an historical time period. In that way I can help my daughter understand the culture and motivations of a people so that she can acquire more than a stale chronology of history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Willa

    This book gave me a great overview of the history of our thinking, and tremendous respect for the long traditions we benefit from. It links the different eras in a brilliant way and gives just the right level of detail to really understand each era, including the Greeks, the Christians, the Enlightenment and modern thinking. Only the last chapter on Postmodernism doesn't quite make it - but given that this book was published before Ken Wilber's greatest works (in 1991) so had not benefited from I This book gave me a great overview of the history of our thinking, and tremendous respect for the long traditions we benefit from. It links the different eras in a brilliant way and gives just the right level of detail to really understand each era, including the Greeks, the Christians, the Enlightenment and modern thinking. Only the last chapter on Postmodernism doesn't quite make it - but given that this book was published before Ken Wilber's greatest works (in 1991) so had not benefited from Integral Theory yet, I forgive Richard Tarnas!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mjaballah

    This is the best book to read in order to understand Western thought and its development. If you want to close the gap between how you and westerners tend to view much of the world around us, then this book helps you get on that track. It defines the line of thought through which they have progressed to where they are today. Very surprising stories... e.g. "Human Evolution" was actually conceived to great detail by the Pre-Socratic Greeks? This book is currently leading me on a philosophical ramp This is the best book to read in order to understand Western thought and its development. If you want to close the gap between how you and westerners tend to view much of the world around us, then this book helps you get on that track. It defines the line of thought through which they have progressed to where they are today. Very surprising stories... e.g. "Human Evolution" was actually conceived to great detail by the Pre-Socratic Greeks? This book is currently leading me on a philosophical rampage!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Naeem

    I was looking for the how Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton changed our understanding of the cosmos. Tarnas is very good on this. But there is much, much more besides. I took off one star for his conclusion which pushes his viewpoint a bit too far -- Jung over Freud. And one star for never confronting the problem of the temporal and spatial boundaries of the "West." And for his vast understatement of the influence of Hegel and Marx. The both appear but do not get as large a role as, say, D I was looking for the how Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton changed our understanding of the cosmos. Tarnas is very good on this. But there is much, much more besides. I took off one star for his conclusion which pushes his viewpoint a bit too far -- Jung over Freud. And one star for never confronting the problem of the temporal and spatial boundaries of the "West." And for his vast understatement of the influence of Hegel and Marx. The both appear but do not get as large a role as, say, Descartes and Locke. Still, I recommend it for a detailed overview of the "western" consciousness.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Alfonseca

    A good history of Philosophy. It has the problem, however, that the author looks at his subject with such a passion, that he seems to agree with most theories, including those that are diametrically opposite! On the other hand, his treatment of Christian philosophy is a little (just a little) disparaging.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Isaac

    A fascinating book that covers the progress of philosophical and religious thought throughout the ages. It’s a journey through the cliff notes of human development. It’s a telling witness to humanity coming full circle from the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Stoicism, Epicureanism, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Jung, until we get to the Crisis of Modern Science. How fitting that modern science with quantum mechani A fascinating book that covers the progress of philosophical and religious thought throughout the ages. It’s a journey through the cliff notes of human development. It’s a telling witness to humanity coming full circle from the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, Stoicism, Epicureanism, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Jung, until we get to the Crisis of Modern Science. How fitting that modern science with quantum mechanics throws everything we have ever known and believed with such certainty, because it was right before our eyes proven by science, into complete disarray and uncertainty. This book is quite a rollercoaster ride and it is the true story of “us.” A must read! Favorite excerpts: According to Sophists such as Protagoras, man was the measure of all things, and his own individual judgements concerning everyday human life should form the basis of his personal beliefs and conduct – not naïve conformity to traditional religion nor indulgence in far-flung abstract speculation. Truth was relative, not absolute, and differed from culture