I’m on Mises Wire

In the past few months, I’ve reviewed three books for publication and am working on a fourth. My review of Allen Mendenhall’s Literature and Liberty for the winter issue of the Journal of Faith and the Academy got picked up and was republished by Mises Wire last week.

I just found the link today. Here it is. Enjoy!

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Great Music for Advent and Christmas

advent-candlesForget the schlock this December. These two free playlists will get you into the real spirit of the season.

First, here are some of the best songs and carols written specifically for Advent. A hyperlink to the YouTube playlist is at the bottom of the article.

Next, here is a list and spirited defense of “the only Christmas carols that are any good.” It’s a bit over the top, but all in good fun. A hyperlink to the YouTube playlist appears early in the comment section.


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Philosopher Dies by Strangulation, Not in Classroom

If you are disappointed by last week’s election results, take heart. President Trump can’t stop you from reading the Great Books!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 165-193)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XL (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 647-671)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 80-83 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 427-440)
  4. Sonnets XLI-XLV by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 592-593)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXII, heading “The Intellectual Contrast between Brute and Man” to the end (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 679-693)
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 784-799)

We are due to complete the Laws this week. It seems like the first time in ages that we’ll be switching works.

Here are some observations from the last week’s readings:

  1. austerlitz-baron-pascalWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book III, Chapters 10-19: “The result of all the complicated human activities of 160,000 Russians and French–all their passions, desires, remorse, humiliations, sufferings, outbursts of pride, fear, and enthusiasm–was only the loss of the battle of Austerlitz, the so-called battle of the three Emperors–that is to say, a slow movement of the hand on the dial of human history.” Tolstoy continues the theme of no one’s being really in control of anything. The generals don’t know where the troops are. Prince Andrew’s strategic plans all evaporate, and he winds up simply charging at the French with a battalion’s standard. Rostov’s plans for impressing the Emperor likewise dissipate even as he has a chance to ride up and speak to him. Everyone is insignificant.
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXIX: This chapter mostly covers the reign of Theodoric in Italy in the late fifth and early sixth centuries. Gibbon portrays him as an enlightened and benevolent ruler who got justly frustrated when the orthodox Christians continued to display prejudice against his Arian faith. The best part of the chapter is the discussion of Boethius; Gibbon writes that The Consolation of Philosophy was “not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully.” He gives due credit to the immense influence of the work in the succeeding centuries. He describes the tradition surrounding the execution of Boethius by strangulation in disturbing detail, and also the tradition that Theodoric ultimately repented of the judicial murder.
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 78-79: These two questions both deal with the intellectual powers of the soul. The first covers powers “preliminary” to the intellect. St. Thomas classifies five genera of power in the soul: vegetative, sensitive, appetitive, locomotive, and intellectual. The parts of the vegetative power are the nutritive, augmentative, and generative. As for senses, there exist five exterior (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell–“the powers are not for the organs, but the organs for the powers”) and four interior (common sense, imagination, estimative, memorative). Question 79 covers the intellect proper. St. Thomas calls the intellect a “passive” power, something I found curious, but he means “passive” in a very particular sense as a quality of something that can absorb “that to which it was in potency without being deprived of anything”; I guess I can go with that. Memory, reason, and intelligence are all part of the intellect, as is “synderesis,” which the interwebs identify as a sort of intuitive moral sense. Lots to chew on in these passages.
  4. Sonnets XXXVI-XL by William Shakespeare: The theme appears to revert to romantic love as opposed to friendship by the end of this group. Sonnet 39 bemoans the separation of the two hearts. Sonnet 40 appears to be scolding the lover for the possibility of not requiting the poet’s love: “I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest; But ye be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.”
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXII, beginning to heading “The Intellectual Contrast between Brute and Man”: James (following others) distinguishes “recepts” from concepts and argues that the most simple inferences in response to external stimuli do not rise to the level of reasoning. Reasoning involves picking out essential qualities of something, abstracting them from the concrete; James uses the phrase “mode of conceiving” to refer it to it. This essential quality then “suggests a certain consequence more obviously than was suggested by the total datum as it originally came.” Someone adept at picking perceiving essence is said to have sagacity.
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book XI: “Thou shalt not, if thou canst help, touch that which is mine, or remove the least thing which belongs to me without my consent; and may I be of a sound mind, and do to others as I would that they should do to me.” This is the Plato beloved by thinkers through the history of the Christian church. I was surprised to read here that the Athenian allows the possibility that retail trade is not bad in and of itself; it’s just that he thinks the worst sort of people practice it, and therefore it’s characterized by abuses. We also get ideas here about restrictions on bequests intended to preserve wealth in the family and community.

