Monday, September 19, 2011
Book Review: ALL THINGS SHINING: READING THE WESTERN CLASSICS TO FIND MEANING IN A SECULAR AGE By Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
by Wayne Ferrier
ALL THINGS SHINING is a book meant for a general readership, and I am approaching this review as a general reader rather than from within the academic consortia. I may not be the ideal person to review this book. First off, I don't feel like my life is worthless or lacking meaning, which the authors assume is the way most of us feel; secondly, reading Dreyfus and Kelly reminded me why I gave up on philosophy in favor of science; finally, if I had to choose, I'd choose monotheism to polytheism any day.
I do think that it can't hurt to peruse the classics and/or philosophy in search for meaning, but so much of it is long winded and more often than not takes you on a journey into the incessant clamoring of the individual intellect; itself often leading to depression. Each sentence, perhaps each paragraph of ALL THINGS SHINING makes glorious sense, yet it made no sense to me what the authors are getting at. If I were to boil it down, I am left feeling that the thesis is an emperor without clothing. After reading, it is hoped that we'd wish to escape the supposed nihilism of our hopelessly lost modern dilemma. Calling upon a pantheon of Homeric gods is the way to bring back the sacred, to restore meaning. Man himself cannot do great things nor should he be expected to—when man acts great, it's the doing of the gods. To not acknowledge this is being ungrateful. We have lost touch by not honoring and respecting these gods, who can supply so much benevolence; gods which I could not make out, by reading this book, if we are really supposed to believe in or not.
The monotheism offered in ALL THINGS SHINING, and we are advised to abandon, is taken from Dante's poetry, concepts from the Middle Ages rather than the monotheism found in scripture. What is ironic it's just this version of monotheism that is more Greek than of Abraham; ideas such as the Inferno, (Hell, Hades), were incorporated into early Christianity when it was being exported to the west.
The leap from many gods to one God did not come suddenly—it took time. Monotheism was a new paradigm in human thinking, evidence of what the human mind was becoming capable of doing. The ancients had been exposed to the so-called wisdom literature and came to believe in a common human heritage and universal thought. I see no reason to go back. If you're looking for a book to help you find the meaning of life, you may not find it here. On the other hand, if you're looking for a book to introduce you to a thread of philosophy running through several important classics, you might enjoy it.
Posted by Wayne Ferrier at 12:02 AM | Permalink