THE PARADOX OF CAUSE by John William Miller


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Although only the title essay sets forth paradox as its subject, the theme of paradox runs throughout this collection of philosophical meditations. Whether dwelling on knowledge, language, politics, history, humanism, art, or science, Miller (Philosophy, Emeritus, Williams College) plays upon the necessary contradictions that shape and energize human existence. The theory of cause must be both universal and limited, allowing for accident and yet incapable of explaining it; the mind must recognize in existence both coherence and variability in order to account for the complexities of experience; the artistic imagination requires discipline and constraints for true spontaneity to be possible. These and other paradoxes are necessary because no single term has meaning without its opposite. Yet many thinkers, Miller says, deny this by reaching for the absolute and timeless alone. This aspiration misleads them because it violates the diverse, historical nature of reality, thereby swallowing up actuality (an oft-used word here) in dreams. Because Miller so reveres the actual and a tough commonsense use of mind, his essays are sensible and plain-spoken without being intellectually trite. If he does not convince the abstractly-minded to embrace the concrete historical world, he has at least shown the philosophical imagination seriously at work in ways accessible to the unspecialized educated mind.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1978
Publisher: Norton