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The Quest for God and the Good

The Quest for God and the Good: World Philosophy as a Living Experience

Diana Lobel
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Quest for God and the Good
    Book Description:

    Diana Lobel takes readers on a journey across Eastern and Western philosophical and religious traditions to discover a beauty and purpose at the heart of reality that makes life worth living. Guided by the ideas of ancient thinkers and the insight of the philosophical historian Pierre Hadot, The Quest for God and the Good treats philosophy not as an abstract, theoretical discipline, but as a living experience.

    For centuries, human beings have struggled to know why we are here, whether a higher being or dimension exists, and whether our existence is fundamentally good. Above all, we want to know whether the search for God and the good will bring happiness. Following in the path of the ancient philosophers, Lobel directly connects conceptions of God or an Absolute with notions of the good, illuminating diverse classical texts and thinkers. She explores the Bible and the work of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Maimonides, al-Farabi, and al-Ghazali. She reads the Tao Te Ching, I Ching, Bhagavad Gita, and Upanishads, as well as the texts of Theravada, Mahayana, and Zen Buddhism, and traces the repercussions of these works in the modern thought of Alfred North Whitehead, Iris Murdoch, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor.

    While each of these texts and thinkers sets forth a distinct and unique vision, all maintain that human beings find fulfillment in their contact with beauty and purpose. Rather than arriving at one universal definition of God or the good, Lobel demonstrates the aesthetic value of multiple visions presented by many thinkers across cultures. The Quest for God and the Good sets forth a path of investigation and discovery culminating in intellectual and spiritual communion.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52701-9
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Among the enduring works of twentieth-century literature is Victor Frankl’s Man ’s Search for Meaning. A psychoanalyst and concentration camp survivor, Frankl testifies that human beings can survive tremendous suffering if they understand it to have some purpose. Any of us can triumph over incomprehensible pain if we can reframe our challenges to discover their hidden meaning and value.

    Drawing upon this insight, Frankl developed the psychological discipline of logotherapy (from the Greek logos, “meaning,” and therapeia, “healing, care, or attention”). He posits that the fundamental human drive is not the human search for pleasure or power, but the search...

    (pp. 8-21)

    We are all familiar with the opening lines of the Bible, a foundational text for Western religious and philosophical reflection. But how many of us have considered why the Bible opens as it does, with an account of the creation of the world? The opening refrain is well known, although I will suggest a somewhat unconventional translation:

    In the beginning of God’s creating Heaven and Earth, the earth had been without form and void. Darkness was upon the face of the deep, and a spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. God said, Let there be...

  6. 2 A Divine Craftsman Shapes All for the Good: PLATO’S REALM OF THE FORMS
    (pp. 22-55)

    Up to this point we have explored the connection between God and the good in the Hebrew Bible. We have seen that the Bible asks not about the origin of the cosmos as a whole, but about the origin of the ordered world in which we live. We find a fascinating parallel in Plato’s dialogue the Timaeus, one of the few Platonic dialogues actually read by philosophers in the Middle Ages—Jewish, Christian, and Islamic. Moreover, Plato draws an explicit connection between God and the good.¹ Plato’s language and world view are not as familiar to the average Western reader...

  7. 3 Change and the Good: CHINESE PERSPECTIVES
    (pp. 56-74)

    Up to this point, we have discussed the tradition of Plato and that of the Hebrew Bible and its rabbinic interpreters. We have seen that the quest for God and the good expresses a yearning to find order, comfort, and safety in our world, as well as the sense that ordering and balancing our conflicting impulses is the key to a fulfilling life.

    When we turn to Chinese culture, we find a tradition in which it is not clear whether we can actually speak of a creation or even a shaping, as in Plato and the Bible. We find here...

  8. 4 The Harmony of Reason and Revelation: AUGUSTINE AND MAIMONIDES ON GOOD AND EVIL
    (pp. 75-86)

    Whitehead, then, sees nature as a realm in which values are realized. God sees potentials; the universe is built upon an underlying energy of creativity, which God can help make actual by inspiring us in our creative choices. But without us—the community of actually existing beings—there is no good. We are the medium by which good is realized. In the book of Genesis, we have seen, God creates and declares all of creation good. How then do we make sense of the presence of evil?¹ Western thought has struggled to make sense of the reality of good and...

