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All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age Paperback – 10 Nov 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (10 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141659616X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596165
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 287,981 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“[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

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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3.8 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition
The somewhat "mysterious" title of this interesting book is derived from a little story cited in the epilogue. The "reading" that the subtitle refers to, starts with the ancient Greeks (Homer and the Tragedians) and, through the Romans, it scans the relevant sources of the Middle Ages: Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dante to reach Luther, Descartes, the Enlightenment (Kant) and eventually the modern secular age. A special chapter-almost fifty pages- is devoted to Melville's (what the authors call) "Evil Art". This elevation of Melville to the pantheon of Western culture might at first sight appear capricious and illogical but in fact proves to be the core of the book and the most eloquent argument against the evils of monotheism. The reader who is unacquainted with the immense literature on the rich symbolism of Melville's masterpiece might find this chapter so breathtaking that he might well forget or ignore whatever shortcomings or omissions exist in the other chapters and especially the last, titled " Lives Worth Living in a Secular Age".
Here one would expect to find at least a citation of the Socratic "anexetastos bios"(the unexamined life- which , as Socrates proclaimed in his "Apologia"- is not worth living); the ethical life with the performance of noble acts; the contemplation of the beauty and mystery of the cosmos and some works of art (especially music) or even the meditation and various practices of oriental cultures as a substitute of the medieval "beatific vision". The authors instead seek this substitute in the elation brought about by the glimpsing of perfection of great athletes or teams of popular sports and other epiphanies of mass events. Presumably they find this more consistent with our modern mass, democratic culture.
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Theirs is a noble goal: to give their readers some sense of meaning-giving in our technological driven, meaningless world by reading the western classics. However, they do not really succeed in explaining in what way those classics can help us in our contemporary nihilism, or why exactly those classics were chosen. Rather, they use those classics to describe the radical difference between our empty world and that of Homer, and to give an argument of how that change came about.

That arguments reaches its pinnacle in the penultimate chapter on Melville's Moby Dick. By far the longest chapter in the book (47 pages with 31 pages average per chapter), the authors are clearly of the opinion that this book is the locus classicus for the description of the transition from a theistic to an atheistic worldview - half a century before Nietzsche announced the death of God. Though interesting in itself, the analysis does little more to help us give meaning to our lives than give a lot of parables, ideas, and metaphors which can help us to make sense of our position in an empty world - but not to give meaning to it.

The best part in my opinion is the Conclusion. Here, the authors describe how to excel in some activity (their example is sports) indeed can give meaning to our lives. Like the craftsman who looks at trees and wood with a specific eye, we all should excel in what we do and in this way let specific parts of the world shine to us.

In short, this is an interesting book, though not of the depth and thoroughness that we have come to expect from Hubert Dreyfus. But than again, the book is perhaps targeted at a different audience.
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In many ways this is an excellent book. It is erudite and informative and conveys the profound in a simple and entertaining manner. It is worth reading in particular for its chapters on Homer and Moby Dick. Also its emphasis on gratitude was refreshing. However in the final analysis I found its conclusions a little anticlimactic and disappointing in not providing greater hope. To any who feel as i do I would recommend reading David Hoffmeister's "awakening through a course in miracles" which for me provides many of the answers to the questions posed by "all things shining"
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