The Cave and the Light reveals how two Greek philosophers became the twin fountainheads of Western culture, and how their rivalry gave Western civilization its unique dynamism down to the present.
©2013 Arthur Herman (P)2013 Recorded Books
Letting the rest of the world go by
Generally there are two approaches to study any subject, either chronologically or thematically. Now, I have to add a third method: use a chronological order with a narrative tying all the pieces together.
The author first sets up the listener by putting his spin on who Plato and Aristotle were and explains each by contrasting them with each other, a very good way to understand who each are and what they believed. I think a real philosopher would pick apart the authors characterization, but I'm not a real philosopher and I love a good narrative.
At the heart of the difference between the two is contained in the analogy of the Cave. Plato would say that reality is never truly knowable and is hidden behind the shadows while Aristotle would say we can know by studying the individual and see beyond the shadows.
The author gives you many simple analogies in order to understand. For example, the Colonel in "The Bridge on the River Kwai" looks at the destruction of the bridge in the final reel and says "madness, madness" that would be as Plato would see it as the whole not the sum of its parts, Aristotle's perspective would be as the viewer of the film and who knows all the individuals involved and why the bridge must be destroyed.
The author steps the listener through the skeptics, cynics, and stoics, the Romans and some very early Christian thought to the neo-platonist and all the time he relates all development of thought through the Plato/Aristotle lens.
If your like me, you would love to read all the 2 million words that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, but you know you wouldn't really understand them and you are best served by having someone summarize them for you. This book explains why he's so important and how he ties them so strongly to the thinking of Aristotle and undoes the Platonic thinking of St. Augustine who defined the dark ages.
He gives a good account of the Renaissance and the Reformation and some of its major thinkers. He does quickly skip over the Enlightenment and goes straight to Rosseau. He does that because he wants to lead into the French Revolution to Hegel to Marx, all Platonic thinkers. I really do understand Hegel for the first time because of the way he explains him through the lens of the Cave.
He doesn't ignore the progress and significance of science in his outline of thought through the lens of the Cave. One thing I really appreciated he gave Newton and Darwin a prominent place in his story. How could anyone write about philosophy without mentioning Darwin? Not only that, he gave my hero, Ludwig Boltzman, the creator of the word "quanta" the real discoverer of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy), and the advocate of atoms before it became fashionable a whole section and explained why he is so important in the history of western thought. The author made me realize a point. Sometimes, as in Boltzman's case, the theory comes before the 'knowledge based on experience' (Aristotle's main way of seeing the universe). Perhaps, the bad mouthing of String Theory is premature and maybe the beauty of the mathematics will lead to something just as Boltzman's atoms came to be accepted after he killed himself?
This is really a great book and is the best way to understand the theory of development of thought. I just thought it was weird (or was it silly?) to end the story by giving Hayek the last word on economics and Ayn Rand (of all people) the last word on philosophy (is she even a Philosopher?). Don't let that mar the book since he tells such a fun story in such a compelling way.
This book is really a shout out for why philosophy is still relevant for today. If your like me, and want to know your place in the universe and why it matters this book will take you major steps there. You know your listening to a really good book when you can relate over half of the 100 or so science, history and philosophy books you've listened to over the last 3 years directly to this book. That's why I can recommend this book so strongly (with just a minor quibble in the previous paragraph of this review).
It ranks in the top 10%.
The flow of historical events since 300 BC and how they relate to the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. Really excellent.
The siege of Syracuse.
Michelangelo's letter to a friend regarding the Sistine Chapel, " I'm not in a good place and I'm no painter".
The very most interesting part of the book was William of Ockham. I had heard about Occam's razor. However, I was completely unaware of the global impact this idea had on the development of philosophy.
Definitely, the most engaging audio book I heard so far. Herman is a master of his art in delivering the history of Western philosophy in the most easy to read and listen to manner.
The ease at which Herman is able to deconstruct the most complex philosophical ideas into sentences where most of us would easily absorb and understand.
All are connected as the story seems to the reader to be one eternal struggle between Plato and Aristotle through the centuries.
The style Herman uses in delivering this tour de force of philosophy is so gripping you feel like traveling with him through the ages.
The final verdict, this should be a required reading for all those interested in the history of Western civilization and the men and ideas that shaped it.
Reviewer from Utah
Herman's thesis, that the intellectual history of the West is fundamentally the competition between the worldviews of Plato and Aristotle, is convincing. The writing is beautiful and Herman's erudition is astounding. I liked the entire book, but his analysis of Rousseau is compelling: Rousseau's reliance on Plato to become the father of modern totalitarian thought is laid out with intellectual force. The last third of the book is simply phenomenal.
Jacque Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence.
Hecht brings a sense of gravitas to his narration. I like it when a narrator is able to correctly pronounce foreign names and phrases. He has a great voice and a compelling style.
Every college student should be assigned this book.
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