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Reality ()

Reality is hardly too grandiose a title for a book as ambitious as Mr. Kingsley's, which seeks to rescue Parmenides and Empedocles from their historical roles as the fathers of Rationality in the West, while restoring them to their rightful places as mystics who revealed paths to genuine enlightment. The author succeeds amply in the first task, but fails to convince on the second. Ultimately, the first half of the text lies squarely in the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, which has always been hostile to the claims of Reason. Mr. Kingsley shows that the claims for the proofs of Reason supposedly manufactured by the ancient Greeks are just as shaky as the latter ones of Descartes. Mr. Kingsley, in this regard, resembles David Hume, but taking on an earlier bout of Rationalist triumphalism. He leads the reader carefully to the following conclusion:

Nowadays we like to think of rationality as completely distinct from mysticism, of science as something utterly separate from the knowledge of another reality. But that's just an optical illusion.

Really there can only be one kind of knowledge. And rationality is simply mysticism misunderstood.

So far so good, but beyond here he runs in trouble because the mysticism he thinks he rightly understands is rather ugly.

The fatal flaw in the claim of Reason is, of course, that while all that we can "know" is what we perceive, there is really no basis for trusting our impressions. Indeed, there is, paradoxically, no rational or logical basis for the belief that we exist. This is the mystery at the core of human existence. Everything we believe--including the belief in Reason--is rooted in some sense in mysticism.

Once we accept this fundamental limitation on our ability to comprehend Reality, we must reckon with the fact that we are responsible for what we choose to believe. Folks can certainly cling to Reason, but they must be held accountable for the set of beliefs that follow from that choice. In the modern world, that mostly involves the devaluing of human life and the elimination of considerations of Judeo-Christian morality, with all the horror that has entailed, from the French Revolution, to the Russian and Nazi Revolutions, to Roe v. Wade and so on and so forth.

What Mr. Kingsley proposes in place of Reason is the teaching of "the Muse" that informed the poetry of Parmenides, Empedocles and company. He boils this down to the notion that "every single thing that you are able to perceive now exists for your sake and yours alone." While there is obvious comfort to be found in the idea that you are all that matters in the universe, we need hardly rehearse just how monstrous such a worldview is in practice. It would essentially replace the Golden Rule with the Me Rule: do unto others as best serves yourself.

Now it is the case that, having disposed of the validity of Reason and having accepted that anything we choose to believe must be accepted as groundless, we can not with any authority say that this philosophy is wrong in the abstract. Rather, what we can say is that it is so aesthetically deranged that we reject it.
,br> As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, after the latter wrote to ask his thoughts on the difficulty in reconciling mind and body:
I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence. I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Here in the West, or at least the Anglospheric portion of same, we have made the aesthetic decision that it is Judeo-Christianity, and neighbor love (rather than self-love), that makes life worth living. The solace we find is in the other, not wholly nor solely in ourself. Thus Hume:
Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

The Reality that Mr. Kingsley finds is certainly not in our hearts, more in the viscera, and unworthy of us.


Grade: (C)


See also:

Peter Kingsley Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Peter Kingsley (scholar)
    -INTERVIEW ARCHIVES: interviews with Peter Kingsley (
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Reality by Peter Kingsley
    -ESSAY: Becoming Conscious Through Our Senses (Peter Kingsley, 7/04/09, Technology of the Heart)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Peter Kingsley: Remembering What We Have Forgotten (Richard Whittaker, May 21, 2011, Works & Conversations)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Peter Kingsley (Global Oneness Project)
    -REVIEW: of Peter Kingsley, Reality (Gregory Shaw, Religious Studies, Stonehill College, Bryn Mawr Classical Review)
    -REVIEW: of Reality, by Peter Kingsley (Dave Lee, Chaotopia)
    -REVIEW: of Reality (Illuminate Me)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Only a God Can Save Us?: Peter Kingsley and the dangerous dream of a spiritual elite. (Michael Steinberg, Killing the Buddha)

Book-related and General Links: