Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Contesting worldviews, interpreted via their own legacy

Has the ancient world become the meme of the moment? Following fast upon Mary Beard's book, the WSJ offers yet another review shared by Jutta. The book is The Cave and the Light by Arthur Herman. According to reviewer Roger Kimball:
Mr. Herman takes the reader on a rollicking trip from classical Athens to 21st-century New York to make the case that "everything we say, do, and see" has been shaped—"in one way or another"—by the ideas of Plato or Aristotle.

The book covers a good deal of later ground in its 675 pages. Later in the review, the age-old contrast of the two philosophers is sketched out:
Early on, Mr. Herman cannily observes that "one of the most crucial differences" between Plato and Aristotle is that Plato is backward-looking, Aristotle forward-looking. It is striking, for example, that Plato should describe knowledge as a sort of anamnesis, "recollection." There is something deeply nostalgic about Platonism: homesickness elevated to metaphysical longing. Aristotle, though, is at home in this world. "All men by nature desire to know," he says at the beginning of the "Metaphysics," "and the proof of this is the delight we take in our senses." For Aristotle, the senses don't so much beguile us, as in Plato, as they provide a window on the world and hence a means of liberation.
And of interest to us, in light of the Hippolytus's obsessive concern with the word:
. . . what makes "The Cave and the Light" so enjoyable is Mr. Herman's command of that most uncommon virtue, common sense. "Balance"—what Aristotle called sophrosune—stands at the top of his list of virtues. And although he insists that sanity and balance require the spiritualizing impetus of Plato as well as the pragmatic outlook of Aristotle, it is clear that he harbors a partiality for the latter.
 Another notice of the book is here, courtesy of the American Enterprise Institute,with a lecture by the author. 

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