Book Review: A Brief History of Thought

Luc Ferry’s A Brief History of Thought recently caught my eye as I wandered through the library. The book promised a brief summary of human thought and its evolution across significant historical epochs within a meager volume of pages. Who wouldn’t wish to entertain such a prospect?

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The book’s strength is in Ferry’s ability to summarize various complicated worldviews with such simplicity, and conciseness. While I can’t call upon an extensive knowledge of philosophy to critique Ferry’s work, I certainly identified my share of agreements and disagreements with the opinions and perspectives proposed in the book. In this review, I will summarize Ferry’s claims and arguments, which while insightful and highly educational, personally, fell short of convincing by the final pages.

Ferry begins by addressing the question at the heart of human existence, a quest for salvation (an answer to the mystery that is death), which he identifies to be the vital aspect of every philosophical system. Characterizing philosophy as more than an act of reasoning and logic, Ferry asserts that philosophy is also a measure of human thought that “claims to save us – if not from death itself, then from the anxiety it causes, and to do so by the exercise of our own resources and our innate faculty of reason.”

From there on, Ferry uses this argument as a guide to expound his views and perspectives on the various philosophical movements that have spanned the history of human thought: Stoicism, Christianity, Humanism, Postmodernism (Nietzsche), and Contemporary philosophy (post-Nietzsche). The book flows smoothly from one time period to another while providing an effective summary of the relevant aspects of each philosophical movement. By the end of each chapter, the reader is able to identify the questions and answers that serve as the foundation for the consecutive movement.

We are first acquainted with the Greeks and their establishment of Stoicism, the representation of the world as a perfect cosmos, an ordered logos where transcendence and immanence are united; a cause that the human strives to be a reflection of.

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Cosmos refers to the explicit complexity, and perfection of the external universe. Logos defines the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, providing it order and meaning.

The impersonal  approach towards death and salvation in Stoicism is rectified by Christianity where the human is the focal point of the argument. Unlike in Stoic reflections, salvation is personalized through the evocative belief  in a Son of God, a motion towards “love in God,” promising fulfillment and an immortality where we maintain our personal identities.

The foundations upon which both Stoicism and Christianity rested soon come crashing down with the advent of science. Modern physics reveals “an infinite chaos devoid of sense; a field of forces and objects jostling for place without harmony.”

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Thus, mankind is once again alone in a cosmos void of a logos or god of any kind. Reality is marked by chaos. The Stoic measure for study or contemplation and the Christian revelation fall flat against the ensuing chaos.

The human is once again the focal point of the argument, but this time, “it was going to require man himself…to introduce some order into a universe which seemed no longer to offer any of its own.” Man’s ability to devise a personal history distinguishes him from his animal brethren resulting in a Humanism that takes the reigns in a movement where humans forge the history of the world through the ideals and laws we invent to judge our actions and their consequences. Nevertheless, humanism stumbles in offering a solution to our quest for salvation, leading to a well-defined struggle that lasts to this day between the various pantheons of human thought.

The cycle doesn’t end here as we alight upon the arrival of Nietzsche and Postmodernism. Nietzsche dismissed both science and religion. His critical deconstruction of the conventional philosophies of the time focused on their inseparable similarity that adhered to a disregarding of the essence of life, and instead building metaphysical constructs/ideals to allow the human to find “salvation” or a purpose.

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“People don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

All of which Nietzsche believed was nothing more than a lie, a negation of life from what it essentially is by supplanting it with transcendental ideas of god, and the ideal human being. Nietzsche’s nihilism would fuel his famous ideas for the “will to power,” an attempt for control in a deconstructed universe by the self physically, emotionally, and also morally.

Ferry concludes his work by providing an assessment of modern day Contemporary philosophy in the wake of the revolutionary movements summarized above. This concerns a world where there is no longer a universal meaning towards human existence, but rather an incessant and a seemingly directionless promotion of progress for the sake of progress, a morose form of materialism.

In conclusion, Ferry provides a wonderful and enlightening primer on the various philosophical attitudes that span the history of human thought. I would certainly recommend this book for any philosophy enthusiast. The reader gets a taste of the major aspects of Western philosophy over the vast vista of time. Nevertheless, the  fact that the book is a philosophical overview for a mass audience makes it a tough prospect in accurately capturing the more subtle facets of the various philosophies discussed. While this can be seen as a weakness, it is also a strength, as it will drive the interested reader to learn more about the topics involved (it did for me). Though Ferry himself stumbles in deriving a clear answer to the human quest for “salvation,” his work succeeds in emphasizing the significance of said journey in that it is defining of our very humanity, and individual spirit. In that vein, A Brief History of Thought is a wonderful journey in itself.

 

Passage Of Time…

Gazing out the window, I observe the tempestuous motion of clouds in the sky. The chill of a wet breeze strikes my skin as I swing along with the rhythmic motion of the trees in my neighborhood, dancing to the progressive wind. Relaxing in the comforting solitude of my humble abode, my reflections render a view across time, allowing me to travel back, and revisit the nostalgic memories of the past that led me to my current life.

