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The Soul of the World [Hardcover]

Roger Scruton
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Mar 2014

In The Soul of the World, renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends the experience of the sacred against today's fashionable forms of atheism. He argues that our personal relationships, moral intuitions, and aesthetic judgments hint at a transcendent dimension that cannot be understood through the lens of science alone. To be fully alive--and to understand what we are--is to acknowledge the reality of sacred things. Rather than an argument for the existence of God, or a defense of the truth of religion, the book is an extended reflection on why a sense of the sacred is essential to human life--and what the final loss of the sacred would mean. In short, the book addresses the most important question of modernity: what is left of our aspirations after science has delivered its verdict about what we are?

Drawing on art, architecture, music, and literature, Scruton suggests that the highest forms of human experience and expression tell the story of our religious need, and of our quest for the being who might answer it, and that this search for the sacred endows the world with a soul. Evolution cannot explain our conception of the sacred; neuroscience is irrelevant to our interpersonal relationships, which provide a model for our posture toward God; and scientific understanding has nothing to say about the experience of beauty, which provides a God's-eye perspective on reality.

Ultimately, a world without the sacred would be a completely different world--one in which we humans are not truly at home. Yet despite the shrinking place for the sacred in today's world, Scruton says, the paths to transcendence remain open.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (18 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691161577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691161570
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 24,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"The interest of his project lies not so much in the conclusions themselves, but rather in the way he attempts to establish them. Most conservatives place great weight on contingent features of the human condition. They emphasize our cognitive limitations, our anti-social impulses and the sheer extent of our ignorance, or they delve into the details of human history in order to establish that the old ways cannot be abandoned so quickly. Scruton's conservatism is more rationalistic."--David Owens, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] stately and often beautiful journey through various areas of human experience. . . . [W]ide-ranging and intellectually impassioned."--Sarah Bakewell, Financial Times

"[I]n no previous work has he woven together so successfully his thoughts on aesthetics, personhood, politics, and religion. . . . [A] book that--for its richness, scope, and beauty--may be remembered as among his best."--Spencer Case, National Review Online

"Reading Scruton is to take delight in his clarity of expression and linguistic economy, and it's to feel as though you're in the hands of a guide who is unafraid of doubts and uncertainties."--Laura Keynes, Standpoint

"[F]ascinating."--Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

"[C]onvincing."--Jonathan Derbyshire, Prospect

"The Soul of the World is a rich and rewarding work, one composed by a scholar clearly possessing exceptional depth and broad learning."--Jerry Salyer, Catholic World Report

"[T]he English conservative philosopher . . . really is a gift and a wonder."--Rod Dreher, American Conservative

"Once again drawing on insights offered by his conservatism he inquires into the nature of intimacy, relatedness, inter-subjectivity, moral intuitions and the capacity for aesthetic appreciation, and their implications for the sacred and transcendent in a society besotted by an arrogant scientism unprepared to accept its own profound limitations."--Mervyn Bendle, Quadrant Magazine

"[A] small but elegant volume which brings to the fore Scruton's central themes of art, music, and mystery, built on the interlocking, though unfashionable, notions of beauty and truth."--Joe Gelonesi, ABC Radio National's "The Philosopher's Zone"

"Scruton as usual mounts broad challenges to the conventional wisdom about nearly everything."--Steven Hayward, Power Lines

"It is immensely entertaining to see Scruton run the reductionists to ground, then eviscerate them with the appetite of a hungry beagle. The Soul of the World is worth reading for the blood sport alone; but Scruton is after bigger game. His ultimate objective is the philosopher's trophy: meaning. And that, Scruton believes, lies in our experience of the sacred. . . . The Soul of the World is a highly personal vision of a reconstructed Lebenswelt. In a series of cogent, fascinating chapters, he explains why we should set our sights on the beautiful horizon."--Dominic Green, Weekly Standard

