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Passion of the Western Mind [Paperback]

By Richard Tarnas (Author)
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Item description for Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas...

An inquiry into the rich heritage of humankind's cultural revolution discuss the pivotal ideas that have shaped Western civilization, including those of Plato, Hegel, Augustine, Nietzsche, Copernicus, and Freud. Reprint.

Publishers Description
" This] magnificent critical survey, with its inherent respect for both the 'Westt's mainstream high culture' and the 'radically changing world' of the 1990s, offers a new breakthrough for lay and scholarly readers alike....Allows readers to grasp the big picture of Western culture for the first time."
Here are the great minds of Western civilization and their pivotal ideas, from Plato to Hegel, from Augustine to Nietzsche, from Copernicus to Freud. Richard Tarnas performs the near-miracle of describing profound philosophical concepts simply but without simplifying them. Ten years in the making and already hailed as a classic, THE PASSION OF THE WESERN MIND is truly a complete liberal education in a single volume.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 03/15/1993

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Ballantine Books
Pages   560
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.1" Width: 6.1" Height: 1.2"
Weight:   1.35 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 16, 1993
Publisher   Ballantine Books
ISBN  0345368096  
ISBN13  9780345368096  

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More About Richard Tarnas

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Richard Tarnas is a cultural historian and professor of philosophy and psychology and the author of "The Passion of the Western Mind," He teaches on the faculty of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara.

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Reviews - What do customers think about Passion of the Western Mind?

A Nice Survey and More Importantly, Critique of the Western Mind  Aug 17, 2007
Tarnas begins with Plato, working backward and forward from him. Plato's Forms, in particular, set the stage for the rest of the book, in my view. According to Plato, there are transcendent Forms for 'Man', 'Tree', 'Woman', for example, that the soul was exposed to before birth and remembers later in life. These Forms are timeless, trancendent and most, Beautiful.
Aristotle, the tenth in line from Pythagoras, quickly relegates Plato's Forms to the particular, noting their birth, maturation and decay within the object with no recourse to a transcendent realm.
The important thing is, in the greek rationalism of both Plato and Aristotle, the world is knowable and is a Cosmos, an ordered whole that can be readily understood by the human mind.
The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle move to the Arabics during the Dark Ages, until the medieval times, when the Arabics courteously return the two behemoths to western civilization where St. Augustine applies Platonic thought to theology, while St. Thomas Aquinas later does the same with Aristotle.
Somewhere in the mix, Ockham applies his razor to the idea of the Forms, being the first to deny a Form's transcendent or immanent reality, but rather positing that the Form is a construct of the human mind. Party pooper.
Modern science, which has divested the world of anything human,where the universe now contains no spirit or transcendent form, sets it's sights on a disenchanted universe that is now viewed as being mechanistic at best, lifeless at worst.
Man is taken, by way of Copernicus, then Kepler and Galileo, from being the absolute center of the Ptolemaic universe, to being a nondescript inhabitant on a planet moving about a sun, which is one of potentially millions of such stars in the now vast space of the experienced world.
During the Enlightenment, man having eaten the soul of the Cosmos and stolen it's intelligence and claimed it for himself, suddenly turns the lense on himself thorugh Descartes and Kant.
Not only is the Cosmos dead and lifeless and altogether inhuman, but man is incapable of perceiving said Cosmos in an objective way. Man inherently attaches Reality to the universe by viewing the world through the apriori lenses of time, space, cause and effect and so on.
So now, we have a dead and lifeless vast impersonal universe inhabited by man, who, due to his psychological makeup, can never understand said world objectively.
Nietzsche sounds the death knell. He says God is dead, but really, it is man, glourious understanding, at one with the world, man who is crucified. Nietzsche pronounces the birth of the modern era, where not by intelligence, which has been discounted, not by religion, which is suffering cognitive disonance due to the emerging scientific worldview (Darwinism, Atomism, the everexpanding nothingness peered at through ever stronger telescopic lenses), but sheer Will that will decide who is right.
Finally on to the postmodern picture. History has been dominated by white european males. Not only is the universe (and man) unknowable, but we don't even know the proper questions to ask. Language is a prison, seeking to encapsulate experience and reduce Reality to the constructs of the human mind. Western man, through the prevailing dichotomy of his science and religion, has raped women, the environment, destroyed the ozone, produced the atomic bomb, and on and on. No one has hold of the Truth. Truth is provincial, localized and relative, dependent upon a contingent human being. No world view has precedence over another. There is no prevailing meta-narrative that can capture global humanity and unite it.

But dear reader, there is hope. There is hope from the beginning pages of this book through to the epilogue. Tarnas wisely weaves a thread throughout that offers a glimpse into a potential new birth for mankind. Tarnas points out history seems to be coming to a culmination, something is definitely on the horizon for all of us.

I leave it to you, to read this wonderful book, to discover what possibilities (if not facts) lie ahead for humanity.

