Claes G. Ryn: Will, Imagination and Reason

Babbitt, Croce and the Problem of Reality

With a Major New Introduction by the Author

Transaction, 1997 (1986)

From the Back Cover:

Will, Imagination, and Reason sets forth a new understanding of reality and knowledge with far-reaching implications for the study of man and society. Employing a systematic approach, Claes Ryn goes to the philosophical depths to rethink and reconstitute the epistemology of the humanities and social sciences. He shows that will and imagination, together, constitute our basic outlook on life and that reason derives its material and general orientation from their interaction.

The imaginative master-minds – novelists, poets, composers, painters, and others – powerfully affect the sensibility and direction of society. Sometimes a distorting, self-serving willfulness at the base of their visions draws civilization, including reason, into dangerous illusion. More penetrating and balanced vision and rationality spring from a different quality of will. Ryn explains the kind of interplay between will, imagination, and reason that is conducive to a deepened sense of reality and to intellectual understanding. He argues that human life and self-knowledge are inescapably historical. In developing his dialectical view of intellect, he draws from Irving Babbitt, Benedetto Croce, and other philosophers to refute positivistic, formalistic, and ahistorical theories of knowledge and to develop his alternative.

Advancing a systematic epistemological argument, Ryn throws much new light on the nature of reason but also on central issues of ethics and aesthetics. This trenchant and original work is indispensable to philosophers, social, political and cultural theorists, literary scholars, and historians.

“It is a book to be pondered, a quintessentially serious and profound book that stands in a great European intellectual tradition.”  Modern Age

“An excellent book, written with clarity, learned judiciousness and yet with a kind of passionate urgency.”  Modern Language Notes

“Brilliant and philosophically systematic.”  Chronicles

“Highly original and provocative … an intellectual tour de force of the first order [with] enormous implications for modern ethical thought.”  World & I

“Exhibits great seriousness and depth.”  University Bookman

“A splendidly written and researched book on a topic of great importance to contemporary ethics.”  Review of Metaphysics

Front Flap of the first edition (Regnery, 1986):

A work of original and trenchant scholarship, Will, Imagination and Reason develops a new understanding of reality and the basis of civilization. It explains why positivistic, formalistic and ahistorical epistemologies distort and impoverish the humanities and social sciences. Going to the philosophical depths, this book shows that reality becomes known to man through experience. Reason is dependent on the experiential material presented to it by will and imagination. But unless experience is ethically ordered, it may lead the intellect into dangerous illusion. The book examines systematically the ideas of Irving Babbitt, leader of the “New Humanism” in the 20’s and 30’s. His theories are critically assessed and related to the enduring concerns of philosophy, partly through a comparative analysis of Babbitt and Benedetto Croce. Special importance is attached to Babbitt’s view of the relationship between moral character and imagination. These insights are absorbed here into a more comprehensive theory of knowledge. The book sets forth a new interpretation of intellect and reaffirms reason’s ability to know transcendent moral order.

Standing in a great European intellectual tradition, this work of synthetic and creative scholarship forms a penetrating analysis of the preconditions for a revival of Western life and letters.

Back Cover of the first edition:

From the book…

“A willingness to consider that the last two centuries have brought forward some very fruitful new ideas, as well as much decadence, may produce results surprisingly compatible with central classical and medieval beliefs.”

“In the end, man will attach himself only to a standard of reality that has immediacy and concreteness – that is, one firmly established in experience.”

“To know the essence of life man must act to change his character. Without the sense of reality that comes with the exercise of the higher will no adequate perception of life is possible.”

“Like Croce, [Irving Babbitt] is well aware of the creative nature of the imagination. But he joins to that insight a clear recognition that the imagination contains opposing potentialities. The great poets of the human race show us the universal and pull us toward peace and reality. but often the Muse succumbs to our lower passions and entices us into behavior destructive of our happiness and hold on reality.”

“Reasoning that builds on distorted imagination may be formally brilliant but  will present illusions. The remedy is not abstract counter-argument but a turning of the whole personality.”

“Ryn writes in a great American tradition, that of the humanists Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More. In him that tradition is reborn, broadened, and universalized…[A] brilliantly original researcher.”  Peter Viereck, Kenan Professor of History, Mount Holyoke College

“[A] real thinker and real writer.”  Eliseo Vivas, John Evans Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Northwestern University

About the Author:

See the links to National Humanities Institute and Humanitas on the Links page, the posts in the Value-Centered Historicism category, and other books by Ryn in the References category and on the References page.

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