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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Canon to find Meaning in a Secular Worldby Hubert L. Dreyfus and Sean Kelly
Synopses & Reviews
In unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose. This predicament seems inevitable, but in fact its quite new. In medieval Europe, Gods calling was a grounding force. In ancient Greece, a whole pantheon of shining gods stood ready to draw an appropriate action out of you. Like an athlete in “the zone,” you were called to a harmonious attunement with the world, so absorbed in it that you couldnt make a “wrong” choice. If our culture no longer takes for granted a belief in God, can we nevertheless get in touch with the Homeric moods of wonder and gratitude, and be guided by the meanings they reveal? All Things Shining says we can.
Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly illuminate some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our passionate engagement with and responsiveness to the world. Their journey takes us from the wonder and openness of Homers polytheism to the monotheism of Dante; from the autonomy of Kant to the multiple worlds of Melville; and, finally, to the spiritual difficulties evoked by modern authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert.
Dreyfus, a philosopher at the University of California, Berkeley, for forty years, is an original thinker who finds in the classic texts of our culture a new relevance for peoples everyday lives. His lively, thought-provoking lectures have earned him a podcast audience that often reaches the iTunesU Top 40. Kelly, chair of the philosophy department at Harvard University, is an eloquent new voice whose sensitivity to the sadness of the culture — and to what remains of the wonder and gratitude that could chase it away — captures a generation adrift.
Re-envisioning modern spiritual life through their examination of literature, philosophy, and religious testimony, Dreyfus and Kelly unearth ancient sources of meaning, and teach us how to rediscover the sacred, shining things that surround us every day. This book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves. It offers a new — and very old — way to celebrate and be grateful for our existence in the modern world.
"Eminently qualified philosophers Dreyfus (U.C. Berkeley) and Kelly (Harvard) attempt to trace the decline of the West from the heroic, inspired age of Homer to our secularized, nihilistic age without a sense of transcendence and exultation. Unlike the ancient Greeks, the authors claim, today we lack a sense of the meaningfulness of life, of being called by a transcendent force. They probe this loss through a nonchronological roll call of writers, thinkers, and religious figures central to Western culture: Homer, Jesus, St. Paul, Dante, Luther, Descartes, Melville, and, representing today's unheroic age, David Foster Wallace But this sincere book reads more like a series of set pieces. Ambitious it is, but by turns it drifts or jumps, giving a sense of randomness to its argument. Late in the book, a long section on Moby-Dick notes, 'Ahab is a combination of Kant's theory of human beings as autonomous selves and Dante's religious hope for eternal bliss.' Such grand statements are not backed by a fully coherent, or a gracefully structured and proportioned argument. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“[A]n inspirational book but a highly intelligent and impassioned one...compelling.” The Wall Street Journal
“Offers a meditation on the meaning of life, in a sharp, engaging style.” New York Times Book Review
A wide-ranging look at the loss of meaning in the West, and a gripping guide for how to retrieve it.
The Ancient Greeks believed that our actions, at their best, were not completely under our control, but that we worked in concert with the world around us, much as an athlete performs when he's in the "zone". The athlete-or any master of his craft-in this state, makes choices that have little to do with thinking and everything to do with his skill and his environment. He is so intensely connected to what's around him that he can't make a "wrong" choice.
Many people leading secular lives are hungry for meaning. An unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, but on what basis do we make these decisions? How can we tell what's irrelevant and what's important? Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly explain that a secular life charged with meaning is in our reach. It is achieved by a passionate, skillful engagement with people, events, and the wonders present in the most ordinary days that Western culture abandoned long ago.
Dreyfus and Kelly interpret some of the greatest works of the Western Canon to trace the way in which denizens of Western culture lost this passionate engagement in their surroundings and to show us how to get it back. Taking us on a journey from the wonder and openness of Homer's polytheistic world to the monotheism of Dante Kant's deification of self-sufficiency, to the polytheism of Melville and finally to the spiritual difficulties of the world evoked by recent authors such as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert, this book will change the way we understand our culture, our history, our sacred practices, and ourselves and offer a new-and very old-way to celebrate existence in a secular world.
About the Author
Hubert Dreyfus is a leading interpreter of existential philosophy. He has taught at UC Berkeley for more than 40 years.
Sean Dorrance Kelly is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University. He is also Co-Chair of Harvard’s interdisciplinary committee for the study of Mind, Brain, and Behavior. Before arriving at Harvard, Kelly taught at Stanford and Princeton, and he was a Visiting Professor at the Ecole Normale SupÉrieure in Paris. He is considered a leading interpreter of the French and German tradition in phenomenology, as well as a prominent philosopher of mind. Kelly has published articles in numerous journals and anthologies and has received fellowships or awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEH, the NSF and the James S. McDonnell Foundation, among others.
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