Lives of the Mind: The Uses and Abuses of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse

Feast of the Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius
Lives of the Mind: The Uses and Abuses of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse by Roger Kimball

ADDRESSING intellectual hubris, critic Roger Kimball counters with a definition of intellectual humility: “Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for a change we sink to something lower” (Anthony Trollope). Kimball’s approach in Lives of the Mind best parallels figure drawing in art class. Sketching an array of philosophers, theologians, historians, novelists and almost-mystics, Kimball ponders his chosen figures “in terms of their fidelity to the truth and their quotient of what one might call spiritual prudence: their healthy contact with reality.” He likens intelligence to fire – a power neither good nor bad except in its application – and plays the intellectual pathologist convincingly. A student and connoisseur of linguistic drama, Kimball astutely recognizes the bewitching quality of ideologies and seeks to point out “the mistakes as well as the fine strokes” of the figures he draws. Detailing his essays with plenty of biographical anecdote, Kimball summons forth Plutarch and Hegel, Descartes, Kierkegaard, Santayana, Wodehouse, Tocqueville, and Trollope (among others) in an effort to reintroduce uneasiness as a necessary corrective to the spiritual aridity and blanket certainty of modern rationalism – “a part of the human mystery that we neglect at the cost of our diminishment.”

359 pp. paper $16.95

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