The Soul of the World

The Soul of the World

In "The Soul of the World," renowned philosopher Roger Scruton defends the experience of the sacred against today s fashionable forms of atheism. He argues that our personal relationships, moral intuitions, and aesthetic judgments hint at a transcendent dimension that cannot be understood through the lens of science alone. To be fully alive and to understand what we are is...

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Title:The Soul of the World
Author:Roger Scruton
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Edition Language:English

The Soul of the World Reviews

  • Stewart

    You can appreciate this book whether agnostic, atheist, theist -- provided that you hold a "musical" sentiment and treasure sacred moments. You do not have to believe in "God" but you do have to be aware of the fundamental unifying principle organizing the universe -- that which remains always the same in the midst of infinite change. This may be one of the best articulations of the Perennial Philosophy without calling itself such -- that enduring core of truth often hidden by the very religious

    You can appreciate this book whether agnostic, atheist, theist -- provided that you hold a "musical" sentiment and treasure sacred moments. You do not have to believe in "God" but you do have to be aware of the fundamental unifying principle organizing the universe -- that which remains always the same in the midst of infinite change. This may be one of the best articulations of the Perennial Philosophy without calling itself such -- that enduring core of truth often hidden by the very religious systems entrusted to keep that truth safe. There is an invisible melody weaving through the book, but a tone-deaf ear will not hear the music... but that does not mean the music is not there. He who has ears.

  • Carissa

    This is an unusual book. There are arguments within the book, and the book itself concludes with an argument for a sort of faith. Yet in many ways, it is more of a meditation on the nature of the world than an argument. The most interesting idea, which is developed throughout the book, is Scruton's idea a type of "cognitive dualism". Humans are both animals and persons, for example, and music is both a succession of pitches and something else - a line, a melody - to which we respond. Our great s

    This is an unusual book. There are arguments within the book, and the book itself concludes with an argument for a sort of faith. Yet in many ways, it is more of a meditation on the nature of the world than an argument. The most interesting idea, which is developed throughout the book, is Scruton's idea a type of "cognitive dualism". Humans are both animals and persons, for example, and music is both a succession of pitches and something else - a line, a melody - to which we respond. Our great struggle, he thinks, is the temptation to treat others and the world as merely objects, rather than subjects - to strip others of their personhood and treat them as merely bundles of cells.

    As a warning, Scruton does not adhere to what would be considered orthodox Christianity (he beleives the Incarnation is just a story, and seems inclined toward the radical "One-ness" of God expressed in Islam and Judaism). If you pick up this book expecting an apologetic, you will be sorely disappointed. Scruton's idea of a sort of post-Christian theism that does not worry about doctrines but instead is best conceived as a sort of openness to the transcendent is not, I think, the faith the world is looking for. (As a Catholic, I also think he is wrong, of course.) Scruton's intellectual theism, which places great emphasis on the transcendence and unintelligibility of God, seems to me unlikely to satisfy the average person. But perhaps it offers a way back to some sort of theism for skeptics who are philosophically inclined. (I don't mean to sound harsh. I enjoyed the book and found it thought-provoking.)

  • Andrew Roycroft

    This book, Scruton's attempt to account for the 'aboutness' of beings and things, is a masterful exposé of the shortcomings of scientism and materialism. Through complex reasoning and voluminous cultural/literary/musical/scientific referencing, Scruton builds a case for transcendence and for God, against the backdrop of the totalitarianism of modern secular thought.

    Scruton is a theist in the broadest sense(i.e. not exclusively a Christian theist). He rejects many of the doctrines which I would

    This book, Scruton's attempt to account for the 'aboutness' of beings and things, is a masterful exposé of the shortcomings of scientism and materialism. Through complex reasoning and voluminous cultural/literary/musical/scientific referencing, Scruton builds a case for transcendence and for God, against the backdrop of the totalitarianism of modern secular thought.

    Scruton is a theist in the broadest sense(i.e. not exclusively a Christian theist). He rejects many of the doctrines which I would hold as being central to Christian faith and practice, but what he does offer to me as an evangelical reader is a powerful means of provoking in myself and in my peers a realisation of the divine which eschews trite apologetic arguments for God's existence in favour of the complex and disconcerting truth that as human beings in relationship with one another in a world of objects, transcendence will not leave us alone.

    The philosophical precision which Scruton brings to his case is stirring and thought-provoking, and might provide a helpful bridge in speaking to our secular peers about the possibility and feasibility of faith in a world which pretends that these issues are no longer worthy of consideration, let alone discussion.