This is my third consecutive weekly post in the Great Books Project. I hope am able to maintain this pace after being out of practice for so long. Your comments and input are always welcome, of course.

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A Few Thoughts on the 2016 Election

Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I made no predictions concerning the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

I neither followed the campaign coverage very closely, watched the televised debates, nor tracked the polls. Thus I didn’t feel as though I had a good read on the likely outcome. All I knew was that if I did vote (I ultimately did), that I would opt for a third-party candidate. I live in a state whose Electoral College votes were safely in Trump’s columns, and I felt no guilt at all about registering a protest against both major parties with my ballot.

trump-and-hillaryImmediately after voting, I took Sons #1-4 to see a movie. I checked major news sites before the lights went down at 7:00 p.m. CST, knowing that it was too early for any results to have come in, but I saw that everyone was giving Hillary Clinton a 90%+ chance of winning at that point.

About 2.5 hours later, I left the theater to the news that at that point Donald Trump was being given an 85%+ chance of winning the election.

The turnaround stunned me. My wife and I sat up for the next several hours watching CBS News’s coverage of the election on a free Apple TV app (we don’t have cable). I spent a good part of the next 24 hours reading deep analysis of and commentary on the election. After soaking up this information and filtering it (hopefully) through many years of studying and teaching humane letters and political theory, I have the following observations to make:

  1. Establishment media has become hopeless: Throughout this campaign, I have noted and commented on the blatantly slanted coverage that the mainstream media gave the candidates. In fact, I had stated on social media that the unmasking of the media’s bias and their resulting loss of credibility could end up being the most enduring legacy of the campaign. Many others have noted this development as well, so I will not belabor the point here. I think this article from a left-wing perspective states the idea pretty well (N.B. some bad language).
  2. Americans on both the Left and the Right desperately need to develop the moral imagination: Read Russell Kirk’s discussion of this essential concept. Will anyone seriously argue that popular discussion surrounding this campaign has been characterized by “ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events”? To the contrary, leading partisan voices have been worse than ever in caricaturing their opponents and failing to make an honest attempt to understand what motivates their opponents’ supporters. Instead, they write off tens of millions of their fellow citizens as godless, racist, sexist, or what have you. We’ve all seen this nasty rhetoric: all Trump voters are just fine with sexual assault; all Clinton voters want to eradicate religion from American life. I agree with secular liberal Jonathan Haidt that this problem is more prevalent on the Left than it is on the Right, but both sides suffer from it to an astonishing degree. While not agreeing entirely with it, I thought this piece in the Washington Post made several good observations in line with this idea.
  3. The sky is not falling: I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, when Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1998. A friend of mine who was teaching elementary school was told after that election by a distraught African-American child that the governor-elect was certain to re-institute chattel slavery upon his inauguration. As ludicrous as this fear sounds to anyone who knows anything about modern American politics, it’s not much worse than the hysterical predictions filling up the internet since Tuesday evening. To me the most bizarre of these fears is the one that a President Trump will be the most anti-LGBT president in American history, when in reality Trump is further to the Left on this issue than any GOP presidential candidate ever, and further to the Left than any DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate prior to 2012! I do not discount stories of the worst of Trump’s supporters feeling emboldened to do nasty things in the wake of his victory, and when those things happen, they need to be dealt with quickly. However, my friends on the Left should heed the words of Hillary Clinton’s gracious concession speech and keep an open mind here. There is zero evidence in Trump’s proposed first-100-day agenda that justifies the kind of freak out we’ve been seeing. (I would be saying similar things to my friends on the Right if Clinton had won.)
  4. Maybe we’re not stronger together: Everyone agrees that the USA is deeply divided. If we cannot develop the moral imagination to understand each other better, I wonder whether we can continue to live together peacefully in the long term. As I write this, news outlets are reporting on widespread protests against the outcome of a perfectly orderly election process. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump won this election fair and square, just as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. If large numbers of people who are relatively concentrated in certain geographical areas (such as the West coast) can’t stomach that outcome, it might finally be time to ask the question whether America is too big. Does it really make sense for 320 million people with widely divergent views on all sorts of things all to be governed from Washington, D.C.? Would the people of this country flourish more effectively with a peaceful partition? Given our particular history with secession in this country, I think a movement of this sort needs to come from the Left to gain popular acceptance, and maybe we are starting to see that with talk of “Calexit.” I wish them well.