The book is well worth the read.
Informative, but hard to read.  Jul 2, 2007
A great account of Western history, but with too many unnecessary words and too many complex sentences. The wording of the book makes it a lot less enjoyable than it should be. I wish I could find a similar book without Tarnas' annoying writing style.
"Wordy" but informative  Jun 27, 2007
I got this book because it was required text for a graduate course that I am taking with the University of Denver. I initially found the sentence construction distracting-- The author uses such complex sentences with so many extraneous words that at times it is difficult to follow his meaning; however, once you get used to the author's writing style, it is easy to follow. The book is a fascinating detail of how people in the Western world have come to think and believe as they do. It outlines the great philosophers and thought movements throughout time, beginning with the Greeks. The author also explains why there is such a dichotomy in Western thinking today. This is a "must read" for anyone interested in Western philosophy, and for anyone who simply wants to understand why it is so difficult for the East and West to understand one another. This book would be a good companion to "Guns, Germs, and Steel."
Excellent  Jan 13, 2007
An amazingly articulate, well-written treatise on the origins of Western thought. Where our ideas originate from is fantastically revealed. Although a challenging read, this book is delightful to encounter.
Limited and dated narrative history of Western thought  Jun 1, 2006
Most books are written to be read from beginning to end. Here the reader might profitably begin with the Epilogue near the end with a quick look at the Chronology on pages 446-467. After such a perusal, one might think twice about bothering with the rest of the book, or if one is like-minded, begin at the beginning with enthusiasm.

To my mind, the Chronology, which lists important events in the history of Western thought, unfortunately (and tellingly) contains such inexplicable entries as Rupert Sheldrake's A New Science of Life (1981); Stanislav Grof's Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research (1975); Anna Freud's The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1966); the Boston Women's Health Book Collective's Our Bodies, Ourselves; and Carlos Castenada's The Teachings of Don Juan (1968). These titles are scattered among works by Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Berkeley, Hume, Goethe, Tolstoy, Darwin, Nietzsche, Marx, Kant, Einstein, Kuhn, Popper, etc., leaving the reader a bit puzzled. Why not throw in Dr. Phil's TV show? Well, okay--it wasn't on the air when this book was written over 15 years ago.

By the way, the last two named books, which Tarnas seems to think belong on a list of great works of the Western mind, do not even make his 18-page bibliography.

What is going on here? Simply this: Richard Tarnas, who spent ten years working as program director at the psychotherapeutic Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California is the victim of a mind set formed by his personal experiences (as we all are); and those experiences include a heavy reliance upon ideas from psychoanalytic theory, from Freud, Jung, Maslow, etc. These men developed a branch of psychology now largely displaced by cognitive psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Quite simply, Tarnas's erudition, which is considerable, is nonetheless largely passe in a world that no longer sees Freud and Jung as other than historical personages. What Tarnas is able to do--and he does it very well with an engaging style and a penetrating intellect--is to lead us to the brink of the postmodern world before he stumbles backward into a mishmash of Freudian constructs, Jungian archetypes and other delusions from the psychoanalytic babble.

Perhaps the most engaging idea that Tarnas presents is that postmodern humans are in a double bind similar to that formulated by Gregory Bateson apropos the schizophrenic and his mother. Tarnas calls it "The Post-Copernican Double Bind." (p. 416). The idea is that since the empiricists and Kant we poor humans can no longer hope for certain knowledge. Indeed, it is clear that our so-called knowledge of the world is really just a construct of our minds. Copernicus put us in our place, Hume destroyed causality, and Kant woke up enough to realize that he might as well go back to sleep since human knowledge is "radically interpretive" and the world we believe in "is in some essential sense a construct." (p. 418) Furthermore, "what one knows and experiences is to an indeterminate extent a projection." (p. 419) It's a vast, cold, uncaring universe out there. No longer are we the focus of God's attention and benevolence. Instead we are just insignificant beings on a middling star among a hundred billion other stars in a galaxy that itself is just one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies.

To his credit, Tarnas finds an answer to this bind, albeit in passing back on page 406. He writes, "Such a position [the postmodern] emphasizes the immense responsibility inherent in the human situation...the human challenge is to engage that...set of perspectives which beings forth the most valuable, life-enhancing consequences." This might be called the "happy face" of existentialism.

Tarnas laments "the pervasive masculinity of the Western intellectual and spiritual tradition" and ends the book on this note: "Man is something that must be overcome--and fulfilled, in the embrace of the feminine." (p. 445)

Clearly the human without the feminine is steering with only one oar in the water. However, while I agree that "man" as presently constituted, with his vast propensity for violence, prejudice and ignorance, is certainly "something that must be overcome," I think it will take more than an embrace of the feminine. We will eventually, soon or late, go the way of the dodo, but perhaps that which replaces us, possibly a combination of humanity and the artifacts of our culture, cyborgs and/or genetically-engineered combinations of biological and artificial beings, will look back on us as their ancestors, a place on the way to becoming post human.

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