The title, I assume, is a reference both to Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and to what Huxley took to be that philosophy itself, an understanding, common to traditional peoples and the religions of ‘civilisation’, of the nature of self, consciousness, and the world. The fundamental insights may be ancient, but Lockhart’s route to them is stunningly original. His argument develops by way of a critique – more a diagnosis – of contemporary philosophy, as it veers into an all out assault on the self, on experience, and on consciousness. The assault comes from the science oriented wing of professional philosophy and the so-called postmodern alternative alike, the former reducing us to neural pathways, the latter to language ‘languaging’ without a subject. By assaulting the assault within the terms of professional philosophy itself (rational argument and empirical evidence) Lockhart’s aim is to rescue explorations of the nature of the self and consciousness from their categorisation as ‘mysticism’ and to show they are necessary to serious philosophy. Huxley would approve the approach: ‘Through the upper gate ( to the Perennial Philosophy) go those whose vocation it is to think and speculate, the born philosophers and theologians.’
But it is not only in the philosophical seriousness of the book that its originality lies. The more specific argument centres on the idea that the key to the exploration of a deepening sense of self is not to be found, say, in the obscurity of Heidegger’s ‘echo’ of the ultimate ground of reality, nor as the unattainable end of deconstruction, nor as the end process of years of meditation. Rather, the entry point is, as it were, ‘hiding in plain sight’ for it is the experience we have every day of ‘coming back to ourselves’ after a period of having been ‘lost’ in some activity. It is the simplicity, intelligibility and conceptual soundness of this move and the argument it initiates which makes this book an original and important contribution both to contemporary philosophy and to the perennial philosophy.
Author of: Victor Dutman’s Grammar and Semantics