I have plenty more things to say about all this, but I have work to do today. I welcome your (civil) comments below.

UPDATE: Several thoughtful journalists (who supported Clinton) are facing up to the epistemic closure in their profession. Within a few hours of making this post, I came across these articles, all of which are worthwhile:

The Sneering Response to Trump’s Victory Reveals Exactly Why He Won

Mark Halperin Rips NY Times‘ Anti-Trump Bias Following Election: ‘This Is The Onion

The Unbearable Smugness of the Press

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Soul Precedes Body; Intellect Precedes Sense

Here you all are worrying about today’s U.S. presidential election when there are Great Books to discuss. Focus on what’s important, people!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book III, Chapters 10-19 (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 140-164)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXIX (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 634-646)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 78-79 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 407-427)
  4. Sonnets XXXVI-XL by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 591-592)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXII, beginning to heading “The Intellectual Contrast between Brute and Man” (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 665-678)
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 771-784)

Maybe reading Tostoy’s vivid account of the Battle of Austerlitz will persuade you that things aren’t quite so bad as all that here in 2016.

Here are some observations from the last set of readings:

  1. warandpeace-helene

    Tuppence Middleton as Helene in the BBC’s War & Peace

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book III, Chapters 1-9: The first several chapters of this book describe the home front and the matchmaking Prince Vasíli pursues for his children. He succeeds in manipulating Pierre and Hélène into an engagement, but fails with Anatole and Marie. For Pierre, everything seems predetermined and absolutely necessary, but Marie chooses to remain single (helped by the realization that Anatole is much more interested in Mme. Bourienne than he is in her). The scene shifts in Chapter 7 to the preparations for the Battle of Austerlitz.

  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXVIII and “General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West”: Gibbon clearly doesn’t think much of the Merovingians. He scoffs at their conversion to Christianity and their numerous wars, those of Clovis in particular. He also treats the Visigoths, Alemanni, and Saxons to some degree, lingering longest on the forces of Hengist and Horsa in their attempts to conquer Britain. The “General Observations” section wraps up the discussion of the Western Empire. Gibbon attempts to draw lessons from the Fall of Rome for 18th-century Europe, concluding that never again would our civilization need to fear barbarian invasion. I wonder if the headlines of 2015-2016 would lead him to reconsider. The phrase “pride and prejudice” appeared unexpectedly in this chapter, leading to an amusing mental image of Mr. Darcy decked out as a Merovingian prince.
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 77: St. Thomas writes that the soul’s power cannot be its essence because, unlike God, the soul is an act of something else, and power and act divide being. (I think this is an accurate summary of his argument, although I am foggy on precisely how these terms are defined.) The soul has several powers of different ranks; each is determined by its object. The powers follow a natural order: intellectual ==> sensitive ==> nutritive. The sensitive and nutritive powers require the body to act and thus are not the “subject” of the soul. The sensitive and nutritive powers proceed from and are for the sake of the intellectual, even though they are treated as the subject “considered as receptive principles.” Only the intellectual power and the will survive the destruction of the body.
  4. Sonnets XXXI-XXXV by William Shakespeare: There’s an interesting shift that occurs after #32. Up until then the narrator has been writing nice things about his friend, but then in #33 the sun is clouded over, and in #34-35 there are complaints against the friend for misleading and “trespassing” against the narrator. I dug around a little online and learned that one of the theories about this sequence is that Shakespeare was going through a falling out with his patron at the time he wrote these.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXI: “We never disbelieve anything except for the reason that we believe something else which contradicts the first thing.” James argues that a person’s “dominant habits of attention . . . practically elect” our reality from among the various possibilities. So “in the relative sense” the things that excite and hold our attention are what’s real. Because sensations do this so well, they, not conceptions, are our “paramount reality.” James believes the influence of emotions over our actions stems from the bodily sensations they involve. Any theoretical system, to be believed, must adequately explain the sensible objects of our experience.
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book X: After leading off with a general rule against the taking or damaging of others’ property, something that may seem surprising to those who know only the Republic, Plato devotes the rest of this book to the problem of offenders who refuse to honor rules put down by the gods. The Athenian posits three reasons why someone might do this: atheism, a belief that the gods are not concerned with mortals, and a belief that the gods can be easily propitiated. He rebuts each of these beliefs, spending the most time on the first one. His proof of the gods’ existence involves a rejection of materialism and advancing of the idea that the soul precedes the body.

