It’s Great Books Monday (on Monday!) again, and this week we are going to pass 2,400 pages in the philosophy/religion category. Can you think of a better way to do that than by working excruciatingly difficult math problems? Of course not!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 217-231)
- “Whether the Governor of a Besieged Place Should Go Out to Parley” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 58-60)
- The Geometry by Rene Descartes, Book II (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 532-559)
- “The Principle of Population” by Thomas Malthus (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 501-530; Chapters I-V of Population: The First Essay)
- On the Natural Faculties by Galen, Book III (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 415-449)
- “Of Contentment” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 112-113; Book I Chapter 12 of the Discourses)
I confess I’m a bit intimidated at reading big chunks of Descartes and Galen in the same week. No one ever said that reading the Great Books is for the faint of heart.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book VI: The story of war in heaven is captivating; the Satan/Michael faceoff was a highlight. It’s interesting how the angel relating these events to Adam tells him it’s a conflict he can’t understand, and that he’s only attempting to give a vague approximation of the events by using human language. One would think that after this whole story Adam would get the hint and never dream of disobeying a divine command.
- “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau: Thoreau airs the same irritating ideas here as he does in the plea for John Brown. Only he understands what’s moral. Only he sees what should be obvious to all. I like a lot of this essay, but there is a lot of misplaced pride on display here as well.
- The Geometry by Rene Descartes, Book I: This first book wasn’t too bad. The adopting of algebraic notation to simplify geometric formulas was very welcome after reading thirteen books of Euclid. I’m not sure I fully followed the big proof near the end, and I’m certain Book II will be harder.
- An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act V: All the antagonists are really despicable in this act, even the father-in-law. I think you’re supposed to have no faith in humanity by the end. The plan to train ragamuffins to be the elites of tomorrow seems hopeless.
- On the Natural Faculties by Galen, Book II: I’m telling you, Erasistratus and Asclepiades get no respect. I never thought to read so much about kidneys, urine, bile, and blood. It seems like a lot of the time, the people Galen is criticizing reach certain conclusions about the body deductively on the basis of their philosophical systems without actually observing the body.
- “The Perfection of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (Part I, Question 4 of Summa Theologica): This section was very brief, arguing for the perfection of God, the perfection of all things in God, and that creatures can be like God in certain respects. Several of the objections were based on analogies to material things, and St. Thomas writes that they can’t apply to God. The third article has some nice thoughts on the imago dei doctrine.
A long-awaited (even if earlier than usual) cold front is scheduled to come through Alabama tomorrow, resulting in sunny temperatures in the 70s later this week. I can’t wait. It may finally be time to do some outside reading!