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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schall at his best, April 20, 2010
Aquinas "summa" (celestial heights, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking (Paperback)
Of the books written by Schall this has been my favourite to date. It is a testimony to how good it is that I was able to read it all in hospital whilst very ill and anyone who has been in hospital knows how notoriously difficult it is to concentrate there. Schall has the great gift of being able to enkindle in the reader a desire to know all things to discover the depth of things and to be exposed to the "radiance of being" and to savour "intellectual delights". I was diagnosed with a terminal disease 18 months ago and the things that have sustained me have been my Catholic faith but also a zest for living but particularly a zest for knowing the truth of things. I consider myself blessed to have across Schall a few years ago in his essays for Ignatius Insight as not only have I read 4 of his books I feel my mind and spirit has expanded by continuously dipping into his reading list. Note this book too has a reading list with some different books than are included in his "Another Sort of Learning". So, one of my one regrets on passing on from this life (likely to be soon enough) is that I did not come across Schall earlier in my life as Schall shows us there is so much to know and there is so much joy to be had in simply knowing things. But, I think what particularly marks this book is a kind of old fashioned gentlemanliness - a kind of spirit that seems to be disappearing from the world - a spirit that the English used to have in abundance but are losing.

But, the key is Schall is not heavy, he notes a "certain lightsomeness in existence itself, something we miss at our peril". But amidst the many philosophical reflections, we have sound common sense advice: "No political reform could ever be successful without personal reform" and a continual exhortation to rediscover the foundation of liberal education: "Liberal education is not a "speciality". It is not what is called a "major". Rather, it is rooted in the kind of intellectual eros we find in Plato, in the wonder that according to Aristotle stimulates all thought". Its purpose is "to explain man to himself". And to be caught up in that eros we need the stimulus of the greats (as Maritain says): "Great poets and thinkers are the foster-fathers of intelligence. Cut off from them, we are simply barbarians" So what if we are not the world's greatest intellects: "Just because we are not an Aristotle is no reason for us to do little or nothing with what we are given by nature"

Schall puts his hand on the pulse of Christianity by showing its uniqueness, lest we forget: "What is perhaps unique about Christianity is that it is a revelation that unabashedly also addressed itself to intellect" and "Catholicism, for better or worse, is a religion of intelligence". And in a time of increasing agnosticism and taking pride at a kind of knowing nothing, he reminds us : "The real discovery is not that we have questions, but that we have answers to such questions. Our minds cannot be satisfied with mere questioning, even though to question is to start to seek an answer". Concerning relativism, one chuckes when one reads: "I will not go into the self-contradictory irony of the "truth" of the proposition that all "truth is relative". He reminds us that in the modern world where Christian beliefs (particularly on sexual ethics) are no longer acceptable, often treated as akin to racism or sexism: "Tolerance does not tolerate truth, though that was once its purpose, the finding of truth. " it is the spirit of the age to keep the mind open (unless one is dealing with opposing Christian beliefs!) but "A mind that cannot or will not make an affirmation or judgement is not a mind". Schall reminds us that it is not with our eyes as such that we see the world but through the lense of our philosophy. Thus, "The relation between mind and virtue is not of minimal importance. Most failures of intellect, I suspect, can be traced back to a prior failure of virtue, of spiritual life".

I was most taken by his alluding to CS Lewis who says about books that they "enable us to live many lives besides our own" and "the enormous extension of our being, which we owe to authors" and "in reading great literature, I become a thousand men and yet remain myself".

Anyway, what can one say but that this book is simply splendid - anyone who enjoys philosophical reflections made known in a gentlemanly and lucid manner will enjoy this wonderful book.
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The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking
The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking by James V. Schall (Paperback - April 15, 2008)
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