The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (review)

The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (review) The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought. By Harold C oward.Albany:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress,2008.Pp.219.Paper$24.95, £17.75. ReviewedbyWarren Todd LancasterUniversity HaroldCowardofcourseneedsnointroduction,andthosefamiliarwithhisearlier works,suchasYoga and Psychology(2002),willnoticeareturntothequestionof perfectibility in his new book, The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought.CowardisequallyathomeinIndianandWesternthought,andit shouldbenotedthatthe"Eastern"inthetitlebasicallymeansIndian(p.1). TheIntroductiontohisnewworkdoesnothavethesameclarityasthatfoundin Yoga and Psychology.CowardopenswithT.S.Eliot's"stillpoint,"whichleadsonto alessthanhelpfullake-versus-streamanalogy,whichisapparentlysupposedtoclarifythedifferencebetween"Hindu"and"Buddhist"viewsonperfectibility(p.2).The implicationhereisthatthereisasingleHinduperspectiveonconsciousnessaswell asasingleBuddhistperspective.Afterreadingtherestofthebook,itwillbecome quite apparent that Coward himself would not take such a claim seriously. Also, thosereadersunfamiliarwiththeYogcra,butmorefamiliarwithamathameditation,orntideva'sidealoftranquility,orwiththeZennotionof"mirror-mind,"or even the Dzogchen notion of spaciousness, may be forgiven in thinking Buddhist perfectibilitytobemoreanalogoustoalake.Itwouldappearatthispointinthebook that,inaimingforamoregeneralaudience,Cowardhascompromisedsomewhat throughover-generalization.Thankfully,therestofthebookgoesagainstthissimplisticview,offeringusasurprisinglybroadrangeofIndianconceptsandpaths. OnceweescapetheIntroduction,then,wefindCowardinfullflow.Part1offers asummaryofWesternthought,beginningwithphilosophy.First,byintroducingPassmore'ssummaryofclassicalviewsonperfectibility,Cowardofferstheusefuldistinctionbetween"technicalperfection"andtheperfectibilityofthehumanper se.The latteriseitherlinkedwithatelosofhappiness,ormoralpurity,orwithanultimate visionofGod.Second,hehighlightstheEuropeanshifttowardsocialprogress,culture,andeducationasthemeanstoperfectibility.Corruptionisseeninsocialand politicalterms,ratherthanindividualandreligiousterms(i.e.,sin).Itislegislation thatclearstheroad,andfreedomwhichleadstoindividualadvancement.Third,the Europeandebatethenshiftstothequestionofcommerceandtherelativepositioning oftheclasses.Humanity,aswellasstateandsociety,arestrugglingtoreachever higherforms.Thisushersinthefourthstage,thatofscientificprogressandthepossibilitythatgeneticmanipulationmightbringtheactualizationofthelongsoughtafterutopiansociety. After this gallop through the history of Western Philosophy, Coward leads us throughthehistoryofWesternPsychology.Emphasisisfirstplacedonthe"tabula rasa"viewoftheperson,who,subjectedtoenvironmentalconditioning,eithersucceedsorfails.NextwefindFreud'snotionsofgratification,scarcity,andrepression, which contribute not to perfectibility but to civilization. It is Freud's student, Carl Jung,whoreinstatesreligion,givingitanarchetypalrole.Ofcourse,Junghimselfwas PhilosophyEast&WestVolume61,Number3July2011568­572 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress influencedbytheEast,andisthusapivotalplayerintheEast/Westdialogue.Never theless,asCowardhadalreadypointedoutinYoga and Psychology,evenJungwas neverconvincedthathumanswereperfectible.WilliamJamesseemsmoreoptimistic in that saintliness can be known in certain moments of consciousness. Similarly, Maslowpositedthepotentialforpeakexperiences,whererealitywasseentobeasit oughttobe.InthelikesofJung,Allport,andMaslow,Cowardrecognizesthenotion that"perfectingoneselfinvolvesendlessprogresstowardaconstantlymovinghorizon" (p. 26), a concept he believes is being challenged by the Eastern-influenced transpersonal psychologies of Washburn, Tart, and Ornstein. Though Coward's methodappearschronological,onefeelsthattherealintentistoshowaprogression inWesternPsychologyasittendstoassimilatetheEastern. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 cover the notion of perfectibility with regard to Jewish, Christian,andIslamicthought,respectively.InJudaism,fiveroadstoperfectibilityare listed:"ceremonialholiness"(forthepriests),"ethicalholiness"or"righteousness" (fortheprophets),"observanceofthecommandments"and"studyoftheTorah"(for therabbis),"knowledgeormysticvisionofGod"(forthephilosophers),and"restorationofharmony"(fortheKabbalists).Cowardlimitshimselftodescription,exceptto saythatperhapstheKabbalistsweretheonlyJewishgroupnottosee"humannature aslimitedbyhumansinfulnessandfrailty"(p.53). CowardthenadoptsfivephasesinhisexaminationofChristianity.First,the"Biblical"perspectiveisclaimedtobeonewhereJesus'viewofhumannatureis"thatof theHebrewBible"(p.57).CowardseemstowanttoforcehomethepointthatJesus nevertookadualisticviewofhumannature(p.56)andthat,unliketheGreeknotion ofa"disembodiedsoul,"Jesus'viewassumeda"bodilyresurrection"(p.57).Again, inPaul,Cowardwishesustonotethatwordslike"flesh"and"body"areusedina "poeticsense"(p.57)andhavethesamemeaningas"desire"(pp.57­58).Wherethe Greekword"Teleios"isusedinJesus'calltoperfection,Biblicalscholarspreferto render this as "mature," seeing perfection in "qualitative rather than quantitative terms"(p.59).Itisanongoingprocessthat"engageshumansasaresultofGod's initiative"(p.60). ThesecondphasebelongstoAugustine,who,asthe"firstChristiantheologianto http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophy East and West University of Hawai'I Press

