Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason

By

This is not so much a “historical detective story” as a forensic travelogue of the remains of scientist/mathematician/philosopher Rene Descartes, who died in 1650. Shorto makes much of a small irony: the mortal remains of the hero of secular reasoning being picked apart, preserved, and passed from owner to owner over the 350 years since his death, revered both as objects of naturalistic study and as “holy” relics. This irony becomes Shorto’s metaphor for the (dis)connections between reason and faith, and the framework upon which he hangs the rest of his tale. Alas, the tale itself is so bare-bones that he must embroider it with his own personal interpretations and philosophy in order to stretch it to book length. What Descartes’ Bones ultimately becomes is the Gospel According to Shorto; he would have done better to explore experts’ varying interpretations of Cartesian philosophy in more depth. Even while attempting to present a bipartisan, both-are-right picture of the nature of faith and reason (which comes across as vacillating), Shorto’s own prejudice against (and incomplete understanding of) secularism will be immediately obvious to those who approach it from the secular side of the fence. A good first step toward more substantial reading, if nothing else.

Share this review
Details

Publisher

Published

Genre

Century

Price
(US) $26.00

ISBN
(US) 9780385517539

Format
Hardback

Pages
286

Review

Appeared in

Reviewed by