If I Don’t Think, Do I Not Exist?

As Great Books Monday rolls around again, we’re preparing to dive into one of the greatest classics of spirituality of all time, not to mention the world’s first autobiography. Are you ready?

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 5-26)
  2. On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth” by William Hazlitt (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 565-570)
  3. Of the Education of Children” by Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 115-132)
  4. Federalist #6-10 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 38-53; Anti-Federalist responses are here.)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book V (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 81-98)
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books I-III (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 1-24)

With the addition of St. Augustine’s Confessions this week, we’re reading three long works simultaneously (assuming we count the Federalist as a unified work). I expect that from this point on, the majority of the time we’ll be in three or maybe four long works at once. We still have a lot of short pieces from the Gateway set to enjoy, and there are many essays, plays, and other shorter works to come in the long set as well. Even so, the longer works will eventually come to dominate the weekly readings. The advantage of our format is that we’ll still be eating those elephants one bite at a time.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. “Of Love” by Francis Bacon: I like the part about how no one can get away with speaking in constant hyperbole except in matters of love. Also, “whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitteth both riches and wisdom.” So love makes you poor and stupid. I disagree, but let’s face it: Bacon does have many case studies to cite.
  2. The Constitution of the United States: I don’t have much to say about this one except that it is a fairly short, straightforward document. To think that acres of trees have been sacrificed so that people can argue over what it means seems absolutely crazy.
  3. Federalist #1-#5: I kept getting the feeling that John Jay was presenting New York with a false choice: ratify the Constitution or break up the Union. Why not just amend the Articles of Confederation, which is what the convention was supposed to do in the first place? But this is never presented as an option. Is this intentional?
  4. The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Molière: I’m not a big fan of Molière, but this was a hoot. Just make some references to Aristotle and speak Latin-sounding gibberish, and everyone will be impressed with your sagacity. And if the patient fares ill, it’s always his fault, never the physician’s! Of course, we have the happy ending brought on by the deus ex machina; it seems like no comedy can be without one.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book IV: I’m hanging in there on these propositions. There was a whole lot of inscribing and circumscribing one shape within or around another shape in this book. I trust that Euclid has some larger design idea in mind he’ll ultimately share with us.
  6. Discourse on Method by René Descartes: Cogito ergo sum must be one of philosophy’s most quoted declarations. I thought Parts V and VI were a bit of a letdown after the somewhat daring proofs of Par IV. I was also a bit put off by all the declarations of how modest he is. Still, this is a central work of modern philosophy and the physical sciences, and the focus on epistemology has had far-reaching consequences.

I apologize for posting only three times last week, but professional and personal life both got very busy suddenly. At least I managed to stay on the reading schedule! I hope to get back to the normal 5-6 posts this week.

[This post is part of my seven-year plan to read through the Gateway to the Great Books and Great Books of the Western World sets. The original post describing the plan is here.]

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About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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8 Responses to If I Don’t Think, Do I Not Exist?

  1. “If I Don’t Think, Do I Not Exist?”

    Fun question. Do contradictions exist?

  2. Alice Jewell says:

    You actually do agree with Bacon. Notice the “too” in his statement. The rest of one’s responsibilities can truly suffer if his or her life is out of balance because of love or various other attention-grabbing activities.

  3. Victoria says:

    I do like Moliere, and thoroughly enjoyed Le Medecin, which I hadn’t read since high school (in France, where we were – naturally – fed lots & lots of Moliere, Racine, Corneille …). But I also really enjoyed the introduction: the author made several very interesting points in as many paragraphs. What a nice change from the over-worked and over-wrought intros to so many classics.

    I didn’t reread Descartes but we’re scheduled to read “I Drink, Therefore I Am”, by Roger Scruton, later this year for my book group. He connects different philosophies with various types of booze …

    Is anyone else having trouble reading so much online? I can many the essays, but anything longer really gets to me.

    • Dr. J says:

      I’m reading everything in the bound volumes, but if I were trying to follow the program without them at hand, I’d probably print out the longer works. I dislike reading long passages on a screen and always print out students’ research papers and the like to review.

  4. Victoria says:

    Is “over-worked and over-wrought” redundant? I was thinking in terms of intellectually over-worked and emotionally over-wrought.

  5. Vickie says:

    The world is nothing but babble; and I hardly ever yet saw that man who did not rather prate too much, than speak too little. — Montaigne, “Of the Education of Children”

    . . . little did he know . . .

  6. Vickie says:

    “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.” Madison

    So what exactly does he mean by “abolition of debts”?

    I can’t help but laugh at some of the things these people were warning against if the constitution was not ratified, since so many of them have happened anyway.

  7. Jane says:

    I went from The Federalist Papers to the book “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis, and then went completely off track for several months. I’ve also been both disturbed by our current political climate (Trump for President? Really?) and struck by how nothing has changed in the last 200+ years. We are still polarized by the questions of more vs. less government, with passions ignited on either side of the issue. I want to get back to these readings if only to avoid infection by the vitriol.

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