    A rigorous, complex, challenging, enlightening, helpful read. Quite simply wonderful in places, it's the kind of book which begs for multiple re-readings.

  • Samuel Brown

    In this book, Scruton presents an intriguing and pleasing bricolage of Continental philosophy, Buddhism, and a moderately theistic existentialism based around the concept of accountability, faces, and the interactions of subjects. I suspect that he is wrong on several points, but he is wrong in illuminating ways, and this broad consideration of the difference between objects and subjects that he frames in terms of a cognitive dualism (one might also say conceptual) that "casts an ontological sha

    In this book, Scruton presents an intriguing and pleasing bricolage of Continental philosophy, Buddhism, and a moderately theistic existentialism based around the concept of accountability, faces, and the interactions of subjects. I suspect that he is wrong on several points, but he is wrong in illuminating ways, and this broad consideration of the difference between objects and subjects that he frames in terms of a cognitive dualism (one might also say conceptual) that "casts an ontological shadow" has given me much food for thought in my own life and theological writing projects. For readers who find New Atheism philosophically inadequate but don't want to rush into polemics, I think this book could serve as a useful apologia for a theism comfortable in the presence of Sartre and Badiou. I found myself ultimately uncertain whether his requirement for a personal God (i.e., a God who is a subject in the world of subjects) in addition to a grounding God was actually robust in the terms he presents it. Still, I think that in about a year I will look at this book again as a useful and reasonably sophisticated summary and example of ways that many threads of Continental philosophy could converge on a useful kind of theism.

  • Stephen

    In The Soul of the World, Roger Scruton argues for a form of cognitive dualism that accounts for both the natural world—that is, the objective world of the neuroscientist and Darwinian evolutionist—and the Lebenswelt, the life-world that “emerges” from the natural world that is yet irreducible to it. Scruton is clearly influenced by the big names of continental philosophy: Kant, Husserl, Sartre and others, and he often cites Searle for his speech-act theory. What Scruton provides, with rare clar

    In The Soul of the World, Roger Scruton argues for a form of cognitive dualism that accounts for both the natural world—that is, the objective world of the neuroscientist and Darwinian evolutionist—and the Lebenswelt, the life-world that “emerges” from the natural world that is yet irreducible to it. Scruton is clearly influenced by the big names of continental philosophy: Kant, Husserl, Sartre and others, and he often cites Searle for his speech-act theory. What Scruton provides, with rare clarity for an author influenced by such difficult thinkers, is a fascinating description and defense of our attachment to the sacred, in the world and the other.

    The book is primarily a defense of lived experience in phenomenological tradition. Scruton argues that our lived experience in the Lebenswelt (a term borrowed from Husserl) is an “overreaching intentionality,” that is, a response to a “subjectivity that lies beyond the world of objects” (175). In a world of objects, somehow the subjective emerges. When we glance at another’s face, we see more than flesh; we see one’s subjectivity. “The face,” he writes, “although it appears in the world of objects, belongs essentially to the subject” (96). This encounter with the other is the “I-you” relationship that cannot be explained or reduced to neuroscience. When we encounter the face of another we see past it, at its “horizon,” to encounter the other’s subjectivity, and this demands that we give more than explanations for our actions (through the examination of causal connections in brain states or “adaptability” in Darwinian evolution), but also reasons and understanding. This is part of the cognitive dualism: explanation on the one hand, understanding and reasons on the other. When we dwell only on explanation, the person vanishes as with our responsibility toward the person. When the person vanishes our action is governed by nothing but the presence of an object.

    For Scruton, this encounter with the other not only occurs with the face of another, but with the world as well. He describes this best with a fascinating phenomenology of music. Music has a “movement” that emerges from the experience of sounds, but when analyzed as sounds one cannot find movement. This property of music as experienced is irreducible to the sounds, yet we hear it. No matter how much we analyze sound waves or even our experience with each sound or tone in a musical movement, we cannot explain why or what it is that we hear. We simply hear the music move. As with the face, in hearing this movement we are experiencing our capacity for “overreaching intentionality.” This experience with the world is like encountering a subject that isn’t there: “Music addresses us as others address us….it address us from beyond the borders of the natural world” (175).

