on 16 September 1999
This book was completely engrossing. A great introduction to the history of Western thought for the interested lay person. For me, more readable than other versions (eg Russell's) because of the narrative approach - Tarnas doesn't go to great lengths to 'disprove' his predecessors, he keeps an open mind (as he explains) and just tells a fascinating story.
Minor quibbles - this book sometimes gets bogged down in huge sentences and obscure vocabulary where it's not helpful. And some ideas (eg the various attempts to describe the cosmos) would be better expressed in a diagram.
on 23 August 2007
Richard Tarnas has written an amazingly lucid, comprehensive and analytic account of the development of the way in which thinking in the West has evolved over millennia.
Tarnas identifies brilliantly the bifurcations and break-points in the thinking processes and the ideas espoused by the Western Mind. This text is not a cook-book, rather it is an educational privilege to read Tarnas thinking and analysis.
The fundamental tension running through the text is between mans independence from the world (his dreams, hopes and fears) and his dependence on a physical universe that is indifferent to him (his needs for physical well being: food, warmth, community).
An example of this tension is where the 'reason v faith' dichotomy is reassessed by the Romantics in the nineteenth century:
"The early modern dichotomy between secular science and the Christian religion, now became a more general schism between scientific rationalism on the one hand and the multifaceted Romantic humanistic culture on the other, with the latter now including a diversity of religious and philosophical perspectives loosely allied with the literary and artistic tradition."
In this way modern man has an "inner culture" of art, literature and religion while at the same time having an "outer culture" of nature, the cosmos and the limits of what it is possible to know.
Everywhere man finds himself free, but bounded, in a new set of double truths: inner-outer, subject-object, man-world, humanities-science. In short man became divided within and without. As Tarnas says "Modern man was a divided animal, inexplicably self-aware in an indifferent universe."
And so man has become trapped in a world of his own ideas and making. Tarnas says: `The crisis of modern man is an essentially masculine crisis.' It is at this point he suggests a surprising way forward. He points away from the masculine, and towards the feminine.
He suggests `the greatest passion of the western mind has been to reunite with the ground of its own being.' In short to come to terms with the great feminine principal in life which preserves human autonomy, while also transcending human alienation.
Tarnas ends with an intriguing question: "... why has the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition suddenly become so apparent to us today, while it remained so invisible to almost every previous generation?" His answer follows Hegel "... a civilization cannot become conscious of itself, cannot recognise its own significance, until it is so mature that it is approaching its own death."
And so is this the point of nuclear power, mutually assured destruction, global warming, AIDS, greed, avarice and the pernicious influence of globalization? That we are becoming aware of our death and are becoming ready to `reunite with the ground of our being.'
Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to the story about the Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge.
Tarnas' book is a fruitful educative source of learning and education. Well done Richard - five stars are yours.
on 9 September 2011
The Passion of the Western Mind must be among the best studies in the History of Ideas ever written. It charts man's passage from the enchanted world of Ancient Greece through to the current disenchanted postmodern situation. On the whole he gives a thoroughly objective account of each era and examples to show his arguments. A must read for any reflective person.
on 10 August 2009
Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind (1991, pocket edition 1993) offers an admirable survey, characterized by stringency and verbal intuition, Tarnas narrates the history of the Western mind up to our days, and in this way shows how our world view originated - the world view where Man monopolized conscious intelligence, while cosmos is turned blind and mechanistic, and God is dead. Man has become a stranger in his own world. This, however, has generated a longing for the communion that was lost. The deepest passion of the Western mind, Tarnas means, is to transcend this worldview by a reunion with Nature, from which Man once emerged. "The telos, the inner direction and goal of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation" (p. 443 f). This, one might say, is the same idea and feeling that is found in Selma Lagerlöf's compositions on Man and Nature, and in Prigogine's demonstration that the whole world - Man included - functions as self-organizing systems.
on 31 March 2006
beautifully written with a masterful grasp of the foundation of western ideas - author briliantly linked religion/science/philosophy into one single volume - Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in philosophy
on 29 April 2010
A great overview. seems dry at first but he does give a good balanced view.
Maybe too much to read from cover to cover, but very good to dip into.
Think of a philosopher and read a resume of his ideas.
(By the way, women were not allowed to think until the 20th century...)
on 23 March 2006
This is without a doubt the most comprehensive, interesting and easy-to-read history of western philosophy I have ever read. By presenting the evolution of thought in an unbiased way, Tarnas allows the reader to formulate their own opinions about the development of the western mind and the meanings behind it. I genuinely could not put this book down in parts and have found that it has vastly increased my understanding of other philosophical subjects by providing the big picture.
However: I would strongly recommend that you skip the prologue at the end of the book. After a monumental and groundbreaking analysis of western thought, Tarnas proceeds to deliver one the most bizarre and fantastic personal theories I have ever read. This is not to say that it isn't valid, it just doesn't fit well at the end of such an impartial book.
Nevertheless, this should definitely be read by anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of the roots of philosophy, psychology etc.
on 22 February 2006
This is the best of its kind on the history of the direction of western ideas, although its dense and on the occassion Tarnas tends to get bogged down in long sentenses, you get into it, and its definately no problem if your already accustomed to reading things like that, so Tarnas achives his aim to put forth the concepts simply but without simplifying them. Far from being a book of bluntly written facts the author made it a 'open', lucid reading experience that leaves you thinking. Its clever and subtle structure leaves you plenty of similarities and connections to drew and reflect upon, I say 'subtle' because its as though the author did not intentionally put them in, so you might breeze over it as it doesnt blatently engage you. This deosnt mean he was biased in writing it, the author just gives his exellent and uncloured interpreatation and conclusion of the facts, which is the most anyone can do.
The author goes on to give some of his own great ideas on why things are the way they are and the meaning of the history of western philosophy, and where its going from the present, philosophically aswell as as a spieces. Highly Recomended!
on 28 July 2014
This is a very good history of the thought, ideas and philosophies that have been part and parcel of the Western Mind. I found the bit in the middle involving the Scholastics a little difficult to grasp but that is more me than Richard Tarnas! The authors analysis and summing up of the complexities of the last few centuries are excellent and for me clarified the various issues involved.
on 14 June 2011
The great majority of this book was - for this layman at least - a lucid and enjoyable account of the major ideas in Western philosophical, religious and scientific thought, from Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, through Paul, Augustine and the early Church, to the Scholastics, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and beyond. On this basis, I would thoroughly recommend reading it.
However as the author approaches the present day and what he calls the "postmodern mind", the writing becomes more verbose and obscure. And in the Epilogue Tarnas presents some of his own theories on the future of man's relation to the cosmos. As another reviewer noted, whatever their validity (they made little sense to me), they do seem out of place in this book.