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The Wisdom of the World: The Human Experience of the Universe in Western Thought Paperback – November 1, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0226070773 ISBN-10: 0226070778

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

When the ancient Greeks looked up into the heavens, they saw not just sun and moon, stars and planets, but a complete, coherent universe, a model of the Good that could serve as a guide to a better life. How this view of the world came to be, and how we lost it (or turned away from it) on the way to becoming modern, make for a fascinating story, told in a highly accessible manner by Rémi Brague in this wide-ranging cultural history.

Before the Greeks, people thought human action was required to maintain the order of the universe and so conducted rituals and sacrifices to renew and restore it. But beginning with the Hellenic Age, the universe came to be seen as existing quite apart from human action and possessing, therefore, a kind of wisdom that humanity did not. Wearing his remarkable erudition lightly, Brague traces the many ways this universal wisdom has been interpreted over the centuries, from the time of ancient Egypt to the modern era. Socratic and Muslim philosophers, Christian theologians and Jewish Kabbalists all believed that questions about the workings of the world and the meaning of life were closely intertwined and that an understanding of cosmology was crucial to making sense of human ethics. Exploring the fate of this concept in the modern day, Brague shows how modernity stripped the universe of its sacred and philosophical wisdom, transforming it into an ethically indifferent entity that no longer serves as a model for human morality.

Encyclopedic and yet intimate, The Wisdom of the World offers the best sort of history: broad, learned, and completely compelling. Brague opens a window onto systems of thought radically different from our own.

About the Author

Rémi Brague is a professor of philosophy at the Université de Paris I-Sorbonne and at the University of Munich. He has also taught at Boston University. Brague is the author of four previous books, including, most recently, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization. Teresa Lavender Fagan has translated more than a dozen books, including Jean-Claude Schmitt's Ghosts in the Middle Ages and Jean Bottéro et al.'s Ancestors of the West, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (November 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226070778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226070773
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #321,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David M. Pence on May 27, 2014
Format: Paperback
Remi Brague (b1947) is a French professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne and at the University of Munich. He is an expert in Islamic medieval thought and philology. I read his The Law of God -a comparative historical theological reflection on Law in Judaism, Islam and Christianity and then turned to The Wisdom of the World: The Human Experience of the Universe in Western Thought .

I teach an integrated four year Catholic science curriculum which begins with An Introduction to the Physical World and ends senior year with a study of The Human Organism. Brague described his project as "attempting something like a history of beings-in -the -world. How men describe the universe-"worldly wisdom" determines how man understands human nature. As Brague explains in his introduction "(what) enables man to achieve the fullness of his humanity was conceived at least in a dominant tradition of thought to be linked to cosmology." Uncoupling this linkage between the workings of the universe and the purpose of man is a mark of modernity.

No reviewer can simplify and order Brague. One must describe a symphony and then marvel at the philology interludes. So instead of a summary I will briefly describe two historical traditions of integrated cosmology/anthropology and two ruptures of the synthesis.
"The cosmology of the Middle Ages lies between Timaeus and Abraham." The Timaeus dialogue by Plato on the nature of the physical world and man's place in the larger reality was written around 360 B.C. The Timaeus proposes that the unregulated motion of the heavenly bodies is the divine order that is to be imitated by man. Man is an upright animal with a neck that bends so he can gaze at the heavens from their rising to setting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very learned book, Brague's knowledge of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is deep and nuanced. It helps one understand the forces that went into the making of Western civilisation.
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Marshall on July 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rémi Brague is trying to hang onto a philosophy long since proven to be wrong in this work. We know that there is no ethical or moral ideology embedded in the cosmos. Science has long proven that. Brague tries to bring man and the world back together but what I felt we got was a broad intellectual history of the west and a critic of where it is going. Plus there is way too many quotes that don't seem to me to follow any read logic.
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0 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Romeo D. Jazmin on February 10, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We are surrounded with wisdom that we can used and learned to know to purpose of our journey in finding the meaning of our lives.
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