The Vision of the Soul
Ours is an age full of desires but impoverished in its understanding of where those desires lead—an age that claims mastery over the world but also claims to find the world as a whole absurd or unintelligible. In The Vision of the Soul, James Matthew Wilson seeks to conserve the great insights of the western tradition by giving us a new account of them responsive to modern discontents. The western— or Christian Platonist—tradition, he argues, tells us that man is an intellectual animal, born to pursue the good, to know the true, and to contemplate all things in beauty. Wilson begins by reconceiving the intellectual conservatism born of Edmund Burke’s jeremiad against the French Revolution as an effort to preserve the West’s vision of man and the cosmos as ordered by and to beauty. After defining the achievement of that vision and its tradition, Wilson offers an extended study of the nature of beauty and the role of the fine arts in shaping a culture but above all in opening the human intellect to the perception of the form of reality. Through close studies of Theodor W. Adorno and Jacques Maritain, he recovers the classical vision of beauty as a revelation of truth and being. Finally, he revisits the ancient distinction between reason and story-telling, between mythos and logos, in order to rejoin the two.
Story-telling is foundational to the forms of the fine arts, but it is no less foundational to human reason. Human life in turn constitutes a specific kind of form—a story form. The ancient conception of human life as a pilgrimage to beauty itself is one that we can fully embrace only if we see the essential correlation between reason and story and the essential convertibility of truth, goodness and beauty in beauty. By turns a study in fundamental ontology, aesthetics, and political philosophy, Wilson’s book invites its readers to a renewal of the West’s intellectual tradition.
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