In Eternal Man, Truman Madsen, who was known for his grasp of philosophy and his deep conviction of the truthfulness of the restored gospel, offers profound insights about six fundamental “puzzles” in philosophy and religion. This classic work, available for the first time in many years, includes a Publisher’s Preface plus essays on such questions as “Whence Cometh Man?” “Evil and Suffering,” “The Spirit and the Body,” and “Freedom and Fulfillment.” He demonstrates how a true understanding of our nature can make life here and now more meaningful and the eternities ahead a glorious existence to be eagerly anticipated.
It's a godsend that this book is back in print. Although it hails from the 1960s, the topics are timeless. This is a broad philosophic book. It asks, "How do the arguments and positions of the various 'schools' of thought compare with the teachings of Joseph Smith and of the Restored Gospel?"(vii-viii).
Madsen covers these mighty topics, ones that we would encounter in a survey of philosophy class: self-identity, creation, the mind-body problem, free-will, evil, and self-awareness.
Therefore, this book is a MUST for all college students who will encounter ideas and philosophies that are at odds with the gospel. Brother Madsen, sedately and insightfully, lays out the strength of our LDS position. "Joseph Smith faces a confusing colossus. And with revelatory insight he replaces it" (32).
Here are some fun quotes:
• “We talk as if freedom consisted in having the greatest variety of options and that a ‘once-and-for-all’ decision coerces our initiative. But is freedom increased by every new flavor of ice cream?” (52)
• “Suicide is just a change of scenery.” (13)
• “You assume suffering is always a form of Divine punishment. It is not. You are convinced by Job's ‘friends’ instead of by Job.” (41)
This book is not technical per se, yet it covers a lot of ground in 60 pages. A layman may be put off. Yet Madsen observes, "It has been said more than once that the essays are hard to understand. If this reflects a struggle with the terms and the heavily packed style, my own children prove that these yield to repeated exposure." (xii)
Although this book is almost a half-century old, it is still relevant and useful. Though some of the personalities and philosophers have fallen out of vogue, the core ideas are still the same. Don’t focus so much on labels, but on the ideas and concepts. “There is no new thing under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9).
For this new edition, I have two criticisms, and one suggestion.
First, this edition lacks the charming sketches at the beginning of each chapter from the first edition. I found these illustrations helpful, not only for me but also for someone who finds the text and ideas overwhelming. The pictures defuse tension.
Second, the chapter on evil is not Madsen's best work on the subject. I would recommend that his essay "Human Anguish and Divine Love" (from "Four Essays on Love) be included as an appendix.
Last, gender roles were not the hot topic in 1966 that they are today. Modern feminism was still incubating, as was the Gay Rights movement. I suggest that a chapter on the subject (written in Madsen's vein) been included. Although the topic of gender identity and roles is not discussed explicitly, they are indirectly discussed in the chapters on identity, free-will, and mind-body.
So read this book, and expect to be edified.