This book is a breathtaking examination of the two greatest ideas in human history. The first is the idea that the human mind can grasp the universe. The second is the idea that the human mind can grasp itself. Acclaimed philosopher Linda Zagzebski shows how the first unleashed a cultural awakening that swept across the world in the first millennium BCE, giving birth to philosophy, mathematics, science, and virtually all the major world religions. It dominated until the Renaissance, when the discovery of subjectivity profoundly transformed the arts and sciences. This second great idea governed our perception of reality up until the dawn of the twenty-first century.
Zagzebski explores how the interplay of the two ideas led to conflicts that have left us ambivalent about the relationship between the mind and the universe, and have given rise to a host of moral and political rifts over the deepest questions human beings face. Should we organize civil society around the ideal of living in harmony with the world or that of individual autonomy? Zagzebski explains how the two greatest ideas continue to divide us today over issues such as abortion, the environment, free speech, and racial and gender identity.
This panoramic book reveals what is missing in our conception of ourselves and the world, and imagines a not-too-distant future when a third great idea, the idea that human minds can grasp each other, will help us gain an idea of the whole of reality.
Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski is George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emerita and the Kingfisher College Chair of the Philosophy of Religion and Ethics Emerita at the University of Oklahoma. Her many books include Virtues of the Mind, Exemplarist Moral Theory, and Epistemic Authority. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"A profoundly insightful and indeed magisterial new book. . . . [The Two Greatest Ideas] is a wild and informative ride through the centuries and up to what may intellectually come next in the human adventure. It was a marvel of an experience."—Tom V. Morris, Plato's Lemonade Stand: Stirring Change into Something Great
"Zagzebski offers a fascinating meta-level view of these two foundational ideas, taking readers on a journey that includes the many connections between cultural developments, not least the current politically polarized situation in the US. The book is well written and should be accessible to intelligent lay readers."—Choice
"A brilliant, panoramic and original contribution to the history of ideas, providing a new framework that sheds light on many of our current social and political tensions."—David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer
“This marvelously lucid book guides readers through a vast intellectual tradition, from Thales to string theory, uncovering nothing less than the history of the human mind. Zagzebski navigates this fascinating terrain with humane insight and a light touch. Ranging across art, philosophy, and science while digging deep into fundamental questions of metaphysics and morality, The Two Greatest Ideas is intellectual history at its best.”—Clare Carlisle, author of Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard
“Until the Renaissance, the dominant Western view was that a grasp of the world precedes a grasp of the self. Contemporary awareness of the socially constructed character of the self has undermined confidence in both self and the world. In a masterful narrative of breathtaking scope, Zagzebski traces the displacement of the first great idea by the second, and the lineaments of a third that might save us from the predicament in which we have landed ourselves. A tour de force.”—Jennifer A. Herdt, author of Putting on Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices
“Linda Zagzebski is one of our foremost philosophers of religion, and there is plenty of philosophy and religion in this remarkable book. Her discussions of the two greatest ideas are open-minded and gripping, spanning the centuries and encompassing topics ranging from the arts to the physical sciences. Read this book—you will not soon forget it.”—Robert Merrihew Adams, Clark Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Yale University
“This timely and engaging book is a significant contribution to the world of ideas. Zagzebski communicates a message that our culture and times need to hear.”—Hans Halvorson, author of How Logic Works: A User’s Guide
“Innovative and exciting. The Two Greatest Ideas is an important book.”—Michael Ruse, author of A Meaning to Life