The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (review)

Philosophy East and West, Volume 61 (3) – Jul 23, 2011

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Abstract

The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought. By Harold C oward.Albany:StateUniversityofNewYorkPress,2008.Pp.219.Paper$24.95, £17.75. ReviewedbyWarren Todd LancasterUniversity HaroldCowardofcourseneedsnointroduction,andthosefamiliarwithhisearlier works,suchasYoga and Psychology(2002),willnoticeareturntothequestionof perfectibility in his new book, The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought.CowardisequallyathomeinIndianandWesternthought,andit shouldbenotedthatthe"Eastern"inthetitlebasicallymeansIndian(p.1). TheIntroductiontohisnewworkdoesnothavethesameclarityasthatfoundin Yoga and Psychology.CowardopenswithT.S.Eliot's"stillpoint,"whichleadsonto alessthanhelpfullake-versus-streamanalogy,whichisapparentlysupposedtoclarifythedifferencebetween"Hindu"and"Buddhist"viewsonperfectibility(p.2).The implicationhereisthatthereisasingleHinduperspectiveonconsciousnessaswell asasingleBuddhistperspective.Afterreadingtherestofthebook,itwillbecome quite apparent that Coward himself would not take such a claim seriously. Also, thosereadersunfamiliarwiththeYogcra,butmorefamiliarwithamathameditation,orntideva'sidealoftranquility,orwiththeZennotionof"mirror-mind,"or even the Dzogchen notion of spaciousness, may be forgiven in thinking Buddhist perfectibilitytobemoreanalogoustoalake.Itwouldappearatthispointinthebook that,inaimingforamoregeneralaudience,Cowardhascompromisedsomewhat throughover-generalization.Thankfully,therestofthebookgoesagainstthissimplisticview,offeringusasurprisinglybroadrangeofIndianconceptsandpaths. OnceweescapetheIntroduction,then,wefindCowardinfullflow.Part1offers asummaryofWesternthought,beginningwithphilosophy.First,byintroducingPassmore'ssummaryofclassicalviewsonperfectibility,Cowardofferstheusefuldistinctionbetween"technicalperfection"andtheperfectibilityofthehumanper se.The latteriseitherlinkedwithatelosofhappiness,ormoralpurity,orwithanultimate visionofGod.Second,hehighlightstheEuropeanshifttowardsocialprogress,culture,andeducationasthemeanstoperfectibility.Corruptionisseeninsocialand politicalterms,ratherthanindividualandreligiousterms(i.e.,sin).Itislegislation thatclearstheroad,andfreedomwhichleadstoindividualadvancement.Third,the Europeandebatethenshiftstothequestionofcommerceandtherelativepositioning oftheclasses.Humanity,aswellasstateandsociety,arestrugglingtoreachever higherforms.Thisushersinthefourthstage,thatofscientificprogressandthepossibilitythatgeneticmanipulationmightbringtheactualizationofthelongsoughtafterutopiansociety. After this gallop through the history of Western Philosophy, Coward leads us