Book Review: The Passion Of The Western Mind

The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding The Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View, by Richard Tarnas

My main motivation for reading this book, despite the mixed to adverse review of the person who loaned it to me, was my interest in intellectual and philosophical history. Once I began to read this book, though, my main motivation for finishing, besides the persistence and stubbornness that I take to every task I set out on, was the fact that I did not want to become a book thief [1] by holding onto the book for too long, as I have already had the book enough weeks that it was time to be done with it. Let me make myself clearly understood: this is a book that is very difficult to love, and often hard to admire or even tolerate, for a wide variety of reasons that I feel at pains to discuss, even if they may be difficult to understand.

For the vast majority of this book, the author does not come off as a very likeable or intellectually honest fellow at all. For one, he has cosmic ambitions about writing an intellectual history of the entire span of Western thought from its Greek and Hebrew beginnings [2] all the way to its postmodern, feminist, gnostic New Age pantheism. Unfortunately, the author takes a firm support of the mother Goddess-oriented heathen thought of our time, and manages to pull the impressive feat of making arguments against the firm existence of absolute truth and moral standards while being dogmatic in its pronouncements on thinkers of far greater profundity than the author of the book himself. The fact that that the author thinks himself competent to pronounce any kind of informed judgment on the epistemological view of Kant or the “realized eschatology” of the apostle John [3] is itself highly ludacris.

The vast majority of potential readers of this book who pick up the book will be highly deterred by the very esoteric language of this book, which is written in such a fashion as to limit its comprehensibility to those with a very advanced and technical philosophical and religious and scientific vocabulary. This is especially true towards the middle and the end of the book as the author superficially tackles modern and postmodern philosophy and psychology. Not only does the vocabulary deter comprehension of the text, but if one actually understands what the author is saying, this still does not make him or his approach to the philosophers of the past any more sympathetic. Not only is the author clearly biased, and equally clearly inconsistent and hypocritical in his refusal to be tied down to very many definite thoughts about his own worldview (at least until the very end of the book) while being dogmatic and extremely precise in his judgments of everyone who he discusses, but knowing what the author says does not make
him any more likeable, but rather it makes him even more offensive, especially when he spouts obviously erroneous thoughts about the supposed anti-female bias of biblical religion in the part of the book that is the most sympathetic.

Overall, the book takes a strongly chronological approach, and the wide scope of 3000-3500 years of Western thought from Greece and the Middle East to contemporary thought along with the large number of philosophers and theologians and other intellectual thinkers covered in this book means that primarily we read what the author thinks about thinkers and their thoughts rather than including a great deal of primary documentation about what those thinkers thought themselves. Since I agree that authority is the weakest defense for a position, the fact that the book depends almost entirely on the authority of the author himself, largely on account of his desire to be concise, undercuts the ambitions of the book to present an authoritative view of the evolution of Western thought along a dialect into what the author believes will eventually be a grand synthesis that will usher Western thought into a new age of understanding and harmony between man and nature, between religion and science, and between men and women. Given the extensive alienation of contemporary life as well as the large degree of constant conflict between different ideas and worldviews within the history of philosophy, this optimistic ending (which, with its Mother Goddess and classic Babylonian religion [4] implications, is rather ominous) does not seem to be well-earned, although the author is vastly more sympathetic when talking about something positively rather than critically. That same phenomenon is probably true for other writers as well, as well as book reviewers. We must remember to reign in our critical tendencies enough to show that which we love as well as that which frustrates and bothers us.


[2] My own thoughts on the debate between Athens and Jerusalem and the Gnosticism of this age are pretty clear:



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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6 Responses to Book Review: The Passion Of The Western Mind

  1. Pingback: Tenderly In Ages Past Thy People Hast Led | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: Book Review: Killing Jesus | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Discovery Of The Greek Bronze Age | Edge Induced Cohesion

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