Rationality Is Talking to a Horse

I’m not ashamed to admit it: there are some weeks when I’d rather just not read anything at all. There has been at least one sick person in my house every day since last Tuesday, and I’ve had to spend a whole lot more time as a nurse and babysitter than I normally do. Nevertheless, the Great Books Project goes on! An audio version of Gulliver’s Travels was my lifeline last week.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. As You Like It by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 24, pp. 597-626)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book X (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 578-586)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Four, Chapters 6-8 and Appendix I (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 374-399)
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Preface and Introduction (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 397-412)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XII, 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 391-410)
  6. How We Should Behave to Tyrants” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 118-119; Book I, Ch. 19 of the Discourses)

I know Gulliver’s Travels is a tough act to follow, but if any author is up to that challenge, it’s Shakespeare. We’re nearly done with Tocqueville, and we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of both Ptolemy and the Metaphysics.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. gulliver-houyhnhnmGulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Part IV: I hate to say it, but I don’t like this last part as well as I do the others. The subtlety of the satire disappears completely as Gulliver becomes a misanthrope. Plus, the insistence on absolute rationality in everything is too Enlightenment-y for my taste.
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book IX: This is another important section that has had a big influence through the centuries. Aristotle is discussing the difference between “potency” (potentiality) and actuality. In common speech, one usually doesn’t encounter Aristotle’s distinctions between kinds of potential: what is innate, what comes by practice, and what comes by learning. 
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Four, Ch. 1-5: Tocqueville brings down the hammer in these chapters. Combining observations from a number of earlier sections, he lays out the argument that democracy contains a tendency toward centralization of political power. America has so far (in the 1830s) resisted this tendency because of strong local traditions, but Europe, which has already had most of its local aristocratic authority destroyed, has no such bulwarks against the central state. He expresses a great deal of concern that as Europe becomes more democratic that liberty will inexorably be lost. 
  4. “Of the Good in General” and “The Goodness of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: Having just read Book VII of Aristotle’s  Metaphysics a couple of weeks ago, I noted particularly how St. Thomas’s treatment of essence follows “the Philosopher” in this discussion of the Good. I like how in some of the really brief articles the argument amounts to saying, “This conclusion follows from all the stuff proved in previous articles.”
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XI, Parts 5-12: The first few sections of this reading do for Saturn what Ptolemy has already done for the other planets. Then we get a series of tables (with accompanying explanations) laying out the “anomalies” and longitudes of all five planets. 
  6. “That We Ought Not to Be Angry with the Errors of Others” by Epictetus: Epictetus takes a Platonic stance on wrongdoing, arguing that it is all the result of ignorance (errors in judgment). Add to this the Stoic idea that whatever happens outside yourself is beyond your control. We end up at the conclusion that there’s no point in getting upset with other people.

We have finally dried out here after a three-day stretch last week where we received more than seven inches of rain. This is my kind of weather: sunny with highs in the low 60s. Long may it last!

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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One Response to Rationality Is Talking to a Horse

  1. Alice Jewell says:

    Obviously, many others have agreed with your assessment of Gulliver. Part IV is not the choice for most anthologies.

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