You may not have noticed, but we’ve just completed yet another volume of our reading project: Volume 4 of the Gateway to the Great Books series. I don’t even remember off the top of my head how many that makes, but I’ll get around to a comprehensive review at the end of the year. I know it’s at least the seventh (of ten) GGB volume we’ve finished.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book II (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 19-34)*
- “How God Is Known by Us” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 50-62; Part One, Chapter 12 of Summa Theologica)
- Agamemnon by Aeschylus (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 54-74)
- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book IV, Chapters 1-3 (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 204-239)
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapters 3-4 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 287-319)
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book III, Chapters 7-11 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 283-306)
*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.
According to my spreadsheet, with these readings we will have completely made up the page deficit from my vacation earlier this year. It looks like we’re back on track, except of course for my posting this information several days behind schedule!
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book I: I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy this book immensely. I laughed out loud several times at the caricatures filling the first book, particularly the housekeeper. The narrator’s addressing the reader directly is also full of comic potential. I loved the dig at Fielding’s contemporary David Hume at the beginning of Chapter 3, with the reference to “some pages which certain droll authors have been facetiously pleased to call The History of England.”
- “The Unity of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: I continue to be surprised at how many questions I never would have even thought to ask come in for consideration by Aquinas—for example, the first article of this question: “Whether one adds anything to being?” My gut reaction is to say, “Of course not. That’s obvious.” Then I look at the objections and think, “Oh. I never thought of that.” Aquinas still arrives at the same answer to the question, but he has much better reasons for arriving at that answer.
- The Misanthrope by Moliere: I first read this play about five years ago when I had to teach it for a Great Books course, and I thought it was hilarious. The hypocrisies of everyone in the play, including Alcestes, invite introspection to some extent because even the hero with whom we’re supposed to identify is guilty of the same thing everyone else is. Along the way we get to poke fun at the aristocracy, something everyone loves to do.
- An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book III: Going through the discussion of the “natural progress” of wealth accumulation in society, I kept wondering whether technology has overcome many of the constraints Smith assumes in this book. Certainly it’s true that it’s easier than ever for capital to flee unfavorable regulatory environments, so the agriculture ==> manufacturing ==> foreign trade pattern Smith outlines seems a bit outmoded. Still, other things being equal, I suppose most investors would prefer to keep their wealth close to home.
- The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 2: One thing Darwin stated that stood out to me was the dismissal of the notion that ancient man was less intelligent than modern man. I assume what he meant was that any evolutionary advance in intelligence must have occurred far earlier; he cites the development of language and the discovery of fire as being more important than anything since the dawn of civilization. At any rate, it’s a good quote to use against lazy college freshmen who think they’re smarter than pre-moderns because the latter didn’t have smartphones.
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book III, Chapters 1-6: This section focuses on the phenomenon of language. Locke argues that God designed us to make use of words, which are “sensible signs” allowing us to understand ideas in one another’s minds. It’s an interesting discussion, although I unfortunately had to skim most of it.
A tropical storm is heading my way as I write this, but it seems to be stalled temporarily in the Gulf of Mexico. Here’s hoping it won’t cause any damage or (shudder) delay this reading program!