Summary[ edit ] Tarnas argues that the movement from the Greek and Christian world views, through modernity and to postmodernism can be seen as a natural and dialectical unfolding of a collective mind or psyche. He then argues that with the advent of postmodernism, the modern world is in a serious spiritual crisis , which manifests as the global ecological crisis. He proposes that a potential resolution, which he calls the participatory framework , has also been in development in the West for centuries. Tarnas first describes the ancient world view, in which the self is undifferentiated from the world-soul in a participation mystique. The rise of the great monotheistic religions began with the Axial age in the sixth century BCE.
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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 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.
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. The great tension between the Judaic and the Hellenistic legacies of the Christian Creed is compellingly highlighted.
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.
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. The multifaceted complexity of this period is also conveyed very effectively. 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.
Hegel has been always misunderstood and underestimated in the post-modern thought, and the author renders him justice. 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. 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.
Overall, it is a really important, provocative, insightful book worth reading and well deserving a 4 stars. Highly recommended.
The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View
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