It’s Great Books Monday once again, and I hope you’re ready to wrap up two major works. We’ll have read one of them in its entirety and lengthy excerpts of the other.
Here are the readings for the upcoming week:
- The Iliad of Homer, Books VII-IX (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 77-111)
- “Of Experience” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 559-587)
- Plato’s Republic, Book X (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 427-441)
- Federalist #54 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 170-172; Antifederalist responses are here)
- “On a Piece of Chalk“by Thomas H. Huxley (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 205-222)
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XIX (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 205-213)
If you’ve gotten comfortable with short essays from Bacon and Montaigne, brace yourself; “Of Experience” is really long.
Here are some observations on last week’s readings:
The Iliad of Homer, Books IV-VI: For someone who’s not key to the central plot of the Iliad, Diomedes is one impressive fellow. In this reading he not only mows down several Trojan heroes and severely wounds Aeneas, but he also injures two immortals. Hector is no slouch, either, and we see a tender moment tinged with fatalism in his conversation with his wife. Paris, by contrast, fails to inspire.
- “Of Youth and Age” by Francis Bacon: I like the urging of cooperation between the young and old so that all can benefit from the strengths of each. Lots more classical references here (three Latin quotations) and even a rabbinic commentary on an Old Testament text. How could this man ever have succumbed to empiricism?
- Plato’s Republic, Book IX: So we finally work our way back to issues raised at the beginning of this work. Socrates argues that it’s best to be just even if no one else knows or gives you credit because that is the best thing for your own soul. I don’t really know how persuasive this line of argument would be in a pre-Christian context, although Plato’s yes-men nod enthusiastically whenever Socrates says something.
- Federalist #52-53: Much of the attention here is on defending biennial elections for the House of Representatives as opposed to some other interval. In the abstract, annual elections might seem best with the benefits of modern transportation and communication, but then that would subject us to year-round campaigning. Ugh.
- “Mathematical Creation” by Henri Poincaré: I was ready to read something technical here, but this piece is really more of an exploration of the psychology of invention. I found this pre-Freudian attempt to account for new ideas striking like a bolt from the blue very interesting. Of course there’s no concession to the possibility of inspiration here.
- How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter XV-XVII: I guess it’s a mark of Dewey’s influence over the last century that most of the positions here seem pretty obvious to modern readers. That students shouldn’t be given busy work seems self-evident, although apparently many teachers still do it. The endorsement of the expansion of one’s vocabulary was welcome.
If you’re not working this Labor Day, I hope the weather outside is nice for you. We’re getting rain from Tropical Storm Lee where I live, but I’ll most likely be in the office.