After today, will it be time for celebration? Weeping and gnashing of teeth? Marching forward into a brave new world? Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option? Who knows? This too shall pass. I’m certain that we’ll all do well to keep reading the Great Books whatever happens. Get to it!

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Don’t Ever Rob a Temple

If you’re at all like me, you view the major cultural and political developments of 2016 with a jaundiced eye. I’ve found, however, that by immersing myself in great works like the ones below, I can insulate myself from some of the nonsense we’ve been subjected to this year. In fact, that’s one of the key benefits of reading the Great Books; it helps you maintain perspective and a focus on the timeless while the world goes crazy around you.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book III, Chapters 1-9 (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 111-140)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXVIII and “General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West” (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 608-634)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 77 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 399-407)
  4. Sonnets XXXI-XXXVI by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 591)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXI (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 636-665)
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book X (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 757-771)

It seems like we have been mired in these six works forever, but we are actually very near the end of the Laws and of the Vol. 37 portion of Gibbon. We’ll have some fresh readings very soon!

Here are some observations from the last set of readings:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book II, Chapters 11-21: Lots of action in these chapters. Most of the narrative follows Prince Andrew, who sees the Austrian emperor and is wined and dined at Brünn before having to flee before the approaching French army. Not having been ordered back to the army, he has the option of leaving with his noble friends, but instead he rejoins the army and requests a position with the rearguard, thinking that he will somehow save the army singlehandedly. Tolstoy present the narrative of the battle as a sequence of chance events over which the Russian commander projects the illusion of control.
  2. ulfilasThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXVII: I confess I did not enjoy reading Gibbon’s half-chapter-long sneer at monks. I wasn’t even one paragraph into his description of monasticism before I was convinced that it was a distorted portrayal. I suppose he was confident enough in the prejudices of his Protestant audience that he thought he could afford to be a jerk. The second part of the chapter is better, but still a bit snarky. Gibbon acknowledges the persecutions endured by Germanic converts to Christianity in the wake of St. Ulfilas’s missionary activity and the problem of Arianism in the converted regions.
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 75-76: These questions begin St. Thomas’s “Treatise on Man.” They discuss the soul’s essence and the union of the soul and body. The soul and mind function apart from the body. The soul is subsistent and incorruptible, but it is not man on its own. The intellectual principle (mind) is the form of man in Aristotelian terms. The whole soul is in each part of the body, an idea I find fascinating because moderns would never even think to ask whether that was the case.
  4. Sonnets XXVI-XXX by William Shakespeare: For some reason I found this group of five sonnets particularly engaging. Shakespeare uses some stimulating metaphors: love as a feudal bond, a pilgrimage to the lover, etc. I thought #30 was especially poignant: thinking on “thee, dear friend” takes away the grief of the remembrance of “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night.”
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XX, heading “Ambiguity of Retinal Impressions” to end: At long last we reach the end of this “tediously minute survey” (James’s words, not mine). James argues that visual impressions on the retina are ambiguous and that the mind selects visual reality, ignoring or suppressing contrary sensations in order to do so. He concludes the chapter with a brief historical survey of other theorists’ ideas on vision. I couldn’t help but be pleased that we have already read selections from the majority of these thinkers as part of this project: Berkeley, Helmholtz, etc.
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book IX: “Laws are partly framed for the sake of good men, in order to instruct them how they may live on friendly terms with one another, and partly for the sake of those who refuse to be instructed, whose spirit cannot be subdued, or softened, or hindered from plunging into evil.” This book starts with a discussion of robbers of temples, but the majority of it is about murder and assault. The Athenian distinguishes between crimes of passion and premeditation. Premeditated murder can result in the death penalty. Near the end of the book there’s a provision about the duty of bystanders to intervene when a man assaults a parent or grandparent. A slave who intervenes to stop such an assault is to be freed!

