Scientist: Science Is Anti-Rationalistic, Naive

Political absolutism, scholastic philosophy, determinism, history of science: we are all over the place in this week’s readings. Let’s get to it.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 235-274)
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Part I, Chapters 8-12 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 66-84)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 86-89 (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 461-480)
  4. Sonnets LI-LV by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 594)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII, beginning to heading “Special Human Instincts” (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 700-712)
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters II-III (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 144-162)

I hope no one minds my confessing that I’m pretty tired of William James.

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

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book V: Here come the Freemasons. Pierre joins and attempts to recruit Prince Andrew. Tolstoy cleverly describes how Pierre’s newfound humanitarianism doesn’t do anyone any good despite his efforts. Meanwhile, Denisov gets into trouble for thrashing the corrupt official who had withheld food from his soldiers, and Nicholas has his faith in the emperor shaken when he witnesses the proceedings at the signing of the peace with Napoleon in 1807.
  2. hobbes-leviathanLeviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Introduction and Part I, Chapters 1-7: I haven’t read these chapters since graduate school. Today I have even less sympathy for Hobbes’s attempts to reason from materialistic first principles. It is interesting that he anticipates certain ideas in Newton and Hume a generation or two later. There’s also that naivete common in the mid- to late 17th century that if we could all just define our terms clearly enough, all disagreements would vanish. We need to do everything like geometry, “which is the only science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind.”
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 84-85: Here begins a new section dealing with “the acts and habits of the soul in regard to the intellectual and appetitive powers.” These two questions are part of a discussion of “how the soul understands when united to the body.” St. Thomas argues that we can gain intellectual knowledge through the senses, and that the soul when united to the body is hindered if the senses are diminished. Article 4 of Q. 85 argues that we cannot understand multiple things at the same time.
  4. Sonnets XLVI-L by William Shakespeare: “My grief lies onward and my joy behind.” The poet writes these words of #50 not while he is heading to the dentist, but as he is journeying away from his friend. I am tempted to reproduce all of #46 here because it’s about as perfect as love poetry can get: “Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war / How to divide the conquest of thy sight.” That, my friends, is passion.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII: This is a transitional chapter. After hundreds of pages discussing what James himself characterizes as a “jungle of purely inward processes and products” (memory, sensation, imagination, perception), the author pivots to a treatment of the “final or emergent operations, the bodily activities, and the forms of consciousness connected withal.” The chapter runs for a mere seven pages. James makes brief references to certain involuntary bodily operations: sweating, the catching of one’s breath, contraction of pupils, the patellar reflex, etc. But these are just pauses on the way to lengthier treatments of other movements in subsequent chapters.
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter I: We’re off to a promising start, with Whitehead’s description of science as “anti-rationalistic” and “naïve.” Those were the good old days when even the intellectuals who had rejected religion recognized and gave due credit to Christianity for disciplining the Greek philosophical inheritance and laying the foundations of modern science. Whitehead (in 1925) says that it’s time for science to get philosophical and critique its own foundations. Otherwise it’s in danger of degenerating into “a medley of ad hoc hypotheses.” Tell me more.

I was thinking while composing this post that I desperately need to update the list of completed works on the main page for this project on the site. I won’t have time to attend to that in the next two weeks, in all likelihood. Travels and graduation this week, then more travels next week. Thank goodness for ebooks!

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Plato Hates on Immigrants

My sophomore class has been reading Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for the past week, and I started feeling really guilty for not having made a Great Books Project post in a while, so here we are! (By the way, we’ve just crossed the 22,000-page threshold of the project.)

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book V (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 194-234)
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Introduction and Part I, Chapters 1-7 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 39-66)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 84-85 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 440-461)
  4. Sonnets XLVI-L by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 593-594)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 693-699)
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter I (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 135-144)

It seems like forever since we started Gibbon, and we’re not done with him yet. But having completed GBWW Volume 37, I want to take a break from Rome for a while, so Hobbes it is. Also, I can’t find an online version of the Whitehead text, although it was written in the early 1920s. If anyone locates one, I’d appreciate a link.

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

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book IV: These characters seem to do better at war than at home, even when they are getting shot up. Prince Andrew returns home just in time to see his wife die in childbirth. Rostov loses 43,000 rubles at cards to the jerk who is envious of Sonya’s love for him. Pierre fights a duel, miraculously survives despite having never held a pistol before, and chases his wife away. Get back to the war already!
  2. JustinianThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XL: This final chapter of Vol. 37 discusses the reign of Justinian, with which I was already pretty familiar. It’s a sort of greatest-hits chapter: the Nike revolt, the bravery of the empress Theodora, the colossal construction projects in Constantinople. Good stuff.
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 80-83: This section deals with the “appetitive powers,” which St. Thomas treats generally before focusing specifically on sensuality, the will, and free choice. The appetitive power of the soul is “an inclination surpassing the natural inclination” of forms without knowledge. I had never thought about classifying the will and choice as part of the appetite, but it makes sense. St. Thomas, of course, does believe that human beings have free choice.
  4. Sonnets XLI-XLV by William Shakespeare: It appears that love triangles were a thing even in the 16th century. The first two sonnets in this group accuse the poet’s friend of stealing his mistress. The next two or three dwell on the theme of separation from the beloved. There’s some interesting play on words in #43: “darkly bright are bright in dark”; “thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright”; “thy shadow’s form form happy show,” etc. My favorite is probably #44, in which the poet wishes his body had the speed of thought so he could cross the earth instantaneously to reunite with this beloved.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXII, heading “The Intellectual Contrast between Brute and Man” to the end: As best I can tell, the key difference between brute and man as far as James is concern is language. Man “has a deliberate intention to apply a sign to everything. The linguistic impulse is with him generalized and systematic.” Sure, animals communicate in various ways, but to James human language represents a difference in kind, not just degree. He seems to frown on Darwin’s notion that human intelligence is one end of the same continuum on which the intelligence of fish and dogs also rest.
  6. The Laws of Plato, Book XII: The final book of the work contains regulations on several different things, some of which are repetitions of what came in earlier books. I found particularly interesting the assertion that an “open society” in which people and ideas freely flowed in and out was undesirable. There were to be strict regulations on travel both by citizens and foreign visitors; the Athenian even states that the better the city’s laws are, the more damaging are the new ideas put into circulation by contact with the outside world. By the time we get to the final few pages, it has all come back around to virtue–courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice–and the need for it in the city’s legislators.

My spring semester is drawing to a close. Although the summer schedule is frighteningly full, I think the administrative workload will lighten up enough for me to start posting at least semi-regularly again. Here’s hoping!

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Thoughts on a New Dark Age

This weekend, Lew Rockwell republished a review I wrote a few months ago of Subtracting Christianity, a collection of essays by the late Joseph Sobran published by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation in 2015. You can read it here.

I don’t think I ever linked to the original piece for ANAMNESIS from this blog, so here’s the link to that.

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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.

Posted in Academia, Books, Liberal Arts | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments