Reflecting on Philosophers' Autobiographies
Imagine you could sit down and talk personally with the greatest philosophers of all time. Imagine having coffee with Augustine or Rousseau or Kierkegaard. Ever had a fantasy about chatting with Sartre and de Beauvoir in a Paris cafe? Well, read the chapters in Ronald Manheimer’s book and you will have the ‘feel’ of being in the presence of these and other thinkers. This is a one-of-kind book in which masterful scholarship is concealed behind a delightfully readable text. It can be recommended both to those with an academic grasp of philosophy and those coming to the great philosophers for the first time. The book is irresistible and not to be missed. — Harry R. Moody , Co-author, The Five Stages of the Soul
The field of philosophy is a formidable one, even for the well-educated. Its self-referential technical vocabulary and abstract discussions may seem remote from the issues and experiences of everyday life. Yet, in our own ways, each of us is a seeker of wisdom. We may wonder how our life experiences influence our ideas and values, and vice-versa. Can we find our place among the seminal figures of the great philosophical traditions, both east and west? Mirrors of the Mind aims to help bridge this gap.
Readers drawn to philosophy often find the standard histories and introductions distant from their personal lives. Many are more curious about how historically influential thinkers actually lived. Could there be a connection between the general truths that a school of philosophy asserts about the universally human and the particular flesh-and-blood truths of the philosopher’s life?
Delving into the newly identified genre of the philosophical autobiography, Dr. Ronald Manheimer’s Mirrors of the Mind takes both the neophyte and the initiated on a unique literary and philosophical journey through the works of important thinkers. This guided tour of the life of the mind covers self-reflective narratives ranging from fourth century Augustine’s Confessions to 20th century Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life.
Mirrors of the Mind looks into the private lives, made public in narratives by important thinkers who have changed the world or, at least, how we perceive it. The focus is not highbrow gossip or sordid revelations about a philosopher’s life, but rather a search for the creative embodiment of thinking and being – the architecture of the soul.
These first-person narratives serve as the loci in which philosophers’ lives and the ideas that have animated them are joined or paralleled. The philosophical autobiography is a literary space in which the thinker turns his or her analytical mind and the tools of the trade on his or her remembered past.
At its best, the philosophical autobiography helps us to see great minds as real people who wonder and suffer, analyze and romanticize, communicate both bliss and darkest despair. The accounts they give of their lives show that many of their most famous ideas occurred in moments of sudden illumination that would take them a lifetime to explicate. These works demonstrate that analytical judgment may go hand in hand with acts of imagination; that calm, cool, reason may intersect with an impulsive leap of faith.
Through such authors, the reader shares exemplary instances of a thinker’s emerging sense of purpose, engagement with the critical issues of his or her time, perceived threads of continuity through a life of change, and the search for integration of ideas and experiences. Getting to know philosophers through their life stories helps to dispel the impression that great thinkers lived only in their heads.
For readers who wish to explore the subject further, each chapter ends with suggested reflexive writing exercises and philosophical fieldwork.
Mirrors of the Mind will teach. Students are drawn to philosophy because in order to live the life worth living – the examined life – the ideas of the great thinkers connect with their own. To explore the lives of these thinkers who have helped construct our intellectual world, using narrative, metaphor, whimsy and rigorous philosophical argument is a delightful way to invite students into the search for wisdom. Manheimer has crafted an original work, the result of decades of his own philosophical autobiography. — Katharine Meacham, professor of philosophy and religious studies
Mirrors of the Mind is an excellent introduction to philosophical autobiography and, in certain ways, to philosophy in general. Manheimer is like one of those masterful guides, who knows all the best spots – the twin gardens of Augustine, Rousseau’s country lane, and many more besides. First-time visitors to philosophy may find themselves wanting to stay, while locals will surely be surprised by the resources right under their noses. — David Hart, philosophy professor
Ronald J Manheimer
Ronald J. Manheimer holds a PhD from the History of Consciousness interdisciplinary graduate program of the University of California at Santa Cruz, where his dissertation on the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard led to publication by the University of California Press of his book, Kierkegaard as Educator (1977). In 2003, an award-winning Korean translation of this book appeared with a new introduction by the author.
Manheimer has taught at UC Santa Cruz, The Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington), Wayne State University (Detroit), the Smithsonian, and the University of North Carolina at Asheville, where until his retirement in 2009 he held a joint appointment as Research Associate Professor of Philosophy and executive director of the NC Center for Creative Retirement.
In his A Map to the End of Time: Wayfarings with Friends and Philosophers (1999), Manheimer demonstrates the fruitfulness of combining dual interests in philosophy and aging studies. This work has been translated into Chinese and Korean.
Thought-Inspired Life or Life-Inspired Thought?
Listen here to the NPR interview with Ron Manheimer about his new book. Frank Stasio, host of WUNC’s The State of Things, discusses with him how the lives of nine great philosophers informed their theories.
‘Teachers and self-educators now have at hand
a congenial portal to challenging big thinkers’
Rob Neufeld's review of Mirrors of the Mind appeared in Asheville Citizen-Times shortly before Ron's book launch at the University of North Carolina, Asheville.
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