"Magnanimity is in short supply," writes A. C. Grayling is this wonderfully incisive book, "but it is the main ingredient in everything that makes the world a better place" And indeed Meditations for the Humanist: Ethics for a Secular Age is itself a generous, insightful, wide-ranging, magnanimous inquiry into the philosophical and ethical questions that bear most strongly on the human condition.
Containing nearly fifty linked commentaries on topics ranging from love, lying, perseverance, revenge, racism, religion, history, loyalty, health, and leisure, Meditations for the Humanist does not offer definitive statements but rather prompts to reflection. These brief essays serve as springboards to the kind of thoughtful examination without which, as Socrates famously claimed, life is not worth living. As Graying notes in his introduction, "It is not necessary to arrive at polished theories on all these subjects, but it is necessary to give them at least a modicum of thought if one's life is to have some degree of shape and direction." The book is divided into three sections-Virtues and Attributes, Foes and Fallacies, and Amenities and Goods-and within these sections essays are grouped into related clusters. But each piece can be read alone and each is characterized by brevity, wit, and a liveliness of mind that recalls the best of Montaigne and Samuel Johnson. Grayling's own perspective on these subjects is broadened and deepened by liberal quotations from Sophocles and Shakespeare to Byron, Twain, Proust, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others.
For those wishing to explore ethical issues outside the framework of organized religious belief, Meditations for the Humanist offers an inviting map to the country of philosophical reflection.
Grayling teaches philosophy at the University of London, writes a weekly column for the Guardian, and frequently contributes to the New York Times Book Review, among other publications. Here he has written a primer designed to stimulate thinking on various aspects of "the problems and possibilities of being human," as he observes on the book jacket. Ranging in length from two to ten pages, the 60-plus essays are divided almost evenly into three categories: "Virtues and Attributes," "Foes and Fallacies," and "Amenities and Goods." They are balanced, intelligently written, at times caustic, and always (as intended) thought-provoking. Consider, for example, what Grayling has to say regarding love: "Despite appearances, the kinds of love that are most significant to us are not those that fill novels and cinema screens. They are instead those we have for family, friends, and comrades; for these are the loves that endure through the greater part of our lives, and give us our sense of self-worth, our stability, and the framework for our other relationships." This is a superb little book, partly because it reminds us of what we intuitively know but perhaps overlook and partly because it stimulates us to rethink beliefs we have perhaps held too long. Highly recommended. Terry Skeats, Bishop's Univ. Lib., Lennoxville, Quebec Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.