throughthehistoryofWesternPsychology.Emphasisisfirstplacedonthe"tabula rasa"viewoftheperson,who,subjectedtoenvironmentalconditioning,eithersucceedsorfails.NextwefindFreud'snotionsofgratification,scarcity,andrepression, which contribute not to perfectibility but to civilization. It is Freud's student, Carl Jung,whoreinstatesreligion,givingitanarchetypalrole.Ofcourse,Junghimselfwas PhilosophyEast&WestVolume61,Number3July2011568­572 ©2011byUniversityofHawai`iPress influencedbytheEast,andisthusapivotalplayerintheEast/Westdialogue.Never theless,asCowardhadalreadypointedoutinYoga and Psychology,evenJungwas neverconvincedthathumanswereperfectible.WilliamJamesseemsmoreoptimistic in that saintliness can be known in certain moments of consciousness. Similarly, Maslowpositedthepotentialforpeakexperiences,whererealitywasseentobeasit oughttobe.InthelikesofJung,Allport,andMaslow,Cowardrecognizesthenotion that"perfectingoneselfinvolvesendlessprogresstowardaconstantlymovinghorizon" (p. 26), a concept he believes is being challenged by the Eastern-influenced transpersonal psychologies of Washburn, Tart, and Ornstein. Though Coward's methodappearschronological,onefeelsthattherealintentistoshowaprogression inWesternPsychologyasittendstoassimilatetheEastern. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 cover the notion of perfectibility with regard to Jewish, Christian,andIslamicthought,respectively.InJudaism,fiveroadstoperfectibilityare listed:"ceremonialholiness"(forthepriests),"ethicalholiness"or"righteousness" (fortheprophets),"observanceofthecommandments"and"studyoftheTorah"(for therabbis),"knowledgeormysticvisionofGod"(forthephilosophers),and"restorationofharmony"(fortheKabbalists).Cowardlimitshimselftodescription,exceptto saythatperhapstheKabbalistsweretheonlyJewishgroupnottosee"humannature aslimitedbyhumansinfulnessandfrailty"(p.53). CowardthenadoptsfivephasesinhisexaminationofChristianity.First,the"Biblical"perspectiveisclaimedtobeonewhereJesus'viewofhumannatureis"thatof theHebrewBible"(p.57).CowardseemstowanttoforcehomethepointthatJesus nevertookadualisticviewofhumannature(p.56)andthat,unliketheGreeknotion ofa"disembodiedsoul,"Jesus'viewassumeda"bodilyresurrection"(p.57).Again, inPaul,Cowardwishesustonotethatwordslike"flesh"and"body"areusedina "poeticsense"(p.57)andhavethesamemeaningas"desire"(pp.57­58).Wherethe Greekword"Teleios"isusedinJesus'calltoperfection,Biblicalscholarspreferto render this as "mature," seeing perfection in "qualitative rather than quantitative terms"(p.59).Itisanongoingprocessthat"engageshumansasaresultofGod's initiative"(p.60). ThesecondphasebelongstoAugustine,who,asthe"firstChristiantheologianto

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Published: Jul 23, 2011

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