to culture, from person to person, and from situation to situation. Claims to the contrary, whether religious or philosophical, could not stand up to critical argument. The ultimate value of any belief or opinion could be judged only by practical utility in serving an individual’s needs in life. – Page 27 Hence the Sophists concluded in favor of a flexible atheism or agnosticism in metaphysics and a situational morality in ethics. Since religious beliefs, political structures, and rules of moral conduct were now seen to be humanly created conventions, these were all open to fundamental questioning and change. After centuries of blind obedience to restrictive traditional attitudes, man could now free himself to pursue a program of enlightened self-interest. – Page 29 Other problems were presented by the Sophists’ views. Despite the positive effects of their intellectual training and establishment of a liberal education as a basis for effective character formation, a radical skepticism toward all values led some to advocate an explicitly amoral opportunism. Students were instructed how to devise ostensibly plausible arguments supporting virtually any claim. More concretely disturbing was the concurrent deterioration of the political and ethical situation in Athens to the point of crisis – the democracy turning fickle and corrupt, the consequent takeover by a ruthless oligarchy, the Athenian leadership of Greece becoming tyrannical, wars begun in arrogance ending in disaster. Daily life in Athens saw minimally humane ethical standards unscrupulously violated – visible not least in the exclusively male Athenian citizenry’s routine and often cruel exploitation of women, slaves, and foreigners. All these developments had their own origins and motives, and could hardly be laid at the feet of the Sophists. Yet in such critical circumstances, the philosophical denial of absolute values and sophistical commendation of stark opportunism seemed both to reflect and to exacerbate the problematic spirit of the times. – Page 30 In Socrates’s view, any attempt to foster true success and excellence in human life had to take account of the innermost reality of a human being, his soul or psyche. Perhaps on the basis of his own highly developed sense of individual selfhood and self-control, Socrates brought to the Greek mind a new awareness of the central significance of the soul, establishing it for the first time as the seat of the individual waking consciousness and of the moral and intellectual character. He affirmed the Delphic motto “Know thyself,” for he believed that it was only through self-knowledge, through an understanding of one’s own psyche and its proper condition, that one could find genuine happiness. All human beings seek happiness by their very nature, and happiness, Socrates taught, is achieved through living the kind of life that best serves the nature of the soul. Happiness is the consequence not of physical or external circumstances, of wealth or power or reputation, but of living a life that is good for the soul. Yet to live a genuinely good life, one must know what is the nature and essence of the good. Otherwise one will be acting blindly, on the basis of mere convention or expediency, calling something good or virtuous whenever it conforms to popular opinion or serves the pleasure of the moment. By contrast, Socrates argued, if a man does know what is truly good – what is beneficial for him in the deepest sense – then he will naturally and inevitably act in a good manner. – Page 33-34 Philosophy was a process, a discipline, a lifelong quest. To practice philosophy in the socratic manner was continually to subject one’s thoughts to the criticism of reason in earnest dialogue with others. Genuine knowledge was not something that could be simply received from another secondhand like a purchased commodity, as with the Sophists, but was rather a personal achievement, won only at the cost of constant intellectual struggle and self-critical reflection. “The life not tested by criticism,” Socrates declared, “is not worth living.” Because of his incessant questioning of others, however, Socrates was not universally popular, and his active encouraging of a critical skepticism among his pupils was regarded by some as a dangerously unsettling influence which undermined the proper authority of tradition and the state. …Caught in a backlash against a number of political figures, some of whom had once been in his circle, Socrates was sentenced to death. In such a situation it would have been customary to propose an alternative punishment of exile, and this was probably what his accusers desired. But Socrates refused at every stage of the trial to compromise his principles, and rejected all efforts to escape or modify the consequences of the verdict. He affirmed the rightness of the life he had led, even if his mission to awaken others now brought him death – which he did not fear, but rather welcomed as a portal to eternity. Cheerfully drinking the poison hemlock, Socrates became an unreluctant martyr to the ideal of philosophy that had so long championed. – Page 35 …it would appear that Plato, in reflecting upon the legacy of his teacher [Socrates] in the course of his own intellectual evolution, gradually made explicit in these more developed positions what he understood to be implicit in both Socrates’s life and his arguments. – Page 36 …Socrates often referred to himself as an intellectual midwife, through his dialectical skill bringing to birth