Growing Up Existentially

I had forgotten that I, too, grew up existentially, until I read Ron Manheimer’s absorbing new book about life, aging, identity, and consciousness. Moving effortlessly between personal memoir and philosophical meditation, Manheimer takes us back and forth in time to raise timeless questions. The journey is intellectually exciting, for sure, as we encounter deep insights into the human condition – but it is also surprisingly and profoundly emotional. With a light touch, Manheimer stirs the soul. — Dan P. McAdams, Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University, author of The Art and Science of Personality Development

Philosophers, novelists and playwrights of the existentialist tradition continue to be reprinted, discussed and performed across the world, a testimony to their enduring relevance. Embracing the vitality of these engaging and provocative thinkers and writers, History of Consciousness philosopher Ronald Manheimer takes both newcomers and devotees on a personal search for meaning while addressing twelve key ideas that capture the essence of the existential outlook.

Exploring situations from everyday life, the author reflects on the most abstract existential terms, such as nothingness, temporality and absurdism. And since existentialism’s leading lights – Kierkegaard, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus – lived out their ideas in both private and public spheres, Manheimer delves into their biographies to provide a window into scenes of love and loss, war and political upheaval, friendship and betrayal.

Manheimer offers readers a personal view of how historical consciousness was transformed in Europe just as its reverberations reached American shores in the mid-twentieth century. While other philosophical movements such as structuralism, deconstructionism and post-modernism eclipsed the popularity of existentialism, the author shows how its thought currents have inspired the liberation movements of the 20th and 21st centuries – feminism, anti-colonialism, Black Power, and even the age revolution.

Title: Growing Up Existentially: A Journey from Absurdity to Consciousness
ISBN-13: 978-0-9863770-5-1
Publisher: Jorvik Press
Published: March 5, 2018
List Price: $24.95

Embracing Contraries:  The Spiritual Quest as a Lifelong Process

Download a .pdf of this chapter from the book Spiritual Dimensions of Ageing, edited by Malcolm Johnson and Joanna Walker, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016 by clicking here.


Mirrors of the Mind

Imagine you could sit down and talk personally with the greatest philosophers of all time. Imagine having coffee with Augustine or Rousseau or Kierkegaard. Ever had a fantasy about chatting with Sartre and de Beauvoir in a Paris cafe? Well, read the chapters in Ronald Manheimer’s book and you will have the ‘feel’ of being in the presence of these and other thinkers. This is a one-of-kind book in which masterful scholarship is concealed behind a delightfully readable text. It can be recommended both to those with an academic grasp of philosophy and those coming to the great philosophers for the first time. The book is irresistible and not to be missed. — Harry R. Moody , Co-author, The Five Stages of the Soul

The field of philosophy is a formidable one, even for the well-educated. Its self-referential technical vocabulary and abstract discussions may seem remote from the issues and experiences of everyday life. Yet, in our own ways, each of us is a seeker of wisdom. We may wonder how our life experiences influence our ideas and values, and vice-versa. Can we find our place among the seminal figures of the great philosophical traditions, both east and west?Mirrors of the Mind aims to help bridge this gap.

Readers drawn to philosophy often find the standard histories and introductions distant from their personal lives. Many are more curious about how historically influential thinkers actually lived. Could there be a connection between the general truths that a school of philosophy asserts about the universally human and the particular flesh-and-blood truths of the philosopher’s life?

Delving into the newly identified genre of the philosophical autobiography, Dr. Ronald Manheimer’s Mirrors of the Mind takes both the neophyte and the initiated on a unique literary and philosophical journey through the works of important thinkers. This guided tour of the life of the mind covers self-reflective narratives ranging from fourth century Augustine’sConfessions to 20th century Simone de Beauvoir’s The Prime of Life.

Mirrors of the Mind looks into the private lives, made public in narratives by important thinkers who have changed the world or, at least, how we perceive it. The focus is not highbrow gossip or sordid revelations about a philosopher’s life, but rather a search for the creative embodiment of thinking and being – the architecture of the soul.

These first-person narratives serve as the loci in which philosophers’ lives and the ideas that have animated them are joined or paralleled. The philosophical autobiography is a literary space in which the thinker turns his or her analytical mind and the tools of the trade on his or her remembered past.

At its best, the philosophical autobiography helps us to see great minds as real people who wonder and suffer, analyze and romanticize, communicate both bliss and darkest despair. The accounts they give of their lives show that many of their most famous ideas occurred in moments of sudden illumination that would take them a lifetime to explicate. These works demonstrate that analytical judgment may go hand in hand with acts of imagination; that calm, cool, reason may intersect with an impulsive leap of faith.

Through such authors, the reader shares exemplary instances of a thinker’s emerging sense of purpose, engagement with the critical issues of his or her time, perceived threads of continuity through a life of change, and the search for integration of ideas and experiences. Getting to know philosophers through their life stories helps to dispel the impression that great thinkers lived only in their heads.

For readers who wish to explore the subject further, each chapter ends with suggested reflexive writing exercises and philosophical fieldwork.


