In November 2011, at the National Communication Association annual conference, Corey Anton was awarded the “Best Book Award” by the Philosophy of Communication Division, for his book Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism (Purdue University Press, 2010).
The book makes many noteworthy contributions in the areas of philosophy and communication. In the areas of communication, Kenneth Burke and Erving Goffman are well-known scholars, and the book advances and develops the ideas of these thinkers considerably. Not only does it synthesize and integrate these thinkers but it offers a more comprehensive framework into which both thinkers can be placed. Offering the term “ authoritative disambiguation,” the book clearly documents the symbolic means by which various forms of ambiguity are created as well as covered-over. The text also gives some much-needed recognition to Ernest Becker, whose work, when taken as a whole and in retrospect, offers an evolutionary and ethological grounding for the emergence of symbolic forms and cultural identity. One of the main contributions in bringing together these three theorists is a more robust account of human motivation and a fuller grasp of the pivotal role that ambiguity and guilt play in human affairs. The book also helps to make perfectly clear that human violence is not merely vented animal aggression; it is a yearning for meaning and identity.
The book makes as many contributions to philosophy as it does to communication. It synthesizes the philosophical biology of Hans Jonas, showing how his work gives cosmological grounding to the sociological and anthropological findings of Becker, Burke, and Goffman. It not only outlines the kinds of ambiguities and disambiguations encumbered in the emergence of various forms of life from inorganic matter, but it shows how even the most lofty forms of symbolic and religious transcendence are precast by the various forms of transcendence in life itself (metabolism, motility, sensory perception, eidetic realities, etc).
Another contribution is the book’s recovery and modification of some of the insights of the stoics. In many ways, the stoic worldview is needed today more than ever. It offers resources for self-understanding in the wake of the contemporary cultural identity crisis. As science increasingly challenges the kinds of identity offered by religious fundamentalism, and as kinds of fundamentalism rise in backlash, we find within the humble practices of neo-stoic heroism ways for people to bring genuine meaning to their lives without succumbing to trivial consumerism or dogmatic, religious fundamentalism. By helping people see the ethical import of gaining the courage to need little and finding meaning in the extra-mundane dimensions of everyday affairs, Sources of Significance both advances philosophy proper and offers a practical philosophy of everyday life.
One final contribution worth underscoring is that the text brings the literary and highly poetic writings of the French novelist Antoine de Saint Exupéry to bear upon all of the issues mentioned above. de Saint-Exupéry, an admirer of Nietzsche, has been long appreciated for his children’s book The Little Prince, but his final work, The Wisdom of the Sands is both his most neglected and yet his most important work. Sources of Significance distills and abstracts key insights from de Saint-Exupéry’s allegorical writings and offers many useful, practical strategies for using work to bring meaning to one’s life.
All said, this scholarly, multidisciplinary work opens a contemporary dialogue spanning theism, atheism, agnosticism, and spiritualist humanism by re-examining basic topics such as language, self-esteem, ambiguity, guilt, ritual, sacrifice, and transcendence. Acknowledging the growing need for theologies that are compatible with modern science, it shows how today’s consumerist lifestyles distort and trivialize the need for self-worth, and it makes clear how each person faces the genuinely heroic tasks of contributing to the world’s beauty, harmony, and resources; of forgiving the cosmos for self-conscious finitude; and of gratefully accepting the ambiguity of life’s gifts.