    In a few places Scruton addresses political theory taking a stance against reductionistic social science and Rawlsian and contractual theory. On his account, these all involve “clearing away from the Lebenswelt all the threads of pious observance that cannot be replaced by free choice and self-make obligations….[forming a world] in which we humans are not truly at home” (94-95). Instead of trying to reduce the life-world to explanation (which, again, he thinks is impossible), it should be embraced as fundamental to human and social happiness: “Through the transcendent bonds of piety we enter the realm of the sacred things, of obligations that cannot be accounted for in terms of any deal that we made, and which speak of an eternal and otherworldly order” (176). Scruton is known for his indebtedness to the thought of Edmund Burke, and it shows here. This attempt to philosophically ground our attachment to people, places, and things is a form of justifying Burke’s theory of the “little platoons” of society that provide meaning for its members. Our encounter with the other in the face and the Other in the world provides the basis for intersubjectivity in the form of shared meaning and solidarity in an age of alienation.

    Scruton addresses other topics including Hegel’s political theory, religion, creation myths, the existence of God, and architecture. Much of the content is a summary of his previous work in aesthetics. Overall, the book is less than persuasive not due to any fault in the arguments (thought I question a few), but because the scope of the book is so wide that it inspires the reader to read on rather than settle. Scruton beautifully touches the surface of so many issues that while a reader might not be fully convinced of all his points, he demonstrates the potential for a coherent and comprehensive worldview with a robust and legitimate life-world.

  • Justine Olawsky

    Wow! I finally finished this book -- though, I am rather sad that I did, as I loved savoring it bit by bit. It definitely is the sort of read that makes you want to set it down every few pages and just digest every phrase, every nuance, every little by-way of thought. Also, I learned at least five new words, which is always a good thing.

    is an extended meditation on the very human need to experience the sacred and the importance of finding space to experience the transcend/>The

    Wow! I finally finished this book -- though, I am rather sad that I did, as I loved savoring it bit by bit. It definitely is the sort of read that makes you want to set it down every few pages and just digest every phrase, every nuance, every little by-way of thought. Also, I learned at least five new words, which is always a good thing.

    is an extended meditation on the very human need to experience the sacred and the importance of finding space to experience the transcendent in our lives. Mr. Scruton draws upon philosophy, neuroscience, mythology, art, nature, music, and, of course, religion, to make his case, and he does a beautiful job of interweaving the disciplines into a glorious whole.

    His argument starts from deontic power imperative in the I-You relationship. That is, by acknowledging the Other as a subject separate from and as worthy of consideration as ourselves, there is a certain moral obligation attached in the relationship. Into this, Scruton considers the value of the covenant within this I-You relationship -- both within the wholly human sphere as well as that which intersects with what we perceive as the divine.

    Scruton goes on to elaborate upon this I-You theme in "Facing Each Other" which concerns the revelatory experience of ourselves and others in the human face. "Facing the Earth" was one of my favorite chapters, as Scruton writes of the strong pull of place, how we live within the natural world, and how we alter and adorn it as reflections of our sense of the sacred. Anyone who hates modern architecture as much as I do has a friend in Roger Scruton. What describes the mess of "modernity" better than this imagined exposition of Archeanassa as she decries the desecration of sacred space in her town of Colophon? "This town is like a frozen junkyard, and even if it looks like this forever, it will look forever temporary." Anyone who has seen the Experience Music Project in Seattle will have an immediate visual to accompany this pithy observation.

    "The Sacred Space of Music" (a discipline about which Scruton has the participant's appreciation and knowledge) is followed by "Seeking God", which is fascinating from beginning to end. In a nutshell, "the God to whom [the philosophers] point is outside the envelope of causes, while our God-directed thought demand an encounter within that envelope, and encounter with the 'real presence.' God himself demands this, we believe, since he requires us to enter into a covenant with him." To do this, to experience this presence of the sacred, we must "create the space at the edge of reason where faith can take root and grow." One final thought, and it is, I believe, a supremely true and beautiful one: "I say, rather, that faith asks that we learn to live with mysteries, and not to wipe them away -- for in wiping them away, we may wipe away the face of the world."

  • Paula

    An intriguing look at how art suggests a human need for transcendence. This will not convince anyone who has not "seen" God's presence in an intimate relationship, religious ritual or in a great work of art; however, those who have experienced this wondrous gift will have their faith confirmed. God is indeed present. We need only to know where to look.

  • Dan Graser

    In this brief collection of philosophical notions, based on his Stanton Lectures delivered in 2011, Roger Scruton discusses his notions for what admittedly seems at first like a dated form of cognitive dualism. In his framing, this worldview accounts for both the natural world of the explanation-seeking-naturalistic skeptic and the "Lebenswelt," a term from Husserl literally translated as "life-world" that emerges as a result of the lived experience of interpersonal, artistic, and societal relat

    In this brief collection of philosophical notions, based on his Stanton Lectures delivered in 2011, Roger Scruton discusses his notions for what admittedly seems at first like a dated form of cognitive dualism. In his framing, this worldview accounts for both the natural world of the explanation-seeking-naturalistic skeptic and the "Lebenswelt," a term from Husserl literally translated as "life-world" that emerges as a result of the lived experience of interpersonal, artistic, and societal relationships. Readers of Scruton will not be surprised at all by the influence of continental philosophy especially Kant, Husserl, Sartre and extensive discussion of Searle.

