Book Review: Philosophy In The Hellenistic & Roman Worlds

Peter Adamson must be one of those rare breed of writers open to taking on any writing challenge that comes before him. Such is the case with Philosophy In The Hellenistic & Roman Worlds (PHRW). Notice the fine print at very top of the front cover that reads, “A History Of Philosophy Without Any Gaps”. Two things came to mind when I saw this. The first was “it’s about time!” The second thing that came to my mind was “how is that even possible?” To be perfectly candid it isn’t. However, I think Adamson does an outstanding job in spite of the task before him of covering subject matter often missed in academia but doing so in an entertaining way.

Adamson starts by outlining three areas of philosophy that tend not to get too much attention. They are: Hellenistic Philosophy, Pagan Philosophy In The Roman Empire, and Christian Philosophy In The Roman Empire. From these eras Adamson hones in on key disciplines such as metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, logic, ethics, philosophy of language, and the reader will occasionally come across brushes with other disciplines. So at the outset Adamson’s work highlights philosophers and their influences through a historical thematic way providing a much larger picture of the development of thought.

I was personally interested in Adamson’s discussion of Christianity in the Roman World. Adamson explains Christianity’s emergence out of a hedonistic tradition which began conceptually with a the principle of immediate pleasure in hedonism to the understanding of pleasure as a life pursuit in Epicurianism. Christian thought began to dominate the ancient world by appropriating Plato, Aristotle, and pagan thought. It isn’t till the time of Augustine that we begin to see a uniquely Christian philosophy whose impact is still felt today. Adamson points out that Augustines’s influence reaches so far out that even non-Christians today find themselves with Augustinian similarities. One example that I can think of is Bertrand Russell’s appeal to Agustine’s view of time.

RATING: 4 STARS

James

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Hoping Against Hope

TITLE: Hoping Against Hope

AUTHOR: John D. Caputo

PUBLISHER: Fortress Press, October 1, 2015 (224 pages)

Hoping Against Hope: Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim is the latest from the pen of John D. Caputo, Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus (Syracuse University). Only this work is slightly different from what you have read from him in past publications. As the subtitle eludes to this is a confession or a personal narrative where Caputo articulates his fascinating journey or pilgrimage through his life of faith.

Almost immediately one can find expressions in this book with which they whole heartily disagree and without hesitation write the book off. For this reader I would encourage you to take down your hasty judgements momentarily. I too came to this book with reservations about Caputo’s religion and philosophy which I haven’t changed. However, this is a personal narrative that covers similar difficulties that we have all experienced in life’s journey.

To communicate the broad range of experience Caputo introduces very early in the book three separate characters that represent himself through different phases of his life. For example, Caputo introduces us to “Jackie” which is his younger self. Jackie is a young impressionable alter boy who through out the book represents the timidness and piety of  pre-Vatican II American Catholicism. As a former Catholic (post-Vatican II) I was the recipient of the vestiges of this form of Catholicism giving me the ability to resonate with Jackie.

We are also introduced to “Brother Paul”. Brother Paul represents a more mature Caputo but not fully culminated into the final character the “Professor”. Brother Paul was zealous for the Catholic faith. He has grown spiritually and in knowledge ready to take down what is contrary to the teachings of the Church but not quite as mature in these respects as the “Professor”. The Professor represents his current self who has reached a level of maturity giving him the ability to think independently invoking resources from theology and philosophy to cultivate himself and those he instructs.  The outcome is a “religion without why”.

Typically what we find in religion is something counter intuitive to the “religion without why”. In most cases the bottom line motivation for religious practices is fear of punishment and hope for reward. The Professor scoffs at such a crude motivation. For him understanding God comes in the form of a type of praxis where to ask the question “why” is an absurdity. Why do we practice mercy, compassion, love, etc. because that is what we do and to invoke fear of punishment and hope for reward is to observe a crewed form or religion. At certain points the Professor refers to this as the “nihilism of grace.”

PERSONAL REFLECTION

As I stated above, this is a personal confession. As such we are looking deep within the experiences and thoughts which culminated into the Professor.  Many of us have had similar experiences / thoughts that have either been left responseless or have convinced ourselves of easy answers so that we can keep our pre-commitment to our religion of choice. Not the case with Caputo. For that reason alone I see this as an important book. The fact that the experiences of the Professor have brought him to a Post-Modern interpretation of religion also makes this book important.

However, I will also say by invoking a Post-Modern narrative we are brought no closer to a religion without illusion. In fact what we are tacitly doing is invoking the preformed thoughts that already exist in our thinking or what Caputo refers to as the “religion without why”. The fear that I find in Caputo is that a religion with a why necessarily imposes a system of merit. However that isn’t necessarily the case.  As one example and I will leave this alone, in Christianity the good works that we do are not solely done for fear of punishment and hope of reward but out of a genuine gratitude for the grace, mercy, and peace we experience with God.

This is just one counter point. Like I said above I found Caputo’s book to be a very interesting read. I enjoyed and appreciated his dialogue with Jaques Derrida and Jean ean-François Lyotard. Caputo is an outstanding writer and thinker. In spite of my critique I still believe there is plenty to glean from him.

RATING: 4 Stars

James