the latent truth in another’s mind. Perhaps Platonic philosophy itself was the final and fullest fruit of that labor. – Page 40 Yet for all his seeming antiwordly pessimism, Plato’s outlook was marked by a certain cosmic optimism, for behind the obscure flux of events he posited the providential design of divine wisdom. And despite, or rather underlying, his flights of rhapsodic mysticism, Plato’s philosophy was fundamentally rationalist in character – though his rationalism rested on what he regarded as a universal and divine foundation rather than a merely human logicality. For at the heart of Plato’s conception of the world was the notion of a transcendent intelligence that rules and orders all things: divine Reason is “the king of heaven and earth.” The universe is ultimately ruled not by chance, materialistic mechanics, or blind necessity, but rather by “a wondrous regulating intelligence.” – Page 44 Stoicism…possessed a loftiness of vision and moral temper that would long leave its mark on the Western spirit. Founded in Athens in the early third century B.C. by Zeno of Citium, who had studied at the Platonic Academy… In the Stoic view, all reality was pervaded by an intelligent divine force, the Logos or universal reason which ordered all things. Man could achieve genuine happiness only by attuning his life and character to this all-powerful providential wisdom. To be free was to live in conformity with G-d’s will, and what mattered finally in life was the virtuous state of the soul, not the circumstances of the outer life. The Stoic sage, marked by inner serenity, sternness in self-discipline, and conscientious performance of duty, was indifferent to the vagaries of external events. …Because all human beings shared in the divine Logos, all were members of a universal human community, a brotherhood of mankind…and each individual was called upon to participate actively in the affairs of the world and thereby fulfil his duty to this great community. …By contrast, its contemporary rival Epicureanism distinguished itself from the Stoic devotion to moral virtue and the world-governing Logos, as well as from traditional religious notions, by asserting the primary value of human pleasure – defined as freedom from pain and fear. Mankind must overcome its superstitious belief in the fickle, anthropomorphic gods of popular tradition. Epicurus taught, for it is above all this belief, and the anxiety about divine retribution after death, that caused human misery. One need not fear the gods, for they do not concern themselves with the human world. Nor need one fear death, for it is merely the extinction of consciousness and not a prelude to a painful punishment. Happiness in this life can best be achieved through withdrawal from the world of affairs to cultivate a quiet existence of simple pleasure in the company of friends. – Pages 76-77 “Nor did the major protagonists of the Scientific Revolution move to sever that ancient bond. Copernicus made no distinction in the De Revolutionibus between astronomy and astrology, referring to them conjointly as “the head of all the liberal arts.” Kepler confessed that his astronomical research was inspired by his search for the celestial “music of the spheres.” Although outspokenly critical of the lack of rigor in contemporary astrology, Kepler was his era’s foremost astrological theoretician, and both he and Brahe served as royal astrologers to the Holy Roman Emperor. Even Galileo, like most Renaissance astronomers, routinely calculated astrological birth charts, including one for his patron the Duke of Tuscany in 1609, the year of his telescopic discoveries. Newton reported that it was his own early interest in astrology that stimulated his epochal researches in mathematics, and he later studied alchemy at considerable length. It is sometimes difficult now to determine the actual extent of these pioneers’ commitment to astrology or alchemy, but the modern historian of science looks in vain for a clear demarcation in their vison between the scientific and the esoteric.” – Page 294-295 Yet despite the unambiguously secular character of the modern science that eventually crystallized out of the Scientific Revolution, the original scientific revolutionaries themselves continued to act, think, and speak of their work in terms conspicuously redolent of religious illumination. They perceived their intellectual breakthroughs as foundational contributions to a sacred mission. Their scientific discoveries were triumphant spiritual awakenings to the divine architecture of the world, revelations of the true cosmic order. Newton’s joyful exclamation, “O G-d, I think thy thoughts after thee!” was only the culmination of a long series of such epiphanies marking the milestones of modern science’s birth. In the De Revolutionibus, Copernicus celebrated astronomy as a “science more divine than human,” closest to G-d in the nobility of its character, and upheld the heliocentric theory as revealing the true structural grandeur and precision of G-d’s cosmos. Kepler’s writings were ablaze with his sense of being divinely illuminated as the inner mysteries of the cosmos unfolded before his eyes. He declared astronomers to be “priests of the most high G-d with respect to the book of nature,” and saw his own role as “the honor of guarding, with my discovery, the door of G-d’s temple, in which Copernicus serves before the high altar. Galileo spoke of his telescopic discoveries as made possible by G-d’s grace enlightening his mind. Even