Philosophy and the Return to Self-Knowledge


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Donald Phillip Verene

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This book contends that both Anglo-American analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy have lost their vitality, and it offers an alternative in their place. Donald Phillip Verene advocates a renewal of contemporary philosophy through a return to its origins in Socratic humanism and to the notions of civil wisdom, eloquence, and prudence as guides to human action. Verene critiques reflection—the dominant form of philosophical thought that developed from Descartes and Locke—and shows that reflection is not only a philosophical doctrine but is also connected to the life-form of technological society. He analyzes the nature of technological society and argues that, based on the expansion of human desire, such a society has eliminated the values embodied in the tradition of human folly as understood by Brant, Erasmus, and others.

Focusing in particular on the traditions of some of the late Greeks and the Romans, Renaissance humanism, and the thought of Giambattista Vico, this book's concern is to revive the ancient Delphic injunction, "Know thyself," an idea of civil wisdom Verene finds has been missing since Descartes. The author recovers the meaning of the vital relations that poetry, myth, and rhetoric had with philosophy in thinkers like Cicero, Quintilian, Isocrates, Pico, Vives, and Vico. He arrives at a conception of philosophy as a form of memory that requires both rhetoric and poetry to accomplish self-knowledge.

Donald Phillip Verene is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Emory University. He is the author of, among other books, Vico's Science of Imagination, and he coedited The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms, vol. 4, by Ernst Cassirer, published by Yale University Press.

A selection of Readers’ Subscription

"This is a magisterial work—rich in wisdom and learning, and beautifully written. It is essential reading for all friends of the speculative spirit."—Stanley Rosen, author of Plato's Statesman: The Web of Politics

"Citations and definitions make this into a philosopher's memory-theater, in which, as in a scrapbook, are nostalgically preserved these voices of the past that alone bring us back to the springs of thought."—Giuseppe Mazzotta, Philosophy and Literature

"The significance of this book for scholars interested in aesthetics and education cannot be overestimated, for Verene's ideas call for a complete revaluing of rhetoric and memorization in education, and some serious reconsideration of 'critical thinking' and the role of technology. . . . Verene consciously employs rhetorical strategies that undercut the rational critique that is modern philosophy's stock-in-trade. He uses aphorism, etymology, fable, and even concludes the work with a myth à la Plato. The look is a tour-de-force of premodern philosophical style that not only argues for a rhetorically based alternative to contemporary educational philosophy but exemplifies it. And it is a pleasure to read."—John D. Schaeffer, Journal of Aesthetic Education

"[A] penetrating criticism of our technological society. . . Along with his diagnosis of the problem, Verene offers a solution: philosophy should return to the themes of Socrates. . . This delightfully eloquent indictment of the current state of affairs in both philosophy and society will be thought-provoking and enlightening for all engaged in the elusive search for wisdom."—Choice

"In his latest book, the distinguished Vico scholar Donald Phillip Verene offers us a diagnosis of our current philosophical malaise and a prescription for its cure. . . . Verene has certainly written a provocative and intriguing book."—Kevin E. Dodson, Review of Metaphysics

"Verene's long psycho-mythological histories often lead the traveller to well-lit, sunny places, and his plea for a return to self-knowledge based on memory, eloquence, and prudence is certainly inspiring in these new dark ages."—Rik Peters, CLIO: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History

"With virtuosity of an artist, Verene leads the reader from the foreword through the epilogue. The present book is not a philosophical treatise in the ordinary sense; rather, it is a philosophical symphony, or even, a philosophical panorama."—Alexander L. Gungov, Philosophische Rundschau

"A wonderful read and a much needed challenge for philosophy to return to self-knowledge."—Jack T. Hanford, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies

ISBN: 9780300069990
Publication Date: October 20, 1997
318 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Knowledge of Things Human and Divine

Vico’s New Science and "Finnegans Wake"

Donald Phillip Verene

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The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms

Volume 4: The Metaphysics of Symbolic Forms

Ernst Cassirer; Edited by John Michael Krois and Donald Phi

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Symbol, Myth, and Culture

Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer, 1935-1945

Ernst Cassirer; Edited by Donald Phillip Verene

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