A captivating take on Plato’s account of the soul.

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THE FOURFOLD PATH

A reconsideration of Plato finds within his work an articulation of Taoist enlightenment. 

According to debut author Lovejoy, the objective of human life is the achievement of oneness with God. This “communion with the Divine” is a state of enlightenment. That condition of enlightenment is also one of transcendence in which the true self, unsullied by conceptual pollution and metaphorical obfuscation, reveals itself. And the false self, the unconscious presentation of dualistic thinking, is finally overcome. In the work of Plato, the author discovers the development of a strikingly similar notion, expressed in terms of a “Fourfold Path,” which tracks the soul’s ascent from ignorance to self-realization. That progression is chronicled in the famous divided line analogy, in which human intellect is viewed as a movement through four successive stages: imagination, belief, thought, and intuitive understanding. In Lovejoy’s philosophically vibrant interpretation, Plato sees the substance of the cosmos as a “world soul,” the “original unified substance that is in and through all things.” But the self, understood as an individuated object apart from the world, develops over time largely through the employment of spatial metaphors, which encourage the equation of the soul with the body. Moving beyond the realm of conceptual demarcation—the false self sketched by spatial metaphors—leads one back to the original oneness. As a result, the true self is no longer sundered from God. The author’s exegesis is remarkably inventive, and she rigorously defends her claims with close textual readings of primary works. Lovejoy’s prose can be academically convoluted, but it’s never impenetrable, and always repays the effort. But her translations of the Greek can be unconventional; for example, she renders “phronesis” as reason, which is overly broad and seems less precise than the more typical practical judgment. In addition, her interpretations are peculiarly apolitical—Plato presents these allegories and analogies in the context of an extended discussion of justice and the nature of the best regime. 

A captivating take on Plato’s account of the soul. 

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5320-5017-6

Page Count: 284

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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