the worldly Bacon envisioned humanity’s progress through science in explicitly religious, pietistic terms, with the material improvement of mankind corresponding to its spiritual approach to the Christian millennium. Descartes interpreted his vision of the new universal science…as a divine mandate for his life’s work: G-d had shown him the way to certain knowledge, and assured him of his scientific quest’s ultimate success. And with Newton’s achievement, the divine birth was considered complete. …The eternal laws governing Creation, the divine handiwork itself, now stood unveiled by science. Through science man had served G-d’s greater glory, demonstrating the mathematical beauty and complex precision, the stupendous order reigning over the heavens and the Earth. The luminous perfection of the discoverers’ new universe compelled their awe before the transcendent intelligence which they attributed to the Creator of such a cosmos. – Pages 299-301 With Galileo, Descartes, and Newton, the new science was forged, a new cosmology defined, a new world opened to man within which his powerful intelligence could act with new freedom and effectiveness. Yet simultaneously, that new world was disenchanted of all those personal and spiritual qualities that for millennia had given human beings their sense of cosmic meaning. The new universe was a machine, a self-contained mechanism of force and matter, devoid of goals or purpose, bereft of intelligence or consciousness, its character fundamentally alien to that of man. The premodern world had been permeated with spiritual, mythic, theistic, and other humanly meaningful categories, but all these were regarded by the modern perception as anthropomorphic projections. Mind and matter, psyche and world, were separate realities. The scientific liberation from theological dogma and animistic superstition was thus accompanied by a new sense of human alienation from a world that no longer responded to human values, nor offered a redeeming context within which could be understood the larger issues of human existence. – Page 326 It is clear that at heart, Kant believed that the laws moving the planets and stars ultimately stood in some fundamental harmonious relation to the moral imperatives he experienced within himself: ‘Two things fill the heart with ever new and always increasing awe and admiration: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’ – Page 350 For man could no longer assume his mind’s interpretation of the world to be a mirrorlike reflection of things as they actually were. The mind itself might be the alienating principle. .... In the end, the human mind could not be relied upon as an accurate judge of reality. – Page 353

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Fuller

    Tarnas begins with Plato, working backward and forward from him. Plato's Forms, in particular, set the stage for the rest of the book, in my view. According to Plato, there are transcendent Forms for 'Man', 'Tree', 'Woman', for example, that the soul was exposed to before birth and remembers later in life. These Forms are timeless, trancendent and most, Beautiful. Aristotle, the tenth in line from Pythagoras, quickly relegates Plato's Forms to the particular, noting their birth, maturation and d Tarnas begins with Plato, working backward and forward from him. Plato's Forms, in particular, set the stage for the rest of the book, in my view. According to Plato, there are transcendent Forms for 'Man', 'Tree', 'Woman', for example, that the soul was exposed to before birth and remembers later in life. These Forms are timeless, trancendent and most, Beautiful. Aristotle, the tenth in line from Pythagoras, quickly relegates Plato's Forms to the particular, noting their birth, maturation and decay within the object with no recourse to a transcendent realm. The important thing is, in the greek rationalism of both Plato and Aristotle, the world is knowable and is a Cosmos, an ordered whole that can be readily understood by the human mind. The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle move to the Arabics during the Dark Ages, until the medieval times, when the Arabics courteously return the two behemoths to western civilization where St. Augustine applies Platonic thought to theology, while St. Thomas Aquinas later does the same with Aristotle. Somewhere in the mix, Ockham applies his razor to the idea of the Forms, being the first to deny a Form's transcendent or immanent reality, but rather positing that the Form is a construct of the human mind. Party pooper. Modern science, which has divested the world of anything human,where the universe now contains no spirit or transcendent form, sets it's sights on a disenchanted universe that is now viewed as being mechanistic at best, lifeless at worst. Man is taken, by way of Copernicus, then Kepler and Galileo, from being the absolute center of the Ptolemaic universe, to being a nondescript inhabitant on a planet moving about a sun, which is one of potentially millions of such stars in the now vast space of the experienced world. During the Enlightenment, man having eaten the soul of the Cosmos and stolen it's intelligence and claimed it for himself, suddenly turns the lense on himself thorugh Descartes and Kant. Not only is the Cosmos dead and lifeless and altogether inhuman, but man is incapable of perceiving said Cosmos in an objective way. Man inherently attaches Reality to the universe by viewing the world through the apriori lenses of time, space, cause and