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Halloween, and I hope you have something fun planned, especially if you have young children like I do!

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I’m at the Imaginative Conservative This Morning

The Imaginative Conservative, begun by Winston Elliott and Brad Birzer, has become one of my most-frequented websites in the last couple of years. Its writers cover a lot of ground and never get bogged down in the narrowly political.

I’m pleased to report that my first piece for this site was published this morning. It’s a review of Robert Woods’s Dwelling on Delphi: Thinking Christianly about the Liberal Arts.

Here’s the link.

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Rome Falls

I am making good on my promise to resume the Great Books Project posts. True, I’m doing it about one year later than I had intended, but better late than never. The laptop on which I had been drafting posts and keeping track of all the readings died, and that derailed me for some time.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book II, Chapters 11-21 (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 86-110)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXXVII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 593-608)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 75-76 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 378-399)
  4. Sonnets XXVI-XXX by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 590-591)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XX, heading “Ambiguity of Retinal Impressions” to end (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 602-635)
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 743-757)

It’s really hard to pick up the thread of several tough works like these at once after not having read them for so long! I’m sure many of you know that feeling.

Here are some observations from the last set of readings:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book II, Chapters 1-10: These chapters follow the activities of Rostov and Prince Andrew as they accompany General Kutuzov’s army through Austria in the autumn of 1805. The fighting against the French goes badly. Rostov gets caught up in some drama over a purse stolen by a fellow officer, and Prince Andrew has his hopes for promotion frustrated. Tolstoy dwells on the less admirable features of an aristocratic officer corps: the nepotism, jockeying for position, etc. However, I suspect things aren’t all that different in the modern military.
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, romulus-augustulusChapter XXXVI: It all comes crashing down in this chapter (in the West at least). Genseric and the Vandals sack Rome (after another heroic intervention from Pope Leo saved many people). The pillaging lasted a full two weeks, and nothing of value was left at the end of it. Bishop Deogratias of Carthage stepped up and sold much of the Church’s treasure to buy and free many slaves Genseric brought back to Africa. He also converted churches into hospitals to alleviate the suffering of the captives. There followed a bewildering string of ineffective emperors acting as pawns for barbarian rulers. Odoacer finally put the imperial dignity, “that useless and expensive office,” out of its misery in 476 by deposing Romulus Augustulus and ruling directly. After centuries of decline, Italy now “exhibited the sad prospect of misery and desolation.”
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 71-74: In response to many of the objections about the ordering and activity of the fifth, sixth, and seventh days of creation, St. Thomas continues the refrain, “The authority of Scripture suffices.” I liked this statement rebutting the objection that water can’t bring forth fish (Day 5) because it’s representative: “But at the first beginning of the world the active principle was the Word of God, which produced animals from material elements, either in act, as some holy writers say, or virtually, as Augustine teaches. Not as though the power possessed by water or earth of producing all animals resides in the earth and the water themselves, as Avicenna held, but in the power originally given to the elements of producing them from elemental matter by the power of seed or the influence of the stars.”
  4. Sonnets XXI-XXV by William Shakespeare: More musings on death in this group of sonnets, but there was some variety as well. I particularly liked number XXIV, which utilized an extended metaphor of painting: the poet’s eyes are a painter that paint the woman’s beauty in his heart, and his body is the painting’s frame. The woman’s eyes “Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun/Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.”
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XX, heading “The Summation of the Sense-spaces” to heading “Ambiguity of Retinal Impressions”: James begins this section by asking how the various sense-spaces get combined into a continuous whole. His response is that the mind automatically “locates together” sense-perceptions that can be attended to together even though each sense-organ is really its own little universe. He then rebuts contemporaries who argue that all sensation originates in the muscles, arguing that surfaces are what really matter. He cites evidence that joint surfaces are sensitive, for example. He argues that muscular contraction is only an indirect source of spatial perception. After an interesting discussion of how blind people are able to perceive space, he works to integrate vision into the combination of senses that take part in the process. We end up with a pretty technical description of images on the retina and how the eyes work together.
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book VIII: This book combines discussion of what most moderns would consider common-sense laws on theft and the moving of property lines with what most moderns would consider horrible: severe restrictions of commerce, close prescription of athletic contests, and clamping down on illicit sexual activity. Introducing the section on sexual regulation, the Athenian states, “I could not help thinking how one is to deal with a city in which youths and maidens are well nurtured, and have nothing to do, and are not undergoing the excessive and servile toils which extinguish wantonness, and whose only cares during their whole life are sacrifices and festivals and dances. How, in such a state as this, will they abstain from desires which thrust many a man and woman into perdition; and from which reason, assuming the functions of law, commands them to abstain?” How, indeed? Many readers, especially those who have encountered the Symposium, will probably be surprised to see the hard line the Athenian takes against homosexual acts here.

I have high hopes of making another Great Books Project post within a week. I’ll be spending quite a bit of time alone in airports and on airplanes this weekend, and with the Great Books of the Western World entirely on my iPad now thanks to Noet, I should be able to get a lot of reading done. I also hope to begin posting on other topics a bit more regularly going forward.

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What Does It Mean to Be “Well-Educated”?

I hope to have a Great Books Project post up in the next day or so. In the meantime, I direct your attention to a recent post over at the Imaginative Conservative website by Joseph Pearce on the topic of being “well-educated.”

The title? “The Arrogant Ignorance of the ‘Well-Educated'”

Pearce reacts in this post to a bumper sticker that reads, “What you call the Liberal Elite, we call being well-educated.” He argues that what the 21st-century school system considers “well educated” is severely deficient. For example:

If she was educated in our secular system, she would have learned nothing whatsoever about theology, presuming that, if there is a God, he, or probably she, agrees with us. If he or she does not agree with us, he or she can go to hell. And, of course, we can tell God to go to hell because he or she is made in our image (we are not made in his/hers) and we can do what we like with him or her. In short, we can treat God with the same arrogance and superciliousness with which we treat our neighbor: “What God calls sin, we call being well-educated.”

Pearce goes on about our educational systems’ shortcoming in other fields of knowledge as well. He pulls no punches. (If you are familiar at all with Pearce’s writing, this will not surprise you.) The conclusion is blistering:

To be “well-educated” is to be ignorant of theology, philosophy, history and the great books of civilization. It is to believe that we have nothing to learn from the Great Conversation that has animated human discourse for three millennia. It is to treat our neighbor in the car next to us with supercilious and scornful contempt, presuming that he is stupid because he is not as “well-educated” as we. It is to treat the greatest minds and the most brilliant writers in history with contempt because they are not as “well-educated” as we. In short, to be “well-educated” is not merely ignorance, it is the arrogance of ignorance.

Read the whole thing. Then go back to reading the Great Books!

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I Discuss Donald Trump at the Christian Century

donald_trump_by_gage_skidmoreOne of my old college friends, who now helps edit the historians’ “Then and Now” blog at the Christian Century site, has talked me into writing a piece on Donald Trump and Super Tuesday.

It went up this morning. The original draft was too long for them, but the editors did a fair job of trimming it down without losing much of my meaning, although one or two typos crept into the edits.

The posts will resume here. I promise!

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