A journey that began in a small corner of the world, I awakened my dreams at the sight of the luminous lamps of fire that lit up the night sky of my hometown. Contemplating on the questions that beset my curiosity, I stumbled forward, on and on, desperate to seek answers. Soaring upon the wings of my ambitions, I ventured forward into the unknown, finding strength in the arms of three beings without whom I would not be the man I am today (Mom, Dad, Sis, I love you).

Bidding farewell to our last summer, I would pave my own path in life, meeting various personalities along the way, experiences with frequent beginnings, and ends. Reinventing myself over, and over, I eventually discovered my grounds in who I wished to be in the place of another’s heart, completing a journey that brought me full circle to the little bits of everything I found in her, and appreciated in life (Thank you, Leina).

Time waits for no one…and so I wish to fall briefly into the wrenching melancholic, and bittersweet nostalgia of all that has come to be in my life so far. To the friends, and family I have met, and who have supported me along the way I give you my deep-felt thanks. Though we may be distances apart, seeking our own ends in life, our memories together will forever remain in my heart.

Now, as the tides of time push me forward, I find my resolve in the joy of our times together, and remembering those happy days we shared. Embracing the present that is built upon those memories, I find my reason to smile, thankful for all that I have been given in life. Alighting on my 26th birthday, I look toward a new, and grand horizon of adventures to follow. Thus, I’m led forward by the me of tomorrow, who holds my hand, and filled with dreams of the future, but supported all the way, by the me of yesterday, who holds all of our memories together, and follows right along…in what has been my life, or rather a passage of time…

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Cherish the memories of the past, Embrace the present, and happily Anticipate the future…Time may progress inevitably, but it is our choice to make this life, a moment that transcends eternity…

A Walk In The Spring Rain

With winter’s departure at my doorstep, I alight upon the memory of a day in a rainfall that caressed me with the soothing warmth of your touch.

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Falling upon the blankets of water that condensed from the gray skies, I clung to you, slipping amid the warmth of your skin.

Time awaits no one, and in a moment that carried me away in the bliss of a cool breeze, you walked by my side.

Ripples in the ponds of life stemmed forth in our every step together, your smile, a reflection amid the mirrors that coalesced at every turn.

Observing our progress along the white of clouds that brushed our feet, gently ascending, leading us to where the stars lay hidden, and our spirits flew free.

In a story that is to be told, your eyes reflected the words of my heart, our laughter resonating amid the silent melodies of the world.

A beautiful blossom, you remained, weathering the winds of time that passed our wake, embracing me into the petals of your life.

Into a stillness that resounded in the minute strikes of my heart, my eyes met yours, the cold moisture of the crystals giving way to the warmth of your lips.4b9b99b1_o

Serenaded by the orchestral pitter-patter of the rainfall surrounding our feet, I indulged in the moment, falling and rising about your heartbeat.

Carried by the whims of nature, our shadows basking in the gentle ray of sunshine that awakens the distant horizon, in an adventure to continue, with the coming of spring.

Happy Birthday Sis!

Having a younger sibling isn’t always easy. One moment you find yourself the center of attention, and then all of a sudden, your thunder seems stolen when all everyone talks about is the newest member of the family. At least, that’s how it seemed to me when you entered my life. Little did I know it would be the beginning of a wonderful, and life-long journey of friendship to follow.

I can never forget the day when I first met you. You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen in my life (you still are, for me). Approaching on my tip-toes, I had come to your side, looking down with great intrigue as you lay fast asleep, your deep breaths coming with the gentle rise, and fall of your full-sized tummy.

You eventually opened your eyes, closing them almost immediately into a narrow slit. The light must have hurt you, but you didn’t give up, as you opened your eyes a bit wider, struggling before they tuned in to focus on my own. It was then you pulled back your lips, your face radiant with a fleeting smile that left me speechless, and overwhelmed. There was no doubt whatsoever. I knew then that this was my baby sister smiling at me, and in  a moment that tied me to you forever, I was utterly, and irrevocably smitten.

You would soon become my best-friend, and my greatest nemesis. You would have my back whenever I needed it the most, and also turned out to be the best partner in crime I could ever ask for. You brought the best in me, and still do so to this very day. Over the twenty-years of our journey together, there is not a moment that I would want to change. While our dreams, and ambitions may take us to different destinations, I can never forget our beginning,  a moment that will always bring us together.

Happy Birthday Annie. On this day, I want you to know, I love you, and will do so forever. Nothing will ever change that. To me, you are and will always be the light in our family, a vibrant flame I wish to protect, and hold dear for all my life.

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You are not alone…

Holding your hand, I walk by your side. The joy in your eyes, a vibrant flame that nurtures the promise I made in a dream to cherish, and protect you forever.

With our continued acquaintance, I remain satisfied, the depth of our bond personified in a silence that renders words impotent amidst the emotions that persist.

I had found you in the void, where you lay alone, the light of your heart shimmering in the darkness that clung to your shoulders.

Unable to discern your truth against the tempest of your soul, I embraced you in a vow to help you break free of the shadows.

Urging you to smile in a struggle that perseveres, unyielding to the passage of time, I fail continuously to wrest the burdens of your heart.

