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MAP TO THE END OF TIME by Ronald J. Manheimer


Journeys with Friends and Philosophers

by Ronald J. Manheimer

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04725-3
Publisher: Norton

At a time when academic philosophy, grown technical and arcane in recent decades, is reaching for a wider audience, this book helps initiate what seems a natural dialogue between the wisdom of ancient texts and the wisdom of advanced years. At age 33 (the “Christological year,” as an older mentor to the secular Jewish writer of this book wryly puts it in the opening pages), Manheimer (Philosophy/Univ. of North Carolina, Asheville) began teaching philosophy to senior citizens and has continued in that line of endeavor up through his now 50-plus years. The author muses on the dialogues he has facilitated between philosophy and the seniors. The book comprises remembered conversations with a sampling of elderly students and friends, reconstructions of classroom and conference discussions, retellings of philosophical classics—from Plato to Augustine to John Stuart Mill—and the author’s own thoughts, both personal and abstract, on the aging process, especially as it affects the experience of time. Though the chapters read as a series of philosophical vignettes—or etudes, to borrow Manheimer’s own metaphor—the book achieves continuity through its centering idea, that the aging process coincides with modernity’s quest to incorporate isolated individuals into larger wholes of meaning. The “map to the end of time” is a picture that matures with age of inter-related lives, each of which draws meaning from its place in relation with the others. Manheimer’s regard for the philosophical classics and his faithfulness to actual, remembered discussions keep his book on course and safely delivered from facile, feel-good conclusions. Indeed, the book refrains from conclusiveness as such, casting its final word as recommendations for further reading. With a little more shaping, this book might have become an equivalent for seniors of the philosophical novel, Sophie’s World, by Joestein Gaarder, which sets philosophy in dialogue with a child. A charming, novelistic reflection on philosophy by a teacher and student of the elderly.