The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

Author(s): Arthur Herman


A magisterial account of how the two greatest thinkers of the ancient world, Plato and Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western culture--and how their rivalry shaped the essential features of our culture down to the present day
Plato came from a wealthy, connected Athenian family and lived a comfortable upper-class lifestyle until he met an odd little man named Socrates, who showed him a new world of ideas and ideals. Socrates taught Plato that a man must use reason to attain wisdom, and that the life of a lover of wisdom, a philosopher, was the pinnacle of achievement. Plato dedicated himself to living that ideal and went on to create a school, his famed Academy, to teach others the path to enlightenment through contemplation.
However, the same Academy that spread Plato's teachings also fostered his greatest rival. Born to a family of Greek physicians, Aristotle had learned early on the value of observation and hands-on experience. Rather than rely on pure contemplation, he insisted that the truest path to knowledge is through empirical discovery and exploration of the world around us. Aristotle, Plato's most brilliant pupil, thus settled on a philosophy very different from his instructor's and launched a rivalry with profound effects on Western culture.
The two men disagreed on the fundamental purpose of the philosophy. For Plato, the image of the cave summed up man's destined path, emerging from the darkness of material existence to the light of a higher and more spiritual truth. Aristotle thought otherwise. Instead of rising above mundane reality, he insisted, the philosopher's job is to explain how the real world works, and how we can find our place in it. Aristotle set up a school in Athens to rival Plato's Academy: the Lyceum. The competition that ensued between the two schools, and between Plato and Aristotle, set the world on an intellectual adventure that lasted through the Middle Ages and Renaissance and that still continues today.
From Martin Luther (who named Aristotle the third great enemy of true religion, after the devil and the Pope) to Karl Marx (whose utopian views rival Plato's), heroes and villains of history have been inspired and incensed by these two master philosophers--but never outside their influence.
Accessible, riveting, and eloquently written, "The Cave and the Light" provides a stunning new perspective on the Western world, certain to open eyes and stir debate.
Praise for Arthur Herman's "Gandhi & Churchill, "finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
"Herman has researched "Gandhi & Churchill" meticulously and written it fluently.""--The Wall Street Journal"
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"You finish the book knowing that you can evaluate the world today, particularly modern India, with more knowledge and insight.""--USA Today"
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"Scrupulous, compelling, and unfailingly instructive . . . a detailed and richly filigreed account that introduces the Anglo-American reader to many facts and vivid if little-known personalities, both English and Indian."--"Commentary"
"An ambitious, reasoned joint biography . . . Herman's measured portrait of each man conveys his entire worldview, shaped by class, history and education. . . . A well-wrought historical narrative that adds significantly to our understanding of both figures.""--Kirkus Reviews"
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"Highly recommended . . . The complex task of drawing comparison and contrast between two of the most chronicled lives of the twentieth century is easily and compellingly handled."--"Library Journal "(starred review)


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Arthur Herman is the bestselling author of "Freedom's Forge, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, The Idea of Decline in Western History, To Rule the Waves, " and "Gandhi & Churchill, "which was a 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Herman has been a professor of history at Georgetown University, The Catholic University of America, George Mason University, and Sewanee: The University of the South.

General Fields

  • : 9780553807301
  • : Random House USA Inc
  • : Bantam Dell Publishing Group, Div of Random House, Inc
  • : November 2013
  • : 235mm X 156mm
  • : United States
  • : November 2013
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Arthur Herman
  • : Hardback
  • : Nov-13
  • : 909.09821
  • : 656
  • : 46 Illustrations Throughout