"Total Perspective"

MANSIONS OF PHILOSOPHY. By Will Durant. (Simon & Schuster.)

IN spite of the tremendous popularity of “The Story of Philosophy” or — viewing the matter of another vantage point — because of that popularity which was largely a result of clever publicity working upon the crowd’s flair for old culture, it is not uncommon to hear disparaging comments as Will Durant as a thinker. He is likely to be classed among the popularizers, where indeed would seem to belong, were it not for the fact that no such rat-tling can explain the production of a work with the breadth and depth and sanity of “The Mansions of Philosophy,” just published. Here is something that could not possibly grow out of a cheap mind mo-tivated by a lust for profits and noisy acclaim:

In “The Story of Philosophy,” Durant was concerned with the personalities and systems of the honor philosophers. In the present time he has nothing to do with particular theories and their crea-ors He is concerned wholly with these practical living problems of the modern world which must have puzzled all intelligent people. “Human and conduct and belief,” says Durant, “are now undergoing transformations profounder and have disturbing than any since the appearance of wealth and philoso-phy yet an end to the traditional religion of the Greeks. It is the urge of Socrates again: our moral life is threatened, and our intellectual life is quickened and en-gaged by the disintegration of ancient customs and beliefs. Everything is new and experimental in our ideas and our actions: nothing is established or certain any more. The rate, complexity, and variety of change in our time are without precedent even in Perciclean days: forms about us are altered from the tools that complicate our toil. To the wheels that whirl us rest-lessly about the earth, to the in-ovations in our sexual relation-ships and the hard disillusionment of our souls. The passage from agriculture to industry, from the village to the town, and from the town to the city, has elevated since, debased art, liberated thought ended monarchy and aristocracy, rebated democracy and socialism, emancipated women, disputed marriage, broken down the moral code, destroyed ascetic damage with luxuries, replaced Puritans with Epicureanism, exalted excitement above content, made are less frequent and more ter-rable taken from us many of our most cherished religious beliefs, and given us in exchange a me-chanical and fatalistic philosophy of life. All things flow and we are at a loss to find some mooring and ability in the flux.

The final sentence in the fore-mentioned quotation suggests the pur-pose the book. In this apparent act this preposterous confusion of values are there in reality and fundamental principles, that have stood the test of human experience, by which we may be guided? Durant’s answer is yes and it is practically the only answer in the whole discussion that is of the flat yes or no variety. In discussing each of many vital problems that can taunt the intelligent in our day undertakes no ex cathedra utterance of dogmatic rules for attitude and conduct, but rather he guides the reader into ways of understanding what is happening why it is happening and how the habit of viewing things in perspective may aid in saner living. He defines philosophy as “total perspective” and in page after illuminating page he proves that with him philosophy is no mere intellectual exercise, but an orderly means of getting at the livable relative truth for practical uses.

A glance at the table of contents might act a cynic sneering for it seems a large order indeed that Durant has undertaken — nothing less than an inquiry into the whole modern mood with its many manifestations in many realms of human thought and activity.

In the first two parts a solid basis of understanding is laid by a lucid discussion of definitions. Part three deals with materialistic and idealistic theories, ending with a discussion of the question. “Is Man a Machine?” Part four takes up problems of morality, and this is followed by a discussion of mutations in esthetic theory, always with reference to the prevailing mood of our day.

Other questions discussed with the same sanity are: “Is Progress a Delusion?” “Is Democracy a Failure?” “Is Socialism Dead?” “Is Life Worth Living” etc.

There is no artificial Bartonian sunshine in the seven hundred pages of the volume: neither is there dense gloom. One gather that Durant, like so many of the better thinkers of the world, is inclined to believe that our era may come to be known in some quieter time as the Age of the Great Folly. Many of his pages, if read alone, would leave a sense of hopelessness. But it was not by way of indulging in a striking phrase that Durant defined philosophy as “total perspective.”