"The beginning of Scruton's book is exciting because he immediately acknowledges the emotional core of religion. . . . Scruton gives us a welcome refocusing of the religion debate on the personal level rather than the genetic and group-selection levels. . . . This territory--the phenomenology of religion--is where Scruton is most interesting and nuanced."--Stephen T. Asma, Chronicle Review

"There is a crying need for Scruton's sort of attitude that understands that everything rests on human subjectivity."--Angus Kennedy, Spiked Review of Books

"For a vigorous, challenging, at times infuriating essay at recovering the order for human existence in its full dimensions from what can seem to be the overwhelming successful technological and scientistic culture we all live in, Scruton's extended meditation can hardly be bettered."--Brendan Purcell, VoegelinView

"Scruton's range of learning is truly remarkable."--Thomas D. Senor, Philosophers' Magazine

"Scruton's strongest ideas prove intriguing and thought-provoking in this relatively short book. . . . In the end, he has done both philosophy and religion a great service."--Arlice Davenport, Wichita Eagle

"Roger Scruton is one of the most lucid articulators of this discomfort at a purely materialist account of human origins."--Nick Spencer, Tablet

From the Inside Flap

"Its passion, imagination, and sensitivity to all aspects of our world mean that this is a book that can be enjoyed by humanists as much as by those who identify themselves as religious. Scruton's God is embedded in the human world, including our art, architecture, music, and literature to which he is such a fascinating guide, which is the right place for gods to be."--Simon Blackburn, author of Think and Mirror, Mirror

"This is a wonderful and in many places beautiful work; closely argued, though best read not as an argument but as a genuine 'turning for home' on the part of a learned and deeply thoughtful man, who offers us hard-won insights as he fixes his gaze on our final end."--Mark Johnston, Princeton University

"This is a rich and highly sensitive book, which engages the reader on many levels, and which approaches religion not doctrinally, but via the full range of human sensibility, especially moral and aesthetic, and our capacities for seeing the world not just in terms of impersonal scientific structures, but in deeply personal terms. Finely written and argued, the book is philosophically sophisticated yet accessible."--John Cottingham, Heythrop College London and University of Reading


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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful as always 11 Jun 2014
By T Merry
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another thoughtful and intelligent book from Roger Scruton, I would recommend this to everyone whether of faith or none who wants to explore the human need for religion and the sacred. My advice would be to take the few negative reviews below with a pinch of salt, as with all Scruton books there are a few that do not come with open minds and are clearly not prepared to engage with the arguments therein - in fact I do wonder if some of these people have even bothered to read the books at all. So don't let these people put you off enjoying the wisdom of this great philosopher.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I did not find it as easy a read as some 15 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I did not find it as easy a read as some. It follows the growing pattern of admiring Christianity (or at least theism) from the outside.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 21 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
thank you
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14 of 91 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Yet another last-ditcher 10 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover
Following on the heels of Simon Schama's disgraceful history of Juda**m, which is effectively a full-blown attack on Enlightenment rationalism and a hymn to supernatural bigotry, here is another codger notorious for sacrificing reason for the sake of emotional rants, who here joins the fashion of old white men making a last ditch attempt to save religion.
(cf. "Like all of Scruton's books, it is beautifully written but he is frequently prepared to sacrifice some of the truth for a punchy sentence and will happily include large generalisations, or smooth over historical facts, to serve his argument." (from Amazon Review of 'Our Church' by 'Tiger', q.v.) )
Scruton, ex-editor of the far-right Salisbury Review, also recently penned a study of sexuality in which he managed to 'intuit', again without reasoning of any kind, that heterosexuals like himself were superior to everyone else. In this volume, sentimental twaddle sits comfortably with religious bigotry and unreason. And it is of course no coincidence that like Schama he has embraced the US academy,where so-called scholars can out themselves as supernaturalists without the inevitable ridicule which would attend them in the European intellectual climate.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Philosophical Journey 2 July 2014
By Sondra McClendon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Books on philosophy tend to either be very dry or to focus on one aspect so closely that they often don't have the space to consider other, related topics. "The Soul of the World" is not one of those books. Author Roger Scruton draws from art, literature, music, architecture, politics, and law in oder to give readers a full, well-rounded journey into the human need for sacred things and a way to explain the world that we live in.

