Military Book Reviews

The Ordering of Time

Ordering of Time

 The Ordering of Time: Meditations on the History of Philosophy by George Lucas (Edinburgh University Press, 2020, 180 pages)

From the Author’s Synopsis

What is the history of philosophy? What exactly is this the history of and how is that history to be understood in relationship to philosophy itself?  Can philosophy’s history on any of a number of diverse descriptions, ever be said in its own right to constitute a unique and genuine source of philosophical wisdom or insight? Thinking with, rather than thinking about, the history of philosophy, George Lucas sweeps aside the constraints of traditional methodological and cultural boundaries to reflect broadly on a variety of answers of to these questions, as posed by many of the major philosophical figures of the past century…Lucas ranges widely over the history of philosophy itself in search of original, probing answers to these profound and perennial issues.

An Expert’s Book on Philosophy in the Post Modern World

A self-confessed vanity project, this consideration of the contributions of philosophy’s “ordinary journeymen” to the pool of knowledge that has come to define the current profession is a challenge for the uninitiated. It is an expert’s book, written for consideration by other experts.  The Ordering of Time: Meditations on the History of Philosophy, sets out to reconsider the much-touted concern that philosophy is dead in the post-modern world and to highlight the flaws inherent in a field that, through embracing consensus selectively captures knowledge. Lucas argues that the margins of philosophy offer tomes of knowledge that, while historically neglected warrant deeper study for the truths they reveal.  In this process he deals extensively with the relationship (and stature) of history as a component of the profession, and how the denial of history’s proper role within philosophy has hurt the field.    

The Ordering of Time is a serious work appropriate for a graduate level student. In contrast to this Dr. George Lucas, the Distinguished Chair in Ethics Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy as well as Professor Emeritus of Ethics and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, has authored a number of other works that the DODReads audience will find of interest, including The Routledge Handbook of Military Ethics and Military Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know. With an extensive career in instructing ethics to the military including at the Naval Postgraduate School and Saint-Cyr, France’s military academy, he is an award-winning physicist and uses a rational scientist’s approach to inquiry that technical minded readers will appreciate. 

History of Philosophy and Understanding History

In this work, dedicated philosophy students will find Lucas’s broad discussion of the history of the field informative and useful for placing modern and post-modern thought into context. It helps identify the way important ideas have moved in and shaped the world in recorded history. Fans of his other, less esoteric work that lack extensive background in the study of philosophy are likely to find The Ordering of Time a bit inscrutable. While this makes it less practical for application in those situations of leadership where Military Ethics: What Everyone Needs to Know, is so useful, the subject matter still offers insight that military members should understand in their own search for answers, chief among them how to think about history and one’s own understanding of how it is recorded and conveyed to the intellectual class.

The book is a tight and easily readable 155 pages of text. Each of the nine chapters could stand alone. However, with loose but logical relationships between the chapters, it is at once, easy to read in multiple settings and coherent if taken in series. The experienced reader with little background in philosophy will find the continued reference to various works of philosophy cumbersome and disorienting at times. Lucas compensates for this by doing an admirable job of explaining relevance in stride and making his point comprehensible. Still, it is clear there are layers of understanding and nuance that are missed unless a reader comes to this book with a significant background in philosophy.  

Relevance for Readers

Still, there are a variety of reasons to take up the book. For the novice with an interest in philosophy, it provides an account of the discipline’s history providing important context for future exploration. In this, it contains a nearly comprehensive list of important works to acquire for further study. It is an excellent point of reference for the serious student. For the well-versed, it expresses a very specific view of how philosophy, in ignoring its own history, has failed in its pursuit of fundamental truths. This is an argument that aspiring philosophers must consider if they hope to avoid the mistakes that “killed” philosophy and limits its relevance in our daily lives. For any reader, and especially leaders in today’s force, The Ordering of Time provides a philosophical and logical explanation for the role of history in defining the world today. By doing this, it helps the reader identify how history and its perception are linked to perceived and real injustices of the past and today; knowledge increasingly necessary for finding common ground in our communities and society.

Dr. Lucas closes the book with a poignant thought, “Our history, it turns out, is much more than simply a legacy…Rather, the past is all we have, and it is literally what we are in the present.” If this is true, then readers are truly well served in investing their time in The Ordering of Time.  At its core this is a book about the most powerful forces of all, ideas, and how they shape history, propagating their way into the present and guiding our future. 


Book review contributed by Lt. Col. Matthew R. Crouch, USMC.
Crouch is a Non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he holds master’s degrees in Political Science and International Business Administration and is an Olmsted Scholar. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the US government or other organization.
Additional information about Matthew Crouch can be found at: https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/expert/matthew-r-crouch/

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