    One of his key talking points is centered around the “I-you relationship" which he emphasizes can be accounted for to a certain degree naturalistically, but not fully explained without reference to the phenomenology of lived experience. Essentially when you encounter another being you are not just encountering a human but another subjectivity. Thus his notion cognitive dualism is framed in this context as scientific (mostly neurological) explanation countered and complimented with interpersonal understanding. Through a slightly stretched discussion of the fall of Adam and Eve, he makes the point that once we allow only for scientific, knowledge-based explanation, the actual person is no longer considered as such, now merely an object and in the case of the biblical story mentioned, one of both base desire and eventual shame.

    I've discussed Scruton's works on music before and I can't say I am any more of a fan after this volume. He certainly makes some salient points especially on Adorno but he seems to not be aware of several more layers of analysis possible with the music he cites. I appreciate that he recognizes the power of music but other writings of his and some of the notions presented here display that his range of musical appreciation is quite small.

    The two main issues I have with the work is that is that first, it seems like he sets up a bit of a familiar strawman, that of countering the atheistic naturalists who don't find inherent value in anything and are merely hoping to reduce it to entirely physical explanations. Having read the work of so many prominent skeptical thinkers, naturalists, secularists, and atheists I have never found this philosophical blindspot in any of their texts. And secondly, though his prose is remarkable and sometimes beautiful, he really doesn't make his point stick because the scope of areas he addresses is so large that you don't get a complete picture of any and thus don't feel comfortable accepting such cursory examinations. I enjoyed getting to know his conception of the "Lebenswelt," and will certainly do some further thinking in that direction, however, I think his view on the great naturalist writers, researchers, and public intellectuals are much more bleak than any of their world-views.

  • BHodges

    Honestly, I wanted to give the book two stars but I don't want to unfairly deflate its rating. My low rating probably reflects my own under-preparation for this book as much as anything else. The truth is, there's much to recommend here. But I can only say "it was OK," which is what 2 stars mean on Goodreads, because it was often too difficult to follow the argumentative line Scruton was tracing. He assumes a familiarity that I doubt many lay readers will bring with them to the book. I could've

    Honestly, I wanted to give the book two stars but I don't want to unfairly deflate its rating. My low rating probably reflects my own under-preparation for this book as much as anything else. The truth is, there's much to recommend here. But I can only say "it was OK," which is what 2 stars mean on Goodreads, because it was often too difficult to follow the argumentative line Scruton was tracing. He assumes a familiarity that I doubt many lay readers will bring with them to the book. I could've used a bit more hand-holding and explanation along the way.

    I really appreciate Scruton's desire to acknowledge the utility as well as the shortcomings with our developing scientific worldview, and that is the main reason I wanted to read this book. He argues that the world and our place in it can be best understood through a concept called "cognitive dualism," which basically distinguishes between description (scientific) and understanding (humanistic). The "what" does not account for the "why," and this discrepancy is best detected when we consider aesthetic things like art and music. He's arguing that description is great, but not enough. We experience the world as agents who make decisions and have experiences that transcend the claim that we are merely evolved reproducing gene machines.

    I'm particularly interested in his idea that human personality is created in relationships and community rather than being solitary and individualistic. I think a few readings of the book could help

  • Yaaresse

    Abandoned about 1/3 in because I was bored out of my mind by it.

    Wish I'd read the author's bio before starting this. Knowing he is referred to as 'the father of the New Right" and his published views on social issues would have warned me off trying to engage with this. Unfortunately, I was basing my decision to read it by the book's synopsis since I knew nothing about the author, and that promised something other than what the text delivered.

    Not my wheelhouse. Just too preachy and lacked inter

    Abandoned about 1/3 in because I was bored out of my mind by it.

    Wish I'd read the author's bio before starting this. Knowing he is referred to as 'the father of the New Right" and his published views on social issues would have warned me off trying to engage with this. Unfortunately, I was basing my decision to read it by the book's synopsis since I knew nothing about the author, and that promised something other than what the text delivered.

    Not my wheelhouse. Just too preachy and lacked interest for me.

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