effect and so on. So now, we have a dead and lifeless vast impersonal universe inhabited by man, who, due to his psychological makeup, can never understand said world objectively. Nietzsche sounds the death knell. He says God is dead, but really, it is man, glourious understanding, at one with the world, man who is crucified. Nietzsche pronounces the birth of the modern era, where not by intelligence, which has been discounted, not by religion, which is suffering cognitive disonance due to the emerging scientific worldview (Darwinism, Atomism, the everexpanding nothingness peered at through ever stronger telescopic lenses), but sheer Will that will decide who is right. Finally on to the postmodern picture. History has been dominated by white european males. Not only is the universe (and man) unknowable, but we don't even know the proper questions to ask. Language is a prison, seeking to encapsulate experience and reduce Reality to the constructs of the human mind. Western man, through the prevailing dichotomy of his science and religion, has raped women, the environment, destroyed the ozone, produced the atomic bomb, and on and on. No one has hold of the Truth. Truth is provincial, localized and relative, dependent upon a contingent human being. No world view has precedence over another. There is no prevailing meta-narrative that can capture global humanity and unite it. But dear reader, there is hope. There is hope from the beginning pages of this book through to the epilogue. Tarnas wisely weaves a thread throughout that offers a glimpse into a potential new birth for mankind. Tarnas points out history seems to be coming to a culmination, something is definitely on the horizon for all of us. I leave it to you, to read this wonderful book, to discover what possibilities (if not facts) lie ahead for humanity. The book is well worth the read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Tarnas begins with an intention to deal with a variety of material so large that its capacity to fit into one (fairly short) volume initially seems questionable. However, Tarnas does an admirable job in presenting a cohesive narrative, encompassing a wide range of sources and identifying the continuous, backwards-looking strand that connects the doctrines and theories. Unlike other attempts of the same nature, the presentation of the various viewpoints is done in a consistently fair and convinci Tarnas begins with an intention to deal with a variety of material so large that its capacity to fit into one (fairly short) volume initially seems questionable. However, Tarnas does an admirable job in presenting a cohesive narrative, encompassing a wide range of sources and identifying the continuous, backwards-looking strand that connects the doctrines and theories. Unlike other attempts of the same nature, the presentation of the various viewpoints is done in a consistently fair and convincing manner, rather than the deprecatory style in which it is often fashionable to present religiously-dominated medieval philosophy and similar topics. At the conclusion of the work, Tarnas presents an epilogue with his guess at what might make up the worldview of the coming decades. After the fairly careful summary that makes up the majority of the book, the epilogue comes as a bizarre non sequitur filled with references to repressed memories of birth, psychedelics, Gaia, and other such things. While I'm sure Goff's work is undoutably interesting and worth discussing in a different context, its rushed and dramatic inclusion filled with speculation feels like an inappropriate thematic departure from the rest of the book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    India

    This was a pretty good book. It is a nice overview of western philosophy. I like the extensive chronology of western philosophy in the back of the book. I do take issue with his conclusion that the silencing of women's voices is not just "social restriction" but instead "archetypal" and a necessary step in the formation of the human psyche. I disagree and know that women have made contributions that we are unaware of because our society has decided that it is ok that they have no voice. I did no This was a pretty good book. It is a nice overview of western philosophy. I like the extensive chronology of western philosophy in the back of the book. I do take issue with his conclusion that the silencing of women's voices is not just "social restriction" but instead "archetypal" and a necessary step in the formation of the human psyche. I disagree and know that women have made contributions that we are unaware of because our society has decided that it is ok that they have no voice. I did notice through out the book that Tarnas fails to mention any women thinkers and I think that this could have added a nice dimension to his writing. However, in general this book is a good reference book. It demonstrates the movement of thought from the Greeks to the present day west and connects it all together. It a good jumping point to dive into the study of philosophy and gives the names of men who fall into specific schools of thought. It is a very dense book and well worth the read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Elzinus

