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Philosophy as the road to salvation: a series of impassioned, non-technical lessons that would carry a lot more weight if Needleman's prose were as clearly focused as it is spontaneous, and if he would only give up trying to turn incidents from his past into Meaningful Epiphanies. ""The function of philosophy in human lire,"" he announces programmatically, ""is to help man remember. It has no other task."" To remember what, the reader may naively wonder. Needleman characteristically doesn't explain, but after a while it becomes evident: being (in the Heideggerian sense) and the deepest reality of the self--which are ultimately identical. The model of the philosophical process is Socrates, viewed mythically rather than historically: the spiritual toaster who helps to liberate the ""wish for being"" (or eros) from ""the mind of the ego"" and its manifold entanglements. The whole history of philosophy (in Needleman's lively if sometimes dubious interpretation) from Pythagoras to Wittgenstein has been a heroic effort to orient humanity to ""another reality within the outside"" of itself. This thesis, which certainly has merit if not the dramatic novelty Needleman ascribes to it, is bolstered by a quirky but interesting survey of seine giants of modern thought, notably Descartes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein. Needleman's major problem arises when, not content to popularize great ideas, he insists on romanticizing (or fabricating) poignant little Platonic episodes starring himself: Needleman playing soulful midwife to a group of precocious kids at San Francisco University High School; Needleman touching responsive chords in their worldly-wise but philosophically famished parents; Needleman as a pubescent truth-seeker confronting the mysteries of the cosmos together with an impossibly intellectual 13-year-old (dying of leukemia, no less). Too bad Needleman has so little of Socrates' ironic humor. But an honest and thoughtful essay, particularly apt for beginners in philosophy.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 1585422517
Publisher: Knopf