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Book Title: Death of the Soul|
The author of the book: William Barrett
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Reader ratings: 6.1
Date of issue: February 6th 1987
ISBN 13: 9780385173278
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.11 MB
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Much as in Irrational Man, William Barrett proves himself here to possess an immensely readable philosophical voice—reasonable, measured, sober while yet so with the timbre of an easy jocularity, and endowed with a rich passion and warmth that is both indicative of and provisioned by a deep and earnest humanity. I languidly make my way through his books with an unabated pleasure, drinking of the decanted detailing of a learned and lucid wise man. Barrett practices what he preaches, which is that philosophy—or at least the discussion of such—in our modern era should make itself accessible, and hence available, to the general public; an intention that, by no means, involves the dumbing down of the material and concepts being presented, but rather that they be analyzed from, used to explain, and offer means to redress, the core problems of a humanity that exists within the everyday world. The principal state of affairs that troubles the author is the increasingly atomized nature of our modern culture, a specialized technocratic materialism that tends towards dissolving or diluting, amongst other things, societal values and mores, whilst simultaneously engendering varieties of nihilism, with its attendant corrosive energy, within this archipelago of fragmentation. A regrettable victim of this dispersion is what the ancients termed psyche, the soul; the consciousness, the existential awareness of human beings which, up until the time and philosophical speculations of Descartes, was an assumed natural inhering component of mankind within a divinely ordered cosmos.
There is a key section in the middle part of Death of the Soul where the author points out a revealing mistake he has observed, on the part of his students, in the envisioning of the three areas of the mind that Kant detailed in the Critique of Pure Reason—Sensibility, our sense perception, Understanding, the conceptual or scientific intellect, and Reason, that which deals with transcendent ideas—as a series of enclosed and self-contained levels, stacked one upon the other in the order they are named above. Kant, as Barrett conceives of it, would rather they be envisioned as three concentric circles, the smaller inset within the larger, and crisscrossed by a series of diagonal and vertical lines to clarify the interpenetration and interconnectedness of the trinity. This commingled wholeness is the thematic subject of Barret's elegant little book: an investigation of how this perduring unity of our mind and its apperception of the sensory world, filtering of said inputs, and transcendent ideation, has been continuously, perhaps calamitously, sundered into various component parts by the strains of modern philosophy that have arisen out of the very intellectual environment erected and nurtured by the psyche they have displaced. The irony lies in that very fact: that this consciousness, the presence of mind, was thoroughly involved at all stages of the formation of the new science of matter, even as the burgeoning spread and opening vistas of the latter tended towards a cohering mechanical view of the universe that relegated that human mind to the status of an enervated, enfeebled ghost.
To develop his point, Barrett examines the philosophical systems of a progression of thinkers, beginning with Descartes. Again as with Irrational Man, I was impressed with the author's ability to produce an abundance of clarifying exegesis and reasoned interpretation of the philosophers under consideration within the space of a handful of pages. At all times he endeavors to place the thought they promoted and produced within the context of a concrete humanity whose mental processes are quite inseparable from the flesh in which it is contained and the temporal-spatial environment through which it operates. A recurring flaw that Barrett detects, and/or criticism that he offers, is the tendency on the part of the great philosophers of the modern era to abandon this reality in lieu of a greater abstraction the more detailed and developed their own personal thought structures become—examples being that the Empiricists failed to properly consider the unity of the mind's sensory processing, its relating of the continuous stream of impression and sensation to past remembrances and considerations or the projecting of such into the anticipations of an unknown future; that the early Rationalists erred in treating the body as a scientific construct, a piece of matter separate and distinct from the consciousness that observes it when our commonsensical experience is that the body is inextricably connected with the mind in our quotidian existence; and that the Analytics, in their focus upon a rigorous analysis and formal logic that parses our mental processes into systematic bits that can be encoded and programmed, fail to account for the ineluctable wholeness—a historical sense, emotional slingshots across the temporal spectrum, evolving understanding, instinctive and idiosyncratic responses to stimuli dependent upon the unique exclusivity of each individual psyche—that comprises a flesh-and-blood human being in all of its boundless mystery.
All of the above is, of course, my struggling attempt at achieving precision, within the space of a few paragraphs, of what Barrett has far more carefully and detailedly set about to bring before the reader. It is all quite fascinating, and, more than anything, a spur set to my procrastinating buttocks to get my shit together and undertake to read the works of these great and profound thinkers so that I can reach my own conclusions based upon my own understanding. Barret, in a brief dissertation upon the postwar development and prominence of Deconstructionism, offers up some stimulating food for thought; and one of the things I find the most inveigling about Barrett is the sense I have detected of a careful advancement of the omnipresence of God within the historical evolution of philosophical thought as something accessible to both religious- and secular-minded individuals—that some manner of godhead—even if drained of its divinity—is an antipodal requisite to the gravitational pull towards nihilism exerted by a splintered technocratic culture. Finally, I also believe—quite possibly incorrectly—that the philosophy Barrett tended to personally align with, to deem the most fruitful for our current situation, was Kant's critical philosophy applied with a phenomenology running the gamut from Kierkegaard to Heidegger—a concern with the existential status of humanity critiqued from a midpoint between empiricism and rationalism. I'm a tyro when it comes to such deeply-developed constructs, but it's what innately appeals to me, at least as I understand it. And the thing is, if this means that I end up hitching my wagon to the same propulsive mental horses that drove William B, that's just fine by me.
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Read information about the authorWilliam Christopher Barrett (1913 – 1992) was a professor of philosophy at New York University from 1950 to 1979. Precociously, he began post-secondary studies at the City College of New York when 15 years old. He received his PhD at Columbia University. He was an editor of Partisan Review and later the literary critic of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. He was well-known for writing philosophical works for nonexperts. Perhaps the best known among these were Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy and The Illusion of Technique , which remain in print.
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