18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2014
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.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Scruton’s arguments are rich, complex and lovely in their articulation. They are not easily summarized, but I will take a stab at doing so. Epistemologists in the early enlightenment often focused on the question of substance and focused upon its ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ qualities. Primary qualities are real, objective, and, ultimately, the subject of scientific study. Among them are number and extension. Secondary qualities are evanescent and subjective—such things as color, smell and taste. They hover at the surface of the primary qualities and are less ‘real’. They are not the subject of scientific investigation. When we say that force equals mass times acceleration we are not thinking about ‘its’ taste, smell or color.
Berkeley challenged this dichotomy, arguing that if we try to conceive of, e.g., an apple, we should hold it in our minds and then divest it of all secondary qualities. What remains? Not the ‘real’, ‘substantive’, ‘actual’ apple but, in fact, nothing. We cannot actually ‘do’ abstraction and the materialism implicitly celebrated by the division between ‘real’ primary qualities and will-of-the-wisp secondary qualities must give way to an appreciation of what we might broadly call the ‘spiritual’.
Scruton takes this construct and argues for cognitive dualism. On the one hand we apprehend the world scientifically, seeking to explain, predict and bring phenomena under the control of universal laws. At the same time we perceive the world as an object of our attitudes, emotions and choices. Dilthey called this activity ‘verstehen’. It constitutes a way of seeing the world that emerges from our interpersonal dialogue. That is the world that is closest to our actual experience (we don’t regularly see subatomic particles) and Scruton calls it the ‘lebenswelt’.
He cites Spinoza who said that the world is one thing seen in at least two distinct ways and he cites Kant’s distinction between understanding and practical reason.
Scruton then meditates on our experience of the lebenswelt, utilizing aesthetics, theology, and philosophy and places particular emphasis on human self-consciousness and the relational nature of personhood. Part of his argument is phenomenological as he meditates on such complex notions within our experience as ‘the sacred space of music’.
There are other more direct and rationalistic arguments as in his critique of Darwinianism. The book is beautifully written. It contains a number of illustrations, including musical passages. The book is the product of an erudite reader in search of the sacred who is equally well-versed in the analytic and the rational.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2014
Roger Scruton is a conservative. I am not. Yet I make it a point to read thoughtful perspectives from wise conservatives. Scruton, who teaches philosophy at Cambridge, once wrote a book called "How to Be a Conservative." As a spiritual heir of Emerson, I was curious how Scruton would deal with "The Soul of the World." What I found was an argument I think the Transcendentalists would recognize, but updated to the brain science, evolutionary thinking, and philosophical issues of the 21st century. There are echoes here of another hero of mine, Martin Buber, but also in a more systematic way. Scruton starts by observing that there are two basic ways we humans have of encountering the world. One is to treat all of it as made up of objects, with only the perceiving self as a subject. This is I-It discourse. It is what Kant called "pure reason." But in the inter-human, inter-subjective realm, it is our capacity for I-You encounter that makes all the difference in "practical reason" and ethics. I cannot agree with all of Scruton's aesthetics. He finds dehumanizations in too many aspects of modern life, from modern architecture to sexual liberation. But I was quite taken with the precision of his argument that music is a realm in which we can be "addressed" by an unseen subject and moved toward empathy. He is NOT a "ghost in the machine" philosopher. He believes in ONE ontological reality, but believes -- as I do -- that we need an I-You relationship with the world. As a good contemporary ecological bumper sticker puts it, "Love Your Mother."
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This book is another entry in the ongoing dialectic between the material reductionism of scientism and the metaphysical constructs of philosophy. More specifically it is an answer to the Radical Atheists who disparage the concept of the supernatural, specifically God. Scruton's answer is deep, complex and fascinating.
Like many modern day philosophers, Scruton finds his answer in self-consciousness- the subjective awareness which allows the physical elements of the Universe to awaken, look around and ask "Why". His approach begins with addressing the evolutionary interpretation of psychology, and leads to his evoking a secondary and intentional level of existence which emerges from the causal system through our self consciousness. He then proceeds to show how this other "world" creates, indeed demands, from us certain convictions, ideas and beliefs, most importantly the concept of the sacred, to allow us to live within its constructs.
I have just barely touched on the ideas presented in this book, and I am not going to attempt to go much farther. However, I think it should be pointed out that the author is not trying to prove the existence of God here so much as trying to explain why He is needed, and how He can be found, through the I-You relationships that are the unique results of our self-consciousness.
As I said, this is a difficult book full of complex and convoluted thoughts and ideas, and I found myself re-reading whole chapters, but I did so because I thought it was worth it- Scruton's philosophy or world view is exciting and comforting at the same time.
Those who subscribe to Scientism, or the belief that only Science can explain what occurs in the Universe will no doubt disagree with this book, and even disparage it while religious believers will accept this book on a superficial level and proclaim it validates them. However, those who question authority on either side and yet are seeking some sense to all they see around them will find many interesting ideas to ponder here which will challenge and maybe even change them. Perhaps it will do exactly what the author says a faithful outlook should do- open them to accepting mysteries they cannot entirely understand.
37 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2014
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.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2014
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.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2014
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.
22 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2014
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.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2015
Science has its place and its limitations. The former is appreciated by many, the latter is not appreciated by some who should know better.
Scruton methodically seeks to present clues which showcase that there is much more going on than the purely materialistic or naturalistic.
The three stars was a bit painful to give because I appreciate the author's work both in print and on TV. For the latter, I highly recommend his BBC special, "Why Beauty Matters." The three stars are mainly due to the less than lucid writing style. Yes, Scruton is brilliant, yes big issues should cause us to exert all our mental energies, but the author lost a big chunk of the audience he could have had with a more accessible style.
For the serious student this book is highly recommended.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2014
Scruton presents his ideas in very readable text but loses non of the depth of his thought. His look at interpersonal interactions is excellent.