The Human Condition
Jonathan Glover (Yale Nota Bene: Sep 1, 2001)
English ethicist Jonathan Glover begins with the now commonplace observation that the last 100 years were perhaps the most brutal in all history. But the problem wasn't that human nature suddenly took a sharp turn for the worse: "It is a myth that barbarism is unique to the twentieth century: the whole of human history includes wars, massacres, and every kind of torture and cruelty," he writes. Technology has made a huge difference, but psychology has remained the same — and this is what Glover seeks to examine, through discussions of Nietzsche, the My Lai atrocity in Vietnam, Hiroshima, tribal genocide in Rwanda, Stalinism, Nazism, and so on. There is much history here, but Humanity is fundamentally a book of philosophy. In his first chapter, for instance, Glover announces his goal "to replace the thin, mechanical psychology of the Enlightenment with something more complex, something closer to reality." But he also seeks "to defend the Enlightenment hope of a world that is more peaceful and more humane, the hope that by understanding more about ourselves we can do something to create a world with less misery." The result is an odd combination of darkness and light — darkness because the subject matter of the 20th century's moral failings is so bleak, light because of Glover's earnest optimism, which insists that "keeping the past alive may help to prevent atrocities".
Isaiah Berlin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: August 2000), 672 pages.
Oxford professor, philosopher, and historian of ideas, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) was also one of the finest English essayists in the 20th century. This retrospective collection of 17 of his best essays surveys his entire career as a thinker, including his work in political philosophy and the philosophy of history, his thoughts on the Enlightenment, Vico, and Machiavelli, and his passion for Russian literature. Reprinted are such seminal essays as "Two Concepts Liberty" and "The Hedgehog and the Fox," as well as his reflections on Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Edited by scholars Hardy and Hausheer, who also provides an introduction, and with a foreword by Noel Annan, this book also includes a helpful bibliography. A fitting epitaph for a man passionately and eloquently devoted to ideas. ~ Library Journal
Leslie Stevenson, ed. (Oxford University Press: November 1999), 336 pages.
This unique anthology provides an introduction to a wide variety of views on human nature. Drawing from diverse cultures over three millennia, Leslie Stevenson has chosen selections ranging from ancient religious texts up to contemporary theories based on evolutionary science. The second edition of The Study of Human Nature offers substantial selections illustrating the perspectives discussed in Ten Theories of Human Nature, — the Bible, Hinduism, Confucianism, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, and Konrad Lorenz's ethnological diagnosis of human aggression. The Islamic tradition and 17th-18th century philosophers Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau are also represented. Selections from Rousseau, J.S. Mill, and Nancy Holmstrom raise feminist issues, and Henry Bracken's paper deals with racial issues. Examples from E.O. Wilson's sociobiology and his critics are also included, together with Chomsky and recent examples from evolutionary psychology. ~ Product Description
Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. (Eerdmans: Jan 1995), 216 pages.
This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it — and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble. Cornelius Plantinga pulls the ancient doctrine of sin out of mothballs and presents it to contemporary readers in clear language, drawing from a wide range of books, films, and other cultural resources. In smoothly flowing prose Plantinga describes how sin corrupts what is good and how such corruption spreads. He discusses the parasitic quality of sin and the ironies and pretenses generated by this quality. He examines the relation of sin to folly and addiction. He describes two classic "postures" or movements of sin – attack and flight. And in an epilogue he reminds us that whatever we say about sin also sharpens our eye for the beauty of grace. ~ Synopsis
G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press: 1994).
This book is a dandy — a little social commentary full of Chesterton's ever-so-fun-and-clever humor and incredible way of making you realize that the ways in which we humans think is often the exact opposite of what we ought to think. The content is, I suppose, a bit dated... it is intended for the turn-of-the-century (the last turn, not this one) English reader; as such, issues such as women's suffrage might appear to be entirely culturally irrelevant. If read in its historical context, however, it can function both as a history lesson and poignant (in its time) social commentary. And, needless to say, as with all truly good observations about something in the past, there is a good deal which is extremely pertinent to the current social condition... even in those things that might appear outmoded. A good read. ~ Fred Schultz
G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press: Apr 1, 1993)
What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? This, in part, is the question that G.K. Chesterton starts with in this classic exploration of human history. Responding to the evolutionary materialism of his contemporary (and antagonist) H.G. Wells, Chesterton in this work affirms human uniqueness and the unique message of the Christian faith. He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart's own knowledge. ~ Doug Thorpe
Charles Taylor (Harvard University Press: March 1992), 624 pages.
The sources to which Taylor refers are the moral ideals, ideas, and understandings that have dominated in various historical eras. Taylor's basic premise is rather simple, "we are only our selves insofar as we move in a certain space of questions, as we seek and find an orientation to the good (p. 34)." His purpose is not to specify the good, that is, he does not seek to set normative definitions or qualifications. His purpose is to show that self-definition requires a framework in which to be understood. The historical course of his narrative begins with the classical perspective. In this view, self was dependent on a vision of the True or the Ideal. The hierarchical nature of reality presupposed in classical thought meant that self-definition was subservient to the whole. Traditional Christian thought embraced the classical perspective and the preference for self-definition by externals. Obviously, this short sketch of classical thought seems to be absurdly irrelevant in our contemporary world. Self is definitely not defined in relation to externals, but by an extreme interiority, complete rejection of hierarchical schemes, and the assumption that reality is defined empirically rather than conceptually. This book traces the transformation of the classical perspective through history in each of these areas: the movement toward inwardness, the affirmation of ordinary life, and the voice of nature. ~ Peter A. Kindle at Amazon.com
Anthony A. Hoekema (Eerdmans: March 1986), 275 pages.
According to Scripture, humankind was created in the image of God. Hoekema discusses the implications of this theme, devoting several chapters to the biblical teaching on God's image, the teaching of philosophers and theologians through the ages, and his own theological analysis. This second book in a series of doctrinal studies concerns itself with theological anthropology, or the Christian doctrine of man. The theological viewpoint is that of evangelical Christianity from a Reformed or Calvinistic perspective. Suitable for seminary-level anthropology courses, yet accessible to educated laypeople. Extensive bibliography, fully indexed. ~ Product Description