The aim of this book is to take a fresh look at the possibilities
of ethical intuitionism (1). The author begins with a sense of
dissatisfaction with present day morality, and with the belief that philosophy
seems to have abandoned wisdom. His
book is an attempt to rescue ethical intuitionism, and to describe how it
connects with or reflects the perennial, but perpetually shifting, concept of
wisdom. Curnow does this by discussing
how wise ethical decisions-making is affected by a number of seemingly
disparate elements such as perception, faith, knowledge, the relationship between
the body and mind, consciousness, Freuds conception of the unconscious, and
Jungs claims for mysticism.
Curnow offers a sweeping but solid
examination of both western and non-western traditions of thought, and follows
these from ancient times to the present day.
In the first section titled The
History of Wisdom Curnow takes his reader on an exploration of what
constitutes knowledge from early Egypt and Israel to Greece to Medieval
Christianity and on to the modern age.
In the second section titled The Nature of Wisdom he discusses the
concepts of self-knowledge, detachment, integration, and transcendence, each
from three different perspective: from
the western tradition, from the eastern tradition, and finally from
psychology. In this section he draws on
westerners Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Roberto Assagioli, Abraham Maslow, and Ken
Wilber, and easterners Ramana Maharishi, Dogen, and Wang Yang-ming.
In the third and final section
Curnow discusses various topics such as perception, emotion, good and evil, and
the sage in terms of what he calls the
new intuitionism. Here he tackles the
problem of how to explain an ethical sensibility among common individuals if
one accepts the stereotypical wise person or sage as the primary possessor of
the wisdom necessary for ethical intuition.
Curnows main conclusion seems to be that the new intuitionism is elitist, but I see this as a potential
strength rather than a weakness (310).
Along the way Curnow comes to a number of unsurprising minor
conclusions, such as, for example, that some people have a more acute sense of
perception than others, and that those with a higher sense of perception can
teach those with a lower perceptive sense how to improve theirs. He also examines what he terms a higher
and lower emotional sense and reasoning capacity, and analogizes these with
different levels of ethical sensibility.
But while this two-tiered argument for perception, emotion, reason, and
ethical wisdom seems rather self-evident, much can be learned from this
section, and indeed this entire book, by noting the process of his argument
While this book does not pretend to
have the final answer regarding the interrelationship between wisdom,
intuition, and ethics, it is a solid introduction to discussion in this
area. Curnows research is impressive,
and his effort to synthesize the various elements is commendable. Anyone with an interest in how both western
and eastern traditions of knowledge come to bear on our ethical intuitions will
find this book informative.
© 2002 Peter B. Raabe
Peter B. Raabe teaches
philosophy and has a private practice in philosophical counseling in North
Vancouver, Canada. He is the author of the book Philosophical
Counseling: Theory and Practice (Praeger, 2001).