    Written with energy - a constant rhythm of amazement. To bad this book is (very) uncritical, it just tells and tells without much arguments. What's worse is are lines like: "A spontaneous and irreducible revolution of consciousness was taking place, affecting virtually every aspect of Western culture. Amidst high drama and painful convulsions, modern man was born in the Renaissance, "trailing clouds of glory."" A few paragraphs earlier Tarnas states that this revolution of consciousness cannot be Written with energy - a constant rhythm of amazement. To bad this book is (very) uncritical, it just tells and tells without much arguments. What's worse is are lines like: "A spontaneous and irreducible revolution of consciousness was taking place, affecting virtually every aspect of Western culture. Amidst high drama and painful convulsions, modern man was born in the Renaissance, "trailing clouds of glory."" A few paragraphs earlier Tarnas states that this revolution of consciousness cannot be explained by the context --- Come on, one can't state this after less then 10 pages summarizing cultural, economical, political, religious factors that are very paradoxical and most of all new. Even Hegel is hard to believe, and he takes 100s of pages to make an argument for a continuous revolution of consciousness. Still, I would recommend this book to everyone (who is not too scholary) with an interest in a history of the western mind. It is relatively easy to read and because Tarnas gives summaries it is easy to skip the parts that are of no interest for you.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    Overall I thought this book provided a great introduction to the major intellectual ideas as they moulded throughout time. However, and perhaps this is because I am a Lacanian, I thought the epilogue of this book was AWFUL. I'm really glad that Tarnas was able to keep it separate from the rest of his book (except perhaps when he starts praising Jung and only briefly mentioning Freud). As Lacan said, "there is no sexual relationship," so the fact that Tarnas provides this as the basis for his ide Overall I thought this book provided a great introduction to the major intellectual ideas as they moulded throughout time. However, and perhaps this is because I am a Lacanian, I thought the epilogue of this book was AWFUL. I'm really glad that Tarnas was able to keep it separate from the rest of his book (except perhaps when he starts praising Jung and only briefly mentioning Freud). As Lacan said, "there is no sexual relationship," so the fact that Tarnas provides this as the basis for his idea of what's to come to compensate for our fractured post-modern mind is far too speculative for my sensibilities. Other than that though, a good book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Peter Vicaire

    Here's some pretty enjoyable, heady stuff, canvassing the philosophical minds of the ancient Greeks and early Christians through the middle ages, the enlightenment, and the sparks of the "modern" world. However, it does seem to thin out somewhat in the latter stages of the book relative to the earlier pages. Interestingly, I actually took 1.5 years to fumble my way through it - putting it down for months at a time in between philosophical eras. That unintentional reading method didn't take away Here's some pretty enjoyable, heady stuff, canvassing the philosophical minds of the ancient Greeks and early Christians through the middle ages, the enlightenment, and the sparks of the "modern" world. However, it does seem to thin out somewhat in the latter stages of the book relative to the earlier pages. Interestingly, I actually took 1.5 years to fumble my way through it - putting it down for months at a time in between philosophical eras. That unintentional reading method didn't take away any enjoyment and in fact, may have added to it. For sure, it's a recommend if you're looking for a great historical survey of the western philosophical mind.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is an amazing overview of the entire history and legacy of Western thought from the Ancient Greeks to contemporary times, covering along the way the Medieval and Renaissance mind as well as the development of the modern worldview. Though it necessarily glosses over more detailed explorations of specific philosophers and movements, the author includes the ideas that are most fundamentally important to how we think today and puts them in a historical context. I now feel like I have a much bet This is an amazing overview of the entire history and legacy of Western thought from the Ancient Greeks to contemporary times, covering along the way the Medieval and Renaissance mind as well as the development of the modern worldview. Though it necessarily glosses over more detailed explorations of specific philosophers and movements, the author includes the ideas that are most fundamentally important to how we think today and puts them in a historical context. I now feel like I have a much better understanding of philosophies that I formerly found difficult to grasp, particularly Kant and Postmodernism.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matt Butler

