Is Rationality a Feeling?

It’s Great Books Monday once again, and we are on pace to pass the 4,000-page mark this week. We’re also about to make John Locke’s acquaintance, as well as Voltaire’s.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books XIII-XV  (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 148-189)
  2. Camillus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 102-121)
  3. Second Treatise on Civil Government by John Locke, Ch. I-IV (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 25-30)
  4. Federalist #57 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 176-179; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. “Beginnings and Endings”by Sir James Jeans (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 585-596; Chapter VII of The Universe Around Us)
  6. The Philosophy of Common Sense” by Voltaire (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 453-474; excerpts from the Philosophical Dictionary including the following: Arts, Astrology, Authority, Authors, Concatenation of Events, Democracy, Equality, Friendship, Laws, Man (General Reflection On), Mountain, New Novelties, Reason, Self-Love, Socrates, Truth, Tyranny)

I’m unable to find an online copy of the Jeans piece (this seems to be happening more often with the scientific works), so I’ve linked to the page for the book. And apologies for the triple shot of the Enlightenment this week. I’m not sure how that happened, but there it is.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. The Iliad of Homer, Books X-XII: I’ve been doing a lot of comparing of Homer with the Silmarillion this past week because Corey Olsen’s nine-month seminar on the latter wrapped up last Wednesday. We talked at some length about the epic voice in which the Silmarillion is composed and how modern readers wouldn’t find it so scary if they were more familiar with Homer, Dante et al. In this section of the Iliad, Agamemnon has a chance to shine, and so does Sarpedon, whose little speech about the duties of the aristocracy illustrates a key point of the “Homeric code.”
  2. “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift: It has been several years since I last read this, but it still creeps me out, even though I know it’s satire. I can only imagine the reaction people had when it was first published. And of course he claims to have gotten the idea of eating children from “an American of his acquaintance.” The conclusion is brilliant: “I’ve nothing to gain from this because I don’t have any kids to sell.”
  3. “Characters” by Jean de la Bruyère: According to Adler, this author would be considered in the top rank of essayists had he critiqued 17th-century institutions as much as he did individuals. If true, this just shows the modernist bias that punishes anyone who doesn’t genuflect sufficiently before the gods of democracy and secularization. I think these portraits are as skillful as anything I’ve seen coming from the pen of Montaigne.
  4. Federalist #55-56: That Madison and Hamilton felt it necessary to defend the idea of only one representative for every 30,000 people should give us second thoughts about our current ratio of one rep per 700,000+ people. I’m just sayin’ . . .
  5. “On Mathematical Method” by Alfred N. Whitehead: Some of the other selections in this volume have done a great job of explaining the significance of mathematics. This one effectively tells you what’s going on in the fundamentals of mathematics without getting bogged down in details. Note Whitehead’s classical education on display in the discussion of the Newton and the Greeks and Romans.
  6. “The Sentiment of Rationality” by William James: I don’t know what to think about this essay. I’m with James wholeheartedly in his critique of Clifford–I’m really glad we read Clifford several weeks ago so I knew what he was talking about–but this whole business about the subjective determining of reality is a bit scary. I love the pulling back of the curtain to expose the faith of the evolutionist; that part was cleverly done.

Although it has warmed up a bit here in Montgomery, the weather is still beautiful, if dry. I’m looking forward to fall and lots of outdoor reading.

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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2 Responses to Is Rationality a Feeling?

  1. “Is Rationality a Feeling?”


    Although intuition or the muse can ‘feel’ like they are.

  2. Jane says:

    Homer, The Iliad, X-XII: A few observations/references – Nestor notes how “life and death are balanced as it were on the edge of a razor” – an early occurrence of that metaphor, linked for me with Maugham’s novel? Diomed says, “When two men are together, one of them may see some opportunity which the other has not caught sight of; if a man is alone he is less full of resource, and his wit is weaker.” This reminds me of Enkidu reassuring Gilgamesh: “Two people, companions, they will prevail together against the terror.” Sarpedon gives voice to the acceptance of mortality and thus the willingness to fight on behalf of one’s country: “If, when we were once out of this fight, we could escape old age and death thenceforward and forever, I should neither press forward myself nor bid you do so, but death in ten thousand shapes hangs over our heads, and no man can elude him; therefore let us go forward and either win glory for ourselves, or yield it to another.”

    Swift, A Modest Proposal: Still shocking today, yet sadly still a valid indictment of societies (such as ours) that condone economic inequalities and sentence large numbers of people to misery and starvation. Just a few weeks ago Ireland finally threw off the yoke of the Catholic church and legalized abortion. Those who so stridently condemn and seek to prohibit abortion across the board need to contribute their own resources to caring for the children whose parents have none. Otherwise, it should be none of their damned business. The pairing of abortion AND contraception prohibitions are just absolutely absurd and infuriating.

    Whitehead, On Mathematical Method: “The progress of science consists in observing interconnections and in showing with a patient ingenuity that the events of this ever-shifting world are but examples of a few general connections or relations called laws. To see what is general in what is particular and what is permanent in what is transitory is the aim of scientific thought… thus it comes about that, step by step, and not realizing the full meaning of the process, mankind has been led to search for a mathematical description of the properties of the universe, because in this way only can a general idea of the course of events be formed, freed from reference to particular persons or to particular types of sensation.” I like that…. And I was also able to employ the pressure vs. volume graph in Figure 2 as a metaphor for a client’s becoming less wound up and more psychically open after working through a trauma in therapy.

    James, The Sentiment of Rationality: Full of practical wisdom about man’s drive to understand the world and feel his life has meaning and purpose, James essentially says we believe what we want to believe or what fulfills these needs. “No philosophy will permanently be deemed rational by all men which (in addition to meeting logical demands) does not to some degree pretend to determine expectancy, and in a still greater degree make a direct appeal to all those powers of our nature which we hold in highest esteem. Faith, being one of these powers, will always remain a factor not to be banished from philosophic constructions, the more so since in many ways it brings forth its own verification. In these points, then, it is hopeless to look for literal agreement among mankind.”

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