A brief philosophical history of the Western understanding of the “Ideal” and the “Good,” from the ancient Greeks to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Blogger, podcaster, amateur philosopher, and author Beardsley (The Journey Back to Where You Are, 2014) shows the instincts of a teacher as he sheds light on a Western spiritual tradition going back 2,500 years, to the era of Socrates and Plato. His intent in this volume, he writes, is to share his realization that “Western civilization is itself in possession of this spiritual tradition which is every bit as compelling and magnificent as any to be found in the East—not that there’s anything wrong with them.” Indeed, the East-West similarities are striking, such as a shared perception that the soul is immortal. In clear, uncluttered prose free of undue sophistry, Beardsley covers an immense amount of territory with alacrity, beginning chronologically with Athens in its golden age and touching next on the Greek-influenced Roman philosophers. He then moves on to the Renaissance and, finally, to the 19th-century transcendentalists of New England. Throughout, he relies on carefully selected words and works to elucidate meanings while adding generally cogent commentary of his own. As a side trip, he considers whether the works of William Shakespeare fit within this Western philosophical tradition and concludes that some do and some don’t. The book’s second part suggests how to live a life imbued by the Ideal and includes a wordy chapter on getting beyond ego as a necessary first step. Readers who brushed lightly against the Greek philosophers in the course of their educations will appreciate this chance to replenish and expand their store of knowledge, but those starting from scratch could do worse than learning the basics from Beardsley. At its best, his book may even spark a flame that leaps “from one soul to another” and ignites deeper understanding—though he believes, like Socrates, that the spoken word of the dialectic, face-to-face method can create a spark more surely than the written word ever could.
A commendable attempt to beat back the darkness and inspire revelation.