No matter your views on religion, you will find "The Soul of the World" a thought-provoking and insightful exploration (whether you agree with all points or not) that he been written with a sensitivity to all beliefs. Scruton explores, wihtout necessarily arguing in a forceful way. His style is informatl at times, while still maintaining the cadence of a scholarely lecture on philosophy. With roughly forty books under his belt, Scruton knows his stuff!

The chapters that branch out into areas like the brain and music are particularly fascinating. In "The Sacred Space of Music", Scruton discusses Beethoven's "C-sharp Minor Quarter" and how it contains "all human life" within it. A composition like this invites you to "live and feel in a purer way". Eloquent explanations like these succeed in taking us down a path toward figuring out what we believe and what we find sacred in a way that is easy to relate to.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why We need philosophy and science 16 Jun 2014
By Richard O. Jacobs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the first Scruton book I have read, and what a wonderful start. Most philosophy we read is from the ancients, before we had science as we have it today. Scruton is contemporary and with extreme wisdom shapes how the two fit together. As he artfully describes, science explains the notes but the music belongs to philosophy. I immediate bought his Beauty and it too is a classic.
34 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written! 7 May 2014
By Michael R. Nofi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
While I agree with the author's premise that sacredness is an essential ingredient to human existance, I fail to see why he believes that the repository of sacredness is God and religion, with a particular bias toward Christianity. He claims that science cannot explain our conception of the sacred. When we experience intense emotions, a biochemical explanation of what goes on in our body and brain will never be able to explain the first person feelings these processes create. I don't believe science makes such a claim. When it comes to consciousness a reductive understanding of the sum of its parts will always be less than an understanding of the whole. It does not follow that the experience of the sacred is less profound if one does not believe in a higher power or not. Why is it too difficult to believe that sacredness cannot come from man? The Jewish philsopher Martin Buber believed, perhaps metaphorically, that the experience of God was manifested by man's I-You relationship with other sentient beings. I found similarities in the author's use of the I-You relationship with the philosophy of Martin Buber in his wonderful book, "I and Thou".

As self conscious creatures we will always have a need to believe in something greater and bigger than ourselves. This is the mystery of existence that we all experience in different forms thoughout our lives. It is what makes being human so special. However, believing in God or going to church on Sunday is just one way to make your covenant. Some would even argue that religion may not be a very healthy alternative. In this book Scruton mainly focuses on enlightened examples of religious belief.

I find it sad that many prominent philosopher's nearing the end of their lives often return to their earlier beliefs in God. This has happened to several prominant atheists (i.e., Mortimer Adler, Anthony Flew). While understandable, I believe it undermines the authority of all their earlier works. It also makes me question my own current beliefs and what they may become tomorrow.

This is a great book written with wonderful insight and Roger Scuton's command of the English language is second to none. Whether you believe in God or not you will benefit from this book. I suspect it will be best received by those who believe in God.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soul, Indeed! 28 May 2014
By Gene C. Bammel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Roger Scruton is one of the best defenders out there of "traditional" points of view. He is expert on the heritage of Kant and Hegel, and of the Consciousness-Neurobiology crowd, but does an admirable job of defending traditional beliefs. He writes well, and, even if you disagree with his convictions, you know you have read someone who does a brilliant job of defending the "traditional" viewpoints.
18 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I predict this one is certainly going to be remembered as one of his very best, alongside " The Face of God" 28 April 2014
By Booksnmusicfan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read many of Scruton's books, I predict this one is certainly going to be remembered as one of his very best, alongside " The Face of God", from where these arguments continue.
It's exceptionally written, Roger Scruton at his best, and has many valuable messages for our precarious point in history.
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