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The Discovery of the Mind Paperback – October 20, 2011
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This side of modernity, it is easy to pan this book (written in the war years early in the 20th century) as antiquated modern humanism, and indeed it does tend to go on and on about the "individual" (often in isolation from the community) and the genius of the Greek mind, perhaps ignoring that there were other cultures before and after 5th century Greece. But precisely these throwbacks are the book's greatest strengths, when the context of its writng is taken into consideration. In pre- and wartime-Germany, an unfortunate interpretation of Hegel's dialectical phenomenology allowed an entire intellectual culture a collective amnesia about the worth and power of the individual, in favor of the State as fulfillment of the "outworking of Spirit." For Hegel, this State was Prussia; post-Weimar Germany, however, interpreted it differently. But Snell does not use his book as an anachronistic justification for German superiority as heir to the best of classical Europe, as so many authors of his time certainly did. Rather, he points out that the "discovery" of the individual mind, acting in concert with others and pointed towards "the good" as benevolently seen by Socrates, was the greatest achievement of classical Greece bequeathed not only to Europe but to all the world.Read more ›
Snell's book is the most solid presentation I have found of early Greek intellectual history before the natural philosophers. Before we can develop techniques for studying systems and substances, we have to pick out what systems and substances we are going to talk about. The words we use make it more natural to talk about some things than other things. One of the big points of the first chapter is that Homer does not have a word for the human body. Homer speaks about a sword piercing one's skin or about limbs becoming feeble. "Of course the Homeric man had a body exactly like the later Greeks, but he did not know it qua body, but merely as the sum total of the limbs." After talking about the body, Snell tells us that Homer does not have words for the soul or the mind. The words closest in meaning to soul and mind are psyche, thymos, and noos. This does not mean that it would be impossible to explain our idea of a soul to Homer, but it does mean that we would not be able to explain it using a single word. And if it is cumbersome to say something, we may think about it less than if it is easy to say it. This chapter is a brilliant example of a contribution from classical philology to the history of ideas.
There are statements from early poets that seem to belong to the same stream of ideas as early philosophers like Heraclitus.Read more ›