Philosophy Book Reviews : From Socrates to Sartre , by Thelma Lavine / T. Z. Lavine

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T. Z. Lavine , From Socrates to Sartre : The Philosophic Quest

(Paperback, 427 pages, including glossary and index)

T. Z. Lavine , From Socrates to Sartre : The Philosophic Quest

          In the mid-1980s, Dr. Thelma Z. Lavine, philosophy professor at George Washington University, hosted a PBS TV series with the From Socrates to Sartre. Unlike the authors of many TV series which are accompanied by expensive hardcover companion books, Lavine wrote an inexpensive paperback. The book has seven parts: Plato, Descartes, Hume, Hegel, Marx, Sartre, and "the contemporary scene." (See the table of contents below.)

          The "historical transition to the modern world" is traced from Aristotle, through "the medieval synthesis" and the Renaissance, to era of modern science. She views Descartes mind/body dichotomy his compromise to allow the mechanical conception of the universe to coexist with the church's doctrine of the soul.

          Lavine's explanation of Hegel's principle that "the real is rational and the rational is real" is the clearest summary of this very difficult area I've seen.

          The section on the existentialists is remarkably clear, compared to the obfuscation in the existentialists' own works.

          The only weak part in the book is where the Lavine remarks summarily that the Marxian labor theory of value is wrong, without bothering to refute the theory.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents
From Socrates to Sartre :
The Philosophic Quest ,
by Thelma Z. Lavine
Taken from the Bantam edition
 of 1985

Preface 			     xvii

Introduction : the indestructible    1


1.  Virtue is knowledge 	     9
2.  Shadow and substance	     20
3.  The divided line		     31
4.  The tripartite soul 	     43
5.  The Ideal state		     54


6.  Historical transition to the     68
     modern world
7.  Doubting to believe 	     91
8.  God Exists			     100
9.  The clockwork universe	     110
10. Body and soul		     121


11. How do you know?		     134
12. 'A well-meanin' critter'         147
13. Will the sun rise tomorrow?      159
14. Reason : 'slave of the passions' 170


15. A revolution in thought	     186
16. The real is the rational	     199
17. Master and slave		     214
18. The cunning of reason	     226
19. The owl of Minerva		     240


20. The young Hegelian		     261
21. Alienated man		     274
22. The conflict of classes	     288
23. The world to come		     302


24. My existence is absurd	     322
25. Nausea			     335
26. 'Condemned to be free'           349
27. No exit			     365


28. In search			     386

Glossary			     415
Index				     419

Note: The table of contents to the right shows only the chapter headings. The actual table contains a conceptual summary for each chapter, as shown in the following excerpt, the table of contents for PART ONE.


The main branches of philosophy and the questions they raise and try to solve. Why study philosophy? The attacks upon philosophy. Try to imagine a world without philosophy. In this book the works of six philosophers and their views of man, God, nature, history, truth, ethics, and politics will be explored; and the philosophic viewpoints dominating the contemporary scene in philosophy will be examined.



The historical situation: from the Golden Age of Athens under Pericles to the defeat of democratic Athens by authoritarian Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The Rule of the Thirty; Charmides and Critias. The Socratic philosophy. The trial and death of Socrates (399 B.C.). Plato's life. Plato and counterrevolutionary politics in Athens. The concept of the philosopher-king.


Plato as synthesizer of the conflicting philosophies of the Greek world. The dialogue form. Plato's sources: Socratic method; Socratic definition; the pre-Socratic philosophers: Heraclitus and Parmenides; the Sophists. Plato's metaphysical synthesis and its expression in the Allegory of the Cave. Contemporary relevance of the allegory.


Plato's theory of knowledge. What is true knowledge and how is it reached? The divided line: diagram of four levels of knowledge, each level with its own objects and its own method for knowing them. Opinion versus knowledge. Plato's theory of forms (ideas, essences). The Idea of the Good. The meaning of 'dialectic' for Plato. The ascent out of the cave to the Idea of the Good as Christian symbolism.


Plato versus the Sophists; the immutable truth of Plato's forms versus contemporary cultural and ethical relativism. Analysis of the idea of justice, Book I of the Republic. The form or idea of man. Theory of the tripartite soul. Relation to contemporary psychology, especially to Freud. The charioteer and the two horses. The man, the lion, and the dragon. Plato's ethics: 'Justice' in the soul. The highest good is the life of reason. Virtue is knowledge.


Plato's political philosophy: Justice in the ideal government is modeled upon the tripartite nature of the human soul and its justice, the proper harmony of the parts. The three classes of society and their education for their tasks: the producers; the administrators and warriors; the philosopher-kings. The Noble Lie. The status of women. 'Getting and spending,' the life of the producers. The ascetic, disciplined life of the guardian class. Political absolutism. Criticism of justification by absolute truth. Who guards the guardians? The charge of totalitarianism against the Republic.

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Excerpt from From Socrates to Sartre : The Philosophic Quest , by T.Z. Lavine

From Chapter 14, pp. 171-173, 1985 Bantam paperback edition

... But suppose you are willing to forego the question of the immortality of the soul. What about your existence as a self, as permanent, identical, continuously the same throughout your life? Did not Descartes establish the Cogito -- I think, therefore I am a thinking thing -- as the rock upon which he built his entire philosophy? Hume answers this challenge by swiftly demolishing Descartes' Cogito proof and its idea of the self. Not only did Descartes fail to base his idea of the self as a thinking thing upon a sensory impression -- he could not have done so. For as Hume points out, the idea of a self which is permanent, identical, continuously the same, must be derived from an impression that is permanent, identical, continuously the same. But Hume adds, "There is no impression constant and invariable...." Hume appeals again to his theory of impressions: All impressions are separate, distinct, and transient. "Pain and pleasure, grief and joy, passions and sensations, succeed each other and never all exist at the same time. It cannot, therefore, be from any of these impressions, or from any other, that the idea of self is derived, and consequently there is no such idea...."

          Hume's Theory of the Self.   What then is Hume's own theory of the self? Doggedly applying his empiricist principle, he says:

When I enter most immediately into what I call myself, I always stumble upon some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself....

          But there are some philosophers who claim they do, says Hume sarcastically, "and who imagine that we are every moment intimately conscious of what we call our SELF." But setting them aside, Hume says, "the rest of mankind ... are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement." This is Hume's famous "bundle of perceptions" theory of the self.

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