    I have never read a book like this before. By that I mean I went through The Passion of The Western Mind with a 500 pack of highlighter tabs, making detailed notes at the end of the chapter. After the first few page, I knew reading this book quickly would not do it justice. I sensed there was so much to get out of this book, and I would recommend any other readers to do the same. The emergence of the Western mind strikes me as a story of searching for meaning. The Greeks and Christians found comf I have never read a book like this before. By that I mean I went through The Passion of The Western Mind with a 500 pack of highlighter tabs, making detailed notes at the end of the chapter. After the first few page, I knew reading this book quickly would not do it justice. I sensed there was so much to get out of this book, and I would recommend any other readers to do the same. The emergence of the Western mind strikes me as a story of searching for meaning. The Greeks and Christians found comfort in their absolute objective meaning; for the former it was in the archetypes, for the latter it was in the holy trinity. When the re-emergence of Aristotle in the 1200s threatened the Christian worldview, Aquinas attempted to reunite the Aristotle’s logic with Christian faith. When the work of Copernicus, Descartes, Darwin, and Kant left humans as just another animal; Goethe, Hegel and Jung attempted to find deeper truths and patterns in the universe by expanding the set of tools for truth seeking beyond rational empiricism. We currently are (and have been since the rise of postmodernism) in a phase lacking meaning. Tarnas, becoming increasingly speculative towards the end of his book, predicts this will be followed by, and is necessary for, a phase of meaning. However, this seems hopeful. Tarnas is searching for his own meaning, but, as I felt a number of times throughout this book, not liking the implications of the dominant theory, doesn’t make it is false. I do not like that we seem to have ruled out any claim to absolute knowledge, but I wasn’t persuaded that our current epistemological skepticism is false. I was also struck by the absence of femininity or female thinkers in this book. I was surprised that Tarnas, towards the end, acknowledged this. I was even more surprised by his claim that philosophy’s next phase may emerge from feminine thinkers. However, I think my reaction was misplaced. During the evolution of the modern Western mind, anything other than cold rational empiricism was hollowed out. The paradigm of the human relationship with nature was that of the exploiter. This is in stark contrast with feminine nurture and care. Tarnas contends that a brave sacrifice needs to be made by surrendering masculine philosophy to be subsumed by a feminine philosophy. As with the modern world view, this next stage would seemingly be both a rebellion from the previous tradition of philosophy, but also deeply dependent on it. This notion of movement and counterbalance is a common theme in the development of the Western Mind. I found the idea of Protestantism as both conservative and liberating deeply interesting. Further, from the development of independent and autonomous individuals emerged an undermining of this concept. Freud and Marx both demonstrated that we are not as independent as we believed. One element of this book that really worked for me was its relevance. Although, it may not have covered more recent thinkers in as much depth as the classics, I found myself constantly thinking about what it would be like to have a different world view. I don’t mean just holding certain ideas as symbolic, but what it would be like to genuinely believe, like Plato, that Universal Ideas were more concrete than particulars; or that the movement of the planets would determine my fortune. I, as someone who spends a lot of time in my own head, also found it fascinating that reading, and particularly the printing press, might shape how much people think privately. This book inspired me to read further and learn more, with the hope of reaching the deeper truths which have always seemed non-existent to me. Tarnas suggests that this education may also require some psychoactive drugs; an idea that either has not gone away or is deeply popular once again. I cannot imagine what such a profound experience would be like, to see the universe completely differently. The impact of Christianity on today’s, even atheist, worldview was also intriguing. The idea of human dignity, and the implication of human rights, seems to come from a Christian sense of the soul. In addition, the West still sees itself as special, even if the original religious justification for this specialness has been eliminated. On a perhaps darker note, I was repeatedly struck by what seemed to be conscious decisions to shape Christianity to increase the power of the Church: a layperson’s relationship to God must be mediated by the Church; the ideal Christian is obedient; the Church’s claiming of the (potentially democratising) Holy Spirit for themselves. Just as interesting as the deep influence of Christianity is other historical influences on Christianity itself. The Roman church modelled itself on the Roman empire, and filled this void when the empire moved Eastwards. Further, if it wasn’t for the threat of being overtaken by Protestants, the Catholics could easily have accepted heliocentrism and not lost their claim to the objective seekers and providers of truth. How different the world could have been. One final thought on freedom of speech: the Roman crucifixion of Jesus made him the most influential figure in human history. This seems the archetypal case against suppressing voices you don’t agree with. PS: how I found this book (in case I forget). At a Sexpression Conference in Bristol, my friend Tom stayed in an AirBnB and was impressed by his host’s book collection. They talked about philosophy and the host gave Tom a copy of this book. I felt it was something I had to read, so I got a copy from the library.

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