But in this grudging hour, where I’m forced to accept the truth of my own limitations, I find a greater purpose to our journey together.

Encouraging me to stay strong, to remain at your side, to live for the moments when I can see your beautiful smile.

It is a sweet pain that indulges my efforts, to maintain my promise to you, so that even when I stumble, I find joy in the knowledge that you are a part of me, as I am of you, bound together and forever.

Believing yourself to be imperfect, broken, you collapsed under the weight of your doubts, falling victim to your own thoughts.

Inspired by the same, I will strive to help you understand, that beyond those imperfections and the broken reflection you may perceive, you are the innocent and graceful soul whom I love and wish to set free.

I wish for you to be happy, and though I may not know exactly what I’ll be able to do for you, if there is one thing that I would want you to remember, now and to the end of time, it is that I will be with you, and that you are not alone…

To the heavens, I will set my eyes, in hopes of the day when I shall find thee, flying free…

Reminiscing On the Promise I Made To You In Our Early Days…

February 14, an annual holiday celebrating the feast of St. Valentine, otherwise popularly known as Valentine’s Day. The day was first associated with romantic love in the 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, a time period when the tradition of courtly love flourished. As such, it became an occasion when lovers expressed their love to one another by various means from presenting flowers, offering confectionery, or sending greeting cards.

A poet myself (from a young age), I’ve always celebrated Valentine’s Day by putting my creativity to the test, writing several poems on the occasion, mostly of romantic nature. As a teenager, I exercised my inspiration from experiences at home, in the company of the love I witnessed between my parents, to the ordinary circumstances of life that were my adventures at school. In fact, my first published work, Our Last Summer, found its beginning in a poem. With its end came the realization of a truth that aptly described my first infatuation when I fell in love with love itself.

Shortly after, I would fly away from home, pursuing a future in the star spangled skies that awaited me in Edmonton. In the solitude of the years that followed, I would contemplate much about the nature of love and life, finding peace in my own isolation, and yet constantly seeking for company in my dreams. And in that manner, on the venue of this 14th, I would write a poem experiencing for the first time my own inability to express my feelings in a question that required no answer.

Yet, for what it’s worth, my voice was heard on that day by someone I hold dear to my heart, and to her I now say, in what has become a melodious sonata of our time together as friends, as partners, and as soulmates I find myself running out of words to describe the beautiful poem that has been the four years of our life together. So for now, I shall stutter, and stumble into the comfort of the night’s silence as I reminisce about us, and the promise I made you in our early days, and one I intend to keep for all my life…

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Watashi wa itsumademo anata wo airisu desho, Leina-chan!

A New Chapter…

Collecting Memories

Who am I? What is my purpose?

For as long as I can remember, I have contemplated the measure of these questions, and yet it is in their stubborn company, that I’ve discovered the foundations of my future ambitions, and dreams. It is a journey that I’ve recounted with great enthusiasm, and vigor in Our Last Summer, and of recent, in Agent X.

Thinking back over the 25 years that have comprised my existence, I’m grateful for all that life has offered me. It is an experience that I liken to a blissful dream or even a pensive reverie (no pun intended), and one that is yet to end. To cherish the memories of the past, to live the present to the fullest, and happily anticipate the future; this is my motto, a personal philosophy that I’ve maintained throughout the countless adventures, and memorable experiences that have made me the man I am today.

And yet, despite all my progress, life still manages to surprise me at every end.

 On Love

What captivates me the most is the peculiar nature with which we carry ourselves; each of us dictated, and bound by what we accept to be true. But, truth is merely a vague concept. At times, it is a fact that is provided to us by the institutions that we are born into, or the ideologies that we digest from the surrounding environment. Ultimately, the reality that we find in its promises may all be a mirage, a world that is conceived by nothing more than our individual beliefs, and thus leading us to wrongly judge others based on our own preconceptions, and by their appearances.

It is a struggle that resonates in the very fabric of human communication, and yet it is in its assured reality that we also discover our greatest freedom. A freedom that is constituted by our ability to accept the same, and move forward with goodwill, and faith; a freedom that prompts us to accept our inhibitions, and misgivings, allowing us to find unity amid the differences that set us apart in an emotion that we call love.

It takes great courage to fall in love, for by falling in love we also admit to our greatest fears, and learn to rise above them (at least, that’s how it turned out in my life). I found the answers to my questions in love. As such, I’m thankful for the support I have received from my family; I’m grateful for the acceptance I’ve found among my friends; and I’m happy beyond words in the fulfillment of the bond I share with my partner.

Life, as it is…

Much of what I’ve learned has revolved around the complex, and diverse rituals of relationships that constitute the flow of daily life; a fundamental theme that forms the basis of my work in Our Last Summer, and Agent X. Now, as I venture upon the horizon of a new chapter, I can’t help but sift through the pages of my past in what has been a humbling experience from my childhood, to my teenage years, all the way to where I’m now contemplating, drifting amid the warm winds of a summer night, the wonders of life, as it is…

“A man is but a product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” – Mahatma Gandhi