  9. 5 You Are the Absolute: PHILOSOPHIES OF INDIA
    (pp. 87-97)

    We have noted that like Greek philosophy, Indian thought affirms a realm of eternal self-subsistent Being. When we turn to the worldview of two formative repositories of Indian religious thought—the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gītā—we thus find a surprising coincidence of themes we have heretofore explored.

    A brief introduction to Indian thought will orient us. The Indian religious tradition, called Hinduism by moderns, arose out of a complex interaction of two civilizations: the civilization of the Indus Valley in northwest India and Indo-European Vedic culture. Excavations in the Indus Valley have uncovered evidence that an urban civilization thrived...

  10. 6 Compassion, Wisdom, Awakening: THE WAY OF BUDDHISM
    (pp. 98-120)

    Buddhism grew up against the background of the culture of Hinduism. In the sixth century there was much discontent with the old Brahmanical system. Economic prosperity produced wealthy priestly and warrior classes; camps of teachers known as śramanas were set up along the Ganges River, and these were the scene of lively debates on philosophical and religious questions. One prominent group, the Jains, taught that every living being contains a jīva, a soul or life principle, that undergoes a round of birth and death. Jainism emphasized stringent austerities such as fasting, pulling out one’s hair, vegetarianism, and complete nonviolence, so...

  11. 7 The Good Is That to Which All Things Aim: ARISTOTLE ON GOD AND THE GOOD
    (pp. 121-150)

    We have said that the Upanishads resemble in certain respects the philosophy of Plato, while the Bhagavad Gītā resembles that of Aristotle, who, like the Gītā, lays out a practical road of moral virtue. Thus students of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics usually walk away aware of the doctrine of the mean, the notion that the path to happiness is one of following the middle way between extremes. However, this practical aspect of Aristotle’s Ethics, while it certainly takes up the bulk of his discussion, is only one dimension of Aristotle’s thought. In fact, there is a deep divide in Aristotle between...

  12. 8 The Philosopher as Teacher: AL-FĀRĀBĪ ON CONTEMPLATION AND ACTION
    (pp. 151-158)

    Al-fārābī, a ninth-century Islamic philosopher, develops the political dimension of Aristotle’s thought. To understand the trajectory from Aristotle to al-Fārābī, we should note the social context of Aristotle’s work. Aristotle’s time saw the emergence of the new discipline of philosophy, and Aristotle was asking a compelling social-political question: Which is the best life—a life cut off from the political community, simply engaging in philosophy, or one committed to political participation? In the Politics, he dismisses the notion of being completely cut off from the community, since the book is about choosing the best political order, and the question of...

    (pp. 159-167)

    Maimonides, like his predecessors Aristotle and al-Fārābī, struggles to reconcile the contemplative and the active ways of life. Maimonides accepts Aristotle’s assertion that the essence of a human being is intellect; through it a human being is human.¹ He asserts that the purpose of the Torah’s system of religious law is to bring about human perfection, which he defines in various ways: he speaks of the welfare of the soul and the welfare of the body, as well as the perfection of both the soul and the body.²

    Lawrence Kaplan explains well what Maimonides means by these terms. “Welfare of...

  14. 10 The Dance of Human Expression: AL-GHAZĀLĪ AND MAIMONIDES
    (pp. 168-174)

    Abū hāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) was a Muslim religious judge and teacher who at the height of his theological career was beset by a crisis that caused him to leave his position and retire into contemplation.¹ His autobiography Deliverer from Error in fact narrates several crises. In the account he narrates, as a young man, Ghazālī experiences a skeptical crisis when he realizes that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all brought up to accept religious doctrines with unquestioning reliance (taqlīd). How then can he know that the Islamic doctrines he was taught not to question are objectively true? If he...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-188)

    What have we discovered in the course of our study? The book began by examining the relationship between God and good in the creation accounts of the Bible and Plato. We discerned a strong connection between God and goodness in both the Bible and Plato. In the Bible God creates and sees that all is good. Creation is not from nothing but from a preexisting chaotic state. Similarly, Plato’s Demiurge takes a preexistent chaotic mix of earth, air, fire, and water and shapes them into an intelligible order, on the model of the Forms. Creation is the shaping of chaos...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 189-256)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-278)
  18. Index
    (pp. 279-292)