Mirrors of the Mind will teach. Students are drawn to philosophy because in order to live the life worth living – the examined life – the ideas of the great thinkers connect with their own. To explore the lives of these thinkers who have helped construct our intellectual world, using narrative, metaphor, whimsy and rigorous philosophical argument is a delightful way to invite students into the search for wisdom. Manheimer has crafted an original work, the result of decades of his own philosophical autobiography. — Katharine Meacham, Professor of philosophy and religious studies


A Map to the End of Time: Wayfarings with Friends and Philosophers

Tales both playful and profound exploring answers to life's Big Questions.

Teaching philosophy to retired people should be a path to wisdom, Ron Manheimer thought. He was right, but in an unexpected fashion. His lively Socratic "dialogues" with older people led him into hilarious and provocative conversations with a colorful cast of fellow seekers: from his bon vivant Danish mentor Augie Nielsen to his strong-willed elderly student Hildegard, from his ironic teenaged daughter Esther to his wisecracking Uncle Joe.

Like James Carse in Breakfast at the Victory, Manheimer reinvigorates the ancient tradition of using storytelling to explore truth. What is romantic love? How do we shape the stories we tell ourselves about our own pasts? Does the purpose of life become clearer in old age? How do we find common meanings across religious, ethnic, and generational divides? What is the essence of a person? What does it mean to live a "full" life?

Showing how ideas and lives can illuminate one another, Manheimer's engaging narratives address these questions while providing an inviting exploration of the ideas of thinkers from Plato and Aristotle to Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mill, and Martin Buber. A great teacher, Manheimer shows how these philosophers might provide the footgear for treading everyday paths of human experience, on our inevitable journeys to "the end of time."

Kierkegaard as Educator

The following is a review of the book written by George J. Stack in the Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 19, Number 3, July 1981 pp. 398-400 |  In this lucidly written essay Manheimer deftly elucidates the "dialectic of education" as shown primarily in The Concept of Irony, Either~Or, and Works of Love. Aside from the clarity and simplicity of this insightful essay,-the author offers a number of original observations on the thought and method of communication of Kierkegaard that are integrated into an original interpretation of his thought from the perspective of Kierkegaard's task as educator. Given his obvious familiarity with original sources, Manheimer offers unique accounts of Kierkegaard's language and style of communication that show a deep understanding of a philosophical and religious writer who was as self-conscious in his use of the Danish language as James Joyce was in his use of English. What this study lacks in comprehensiveness and philosophical analysis of central concepts, it makes up for in attention to detail and sensitivity to Kierkegaard's intentions as an author who uses language to lead us to an awareness of the quality of our lives and to change our existence. Beginning with a brief, but incisive analysis of the being of Socrates in The Concept of Irony, Manheimer discerns three aspects of Socrates: through a lived irony he "hovers" in a negativity that deprived others of confidence and conventional assurance . The aim of this "negative irony" is to intensify a sense of subjectivity in others in the first stage of their "education." The second "moment" of Socratic existence is the emphasis upon the paradoxical nature of human subjectivity and the need to stimulate passion in order to generate a true "becoming" in the individual. Along the way, Manheimer offers a viable interpretation of the often misunderstood formula, "truth is subjectivity." He contends that this means that in order for a knower to be sure that something is true in his existential situation it must be subjectively appropriated . It is further claimed that the subjective individual posits a "power" that he needs so that he is the synthesis formed by joining the truth of existence to "immutable truth" (p. 29). Despite the ingenuity of this account, there seems to be a crucial point missing. That is, that the "passion" that is correctly said to be generated by the individual's attempt to relate himself to "eternal truth" is also stimulated by the "objective uncertainty," the unknowability of the "truth" that is postulated as possible. Kierkegaard suggests that the individual is led back to his own "inwardness" by virtue of the tension between passionate subjectivity and objective uncertainty, that Socrates leaps back into himself because he cannot make a "leap" to an "eternal truth." To be sure, Manheimer does a fine job of defending his own view and has many insightful things to say about Kierkegaard's portrait of Socrates. In the third educative stance that Socrates is said to express it is said that the maieutic art of Socrates is a form of "witnessing." In his encounters with the Sophists in the Platonic dialogues Socrates is said to be trying to produce a "solitary witness to the truth" in others. This doubtful depiction of Socrates' role as an educator is somewhat murky because of Kierkegaard 's occasional attempts to see Socrates as a proto-Christian. Manheimer follows this lead up to a point, then points to distinctions between Socratic "witnessing" and the Christian version, and then adds to the confusion by alluding to Kierkegaard's intention to draw the "single individual" out of the crowd. In this discussion the author's facility for condensing and simply stating complex relationships or conceptions seems to work against him. Developing the "allegory of the educator" in a series of interrelated chapters, the author presents a subtle and interesting interpretation not only of some of the content of Either~Or, but of its form and structure as well. The task of Either~Or is to "evoke subjectivity" in the reader by stimulating his sense of the possible in life (p. 62). The role and function of the characters in this work are carefully described...