The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

Arthur Herman. Random, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-0-553-80730-1
In his sweeping new book, historian Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World) contends that Plato and Aristotle had vastly different conceptions about the world, and that the various followers and interpreters of each thinker, throughout the ages, shaped the course of Western civilization. According to Herman, Plato views “the world through the eyes of the artist and religious mystic,” using intuition and ideals to understand the workings of the world, while Aristotle “observes reality through the... eyes of science,” using reason and logic as guides. Beginning with biographies of each thinker and unusual facts, the book traces the rise and fall of their respective philosophies. While Plato was dominant in the ancient world, with St. Paul linking the philosopher’s idea of the forms to early Christianity, Aristotle, through Thomas Aquinas, was prominent in the Middle Ages. While Aristotle’s authority caused science to stagnate in the Middle Ages, Plato’s ideas—especially those described in The Republic—were sometimes used to justify totalitarianism, influencing 20th-century communism, fascism, and Nazism. Examining mathematics, politics, theology, and architecture, the book demonstrates the continuing relevance of the ancient world. 46 illus. Agent: Glen Hartley, Writers Representatives. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/22/2013
Release date: 10/22/2013
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