My Notes on Kagan – as promised

* Meaningful description of the human condition: ‘Freedom to chose an act, but bound by his own nature – knowing that he will never achieve perfection, but determined to continue the search no matter what’

  • cannot be achieved without examination of the Western experience
  • at the root of the civ stand the Greeks

Modern World as ‘Our Universal Civilization’ shaped mainly by the West Western Science and Technology/Freedom

Reason and Objectivity essential to knowledge

Political Freedom that sustains it

Institutions and Ideas that provided for the improvement of life

Reason lacked independence from religion in non-Greek world


  • Standard form of ancient government has been monarchy (republics unknown outside West)
  • rulers were thought to be specially divine / govt and religion were intertwined, mutually supported
  • govt not subject to secular analysis
  • individual freedom not no importance to most civs

* first break w this came in Ancient Greece Polis –>  no kings, decisions made by themselves (by community)

  • participation in political life valued
  • little concern with life after death

SCIENCE/PHILOSOPHY –> scientific theories require accurate observation of the world and reasoning

Temple at Delphi: – Know Thyself – Nothing in Excess   < — YOU ARE MORTAL!

‘Our universal civilization, shaped mainly by the West’ – V.S. Naipal

  •  Most significant starting point of Western civ – which shapes the West and most of the world today
  • unprecedented freedom for its people
  • invented a body of scientific knowledge and achievement

Makes for health and material prosperity undreamed of in earlier times and unknown outside the West

Essential for Achievement:

  1. Commitment to reason and objectivity as essential to knowledge
  2. Commitment to political freedom that sustains it

Not inevitable – emerged from a unique history

Westerners who wish to preserve these things need to study its development

1] Greek Strand

Other Govt rested upon divine sanction

Polis – participation in political life valued/ruled by laws of the community, not by gods, or a single man

  • MONARCHY – not a Greek
  • No separate caste of priests
  • No real concern with life after death
  • Natural science and philosophy – free to investigate or ignore divinity
  • Increasingly relied upon REASON over mysticism – accurate observation of the world

“Most arrogant view of their relationship to divinity” – combined with a painful understanding of the limits of man

Combination of the greatness and limitation à tragic condition of the human tradition

To cope – urged humans to restrain their ambitions

DELPHI – the navel of the universe: ‘No Theyself’ ‘Nothing in Excess’ [you are mortal –exercise moderation]

‘As man is the best of animals when perfected, so he is the worse when he is separated from laws and justice’ Aristotle

2] Judeo-Christian Strand

Christianity an insurgent movement – independent of and hostile to the state / found nowhere else

Dependent upon one aspect of Greek culture

  • West of the Germanic tribes was weak and divided/conditions permitted many rulers [freedom allowed to grow]
  • Church never able to impose total domination over the state

Problem with Western Attitude

– Temptation to Dominance [hubris] /  – must remember: man is potent BUT fallible


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