*All Things Shining, by Hubert
Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
The subtitle to this book is Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age, which pretty well describes the book. The authors use some of the greatest works of the West to reveal how we have lost our engagement with and responsiveness to the world. From Homer to Aeschylus to Augustine, from Dante to Kant to Melville, with some contemporary writers added, they explore our current nihilism with some antidotes in the close reading of the classics that deserve revisiting or exploring for the first time. The in-depth analysis of Melville’s Moby Dick alone is worth the effort.
*A Secular Age, by Charles Taylor
To put it as simple as the author makes it, the primary question this book attempts to answer is this: why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in our Western society in the year 1500 or so, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable? The answer to this question requires approximately 775 pages of narrative, plus another 75 pages of footnotes, and is among the most difficult reads I have encountered. It is a wealth of scholarship, however, and very enlightening on the question he poses and the sweep of intellectual history over the past 500 years.
*The Dialectics of Secularization, by
Jurgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger
In case you think I am in a rut on secularization, I picked up this book while reading A Secular Age to see if there are validating comments from these two experts, one of which you will recognize as Pope Benedict XVI. It is a very short volume based on a face to face dialogue in 2004 between these two philosophers with very divergent views. My sympathies are with the Pope’s views, but Habermas is a brilliant advocate, and the important point here is the essential role of philosophy in the synthesis between faith and reason in dealing with the secular age.
*The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the
Case Against Scientism, by Michael D. Aeschliman
I briefly mentioned this book last year in connection with an essay on scientism because it has some important things to say about the subject and the related issue of the philosophy of science. This summer I watched the DVD series of lectures by Professor Jeffrey Kasser of North Carolina State University, produced by The Great Courses, on the philosophy of science, which sent me back to the book on some critical points. The bottom line is a point that is often missing from our current debates on public policy, particularly in public and higher education, which is that science depends on philosophy for the validity of its terms and procedures and the determination of the uses or ends to which scientific knowledge will be put. Implicit in this is a metaphysical trail that empiricists don’t want to travel, which has produced some serious problems in our current debates. This book is a big help in understanding this
*Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?,
by Michael Sandel
This is the companion book to Professor Sandel’s very popular lecture course at Harvard, and I recommend both very highly.
The lecture series is in 12 one-hour sessions and is available at www.justiceharvard.org. As a summary of the book and the lecture
series, I quote reviewer Michael Gerson: “Sandel sets out to confront the most difficult moral issues in politics. He ends up clarifying a basic political divide—not between left and right, but between those who recognize nothing greater than individual rights and choices, and those who affirm a ‘politics of the common good’, rooted in moral beliefs that cannot be ignored.” Sandel is also the author of Democracy’s Discontent, one of my favorites to which I have often referred.