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The Soul of the World summary

Roger Scruton

In Defense of a Sacred World

3.7 (219 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

"The Soul of the World" by Roger Scruton explores the role of beauty in human existence, arguing that it connects us to the sacred and provides a pathway to transcendence.

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    The Soul of the World
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    The language of science can’t explain the content of human beliefs.

    People often consider reason and faith as being diametrically opposed. These concepts are seen as two distinct –⁠ and incompatible –⁠ ways of explaining the world.

    This is a miscategorization, however. Reason is an intellectual pursuit whose goal is to accurately describe reality. Religion, on the other hand, is an emotional pursuit. It seeks to teach us how we should live. 

    Of course, religions include metaphysical beliefs, like the idea that God created the world. But much more important are the emotional needs that religions fulfill –⁠ specifically, the desire for sacrifice and obedience. So, while it’s fashionable to “debunk” religious beliefs through the language of science, this ignores the essential aspects of religion.

    Here’s the key message: The language of science can’t explain the content of human beliefs. 

    The current popular explanations for social and cultural phenomena tend to come from evolutionary psychology. According to that discipline, human nature evolved useful adaptations to help us survive the harsh environmental conditions many thousands of years ago.

    Religion is cited as one of these adaptations, and it’s easy to see its usefulness. For one, religions tie people together as a group. Strong group ties lead to increased security, cooperation, and defense.

    However, there’s a glaring error in this seemingly neat and tidy explanation. It shows why we have religious sentiment, but it ignores the content of our beliefs –⁠ what the author calls their aboutness. Why, for instance, do many religions tend toward the belief that there’s a single God? Why does the concept of sacrifice come up so frequently?

    One visceral way to grasp aboutness is by looking at the taboo surrounding incest. Evolutionary psychologists theorize that we’re revolted by incest because the act results in bad evolutionary outcomes. But that doesn’t explain why the thought of it can affect us so deeply.

    From an evolutionary perspective, it’d be enough for incest to cause disgust in the same way that, say, rotten milk or feces do. We don’t need myths or stories, like the famous tale of Oedipus, that tell us incest is a form of pollution, spoiling, or violation. 

    But for some, these moral reflections can actually subvert the reproductive admonition by tempting them instead –⁠ like the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde were tempted in Norse myth. The psychological explanation doesn’t explain this aspect of the taboo –⁠ that is, why some are tempted with a desire for the forbidden.

    Clearly, evolution does shape our thoughts and feelings. But it doesn’t explain their aboutness.

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    What is The Soul of the World about?

    In an age where science and atheism seek to explain everything we are, The Soul of the World (2014) argues for the continued importance of religion. It doesn’t preach for a particular doctrine; rather, it claims that in art, music, architecture, and interpersonal relations, there is a striving toward the sacred that science alone can’t explain or fulfill. Finally, it argues that by devaluing or ignoring the transcendent, we are willfully giving up one of the very things that makes us human.

    The Soul of the World Review

    The Soul of the World by Roger Scruton (2014) is a thought-provoking exploration of the intangible aspects of our existence and the beauty of our surroundings. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through philosophical analysis and insightful observations, the book delves into the essence of our spiritual and emotional connection with the world.
    • Scruton effortlessly weaves together art, literature, and nature to elucidate the deeper meaning that lies beneath the surface of our everyday experiences.
    • The author's engaging storytelling keeps readers captivated, ensuring that the book is far from boring, as it sheds light on the profound interconnectedness between individuals and the world around them.

    Who should read The Soul of the World?

    • Atheists, agnostics, and scientists seeking a challenge to their worldview
    • Conservatives, traditionalists, and religious people
    • Lovers of philosophy, music, or art

    About the Author

    Roger Scruton was a philosopher and writer acclaimed for his intellectual contributions to modern conservatism. In 1998, he was awarded the Czech Republic’s Medal of Merit for his efforts to fight academic oppression during the Soviet era, and in 2016, he was knighted for his contributions to philosophy and education. Before his death in 2020, he wrote over 50 books, including The Meaning of Conservatism, The Aesthetics of Music, and How to Be a Conservative.

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    The Soul of the World FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Soul of the World?

    The main message of The Soul of the World is an exploration of the power of beauty and the importance of our connection to the natural world.

    How long does it take to read The Soul of the World?

    The reading time for The Soul of the World varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Soul of the World a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Soul of the World is a captivating read that offers a unique perspective on beauty and our relationship with nature. It's definitely worth exploring!

    Who is the author of The Soul of the World?

    The author of The Soul of the World is Roger Scruton.

    What to read after The Soul of the World?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Soul of the World, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Faith Still Moves Mountains by Harris Faulkner
    • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
    • The Negativity Fast by Anthony Iannarino
    • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
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