Moderns Hate Aristotle

Reading the Great Books won’t burn off the turkey you ate last week, but it ought to. This week we pass 1,500 pages in Imaginative Literature and 1,300 pages in Philosophy and Theology; that is some hard work, let me tell you.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 23-39  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 48-77)
  2. The Power Within Us” by Haniel Long (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 246-261)
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections IV-VII (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 458-478)
  4. Federalist #80-81 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 234-242; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book II, Chapters 8-39 (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 43-59)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book II (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 455-471)

I can almost taste the completion of the Federalist Papers. We’ve been at those for so long, it’s hard to believe we’ll wrap them up in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I can’t find a complete online version of the Long text, so I have inserted a Googlebooks link.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapters 16-22: Here we are about 20% of the way through the book, and Ahab, the protagonist, has yet to make an appearance. Shades of the Odyssey, it seems to me. Melville, like just about everyone else, was supposed to have been influenced by Homer a great deal, so I am not too surprised. I love the two captain/owners who argue with each other over the shares for each crewman.
  2. “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol” by Edmund Burke: This piece is significant on several levels. Unlike so many statesmen, Burke knows when to cut his losses, and in the case of the colonies, he knows that Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together. However, I get the feeling that even if he had thought the colonies could still be salvaged via abrogation of civil liberties, he would not have favored such a course. If I ever do a “Tier 2” of great works after 2017, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France will certainly be on the list.
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections I-III: It’s a mark of the educated Englishman’s horse sense that Hume has to bend over backwards to defend speculative moral philosophy in the first section. In building his case for empiricism, I thought it significant that he has to concede his argument isn’t airtight.
  4. Federalist #78-79: Well, I get the argument that, lacking the sword and the purse, the judiciary is the least dangerous branch of government, but my goodness, it seems that the last sixty years has proven it wrong!
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book II, Chapters 1-7: It never occurred to me that people would mistakenly call amber a magnetic substance, but Harvey takes great pains to disabuse us of that notion. He also answers other questions I never would have thought to ask, such as where the new poles of a divided magnet would be. No doubt this is why I am not a scientist.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book I: Thomas Fleming has said that the modern world is in large part a giant rebellion against the thought of Aristotle, and if you read this book I’m sure you can already see a hint of that. Egalitarians will gnash their teeth, but Aristotle is simply reporting what is being practiced throughout the ancient world and trying to explain it in a realistic way. And for the record, if you are an employee, you are probably a slave by Aristotle’s definition.

Today a big “Happy Birthday!” goes out to my father, who is now seventy years young. Also, we might actually get snow in Alabama this week. The best response to that, of course, is to prop up one’s feet in front of the fireplace while reading one of the Great Books of Western civilization.

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 Moderns Hate Aristotle

  1. Jon Burnett says:

    Well, if that’s the case, at least I now know why everyone else seems so wrong, and Aristotle so right. 😀

  2. Jane says:

    Hume, Concerning Human Understanding: This is my first time reading Hume & I expect to resonate with his view that all we know stems from sensory experience and impressions. However, since he rejected the possibility of innate ideas and a priori knowledge, I wonder how he would have explained my toddler grandson’s behavior while playing a computer word game: every time he came across a drawing and sound associated with a “dangerous” animal like a snake, bee, or scorpion as opposed to a sheep, duck, or pig, he would exclaim “no snake” or “no bee” and flick the screenshot away, whereas with the nonthreatening animals he would look at the picture longer and tap for the sounds.

    Aristotle, Politics I: I grant that man is a social or political animal and “he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the ‘tribeless, lawless, hearthless one’ whom Homer denounces – the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war…” This describes any/all of the angry white men who have carried out automatic-weapon massacres since Columbine. What makes this chapter hard to swallow in our time is his condoning of slavery and misogyny. How should one determine who, “from the hour of their birth” is “marked out for subjection” vs. the “others for rule”? This is surely one of the sources Jordan Peterson, the darling of the white male right, draws from in his defense of social hierarchies.

    Burke, Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol: In this essay Burke takes the ruling members of Britain to task for warring against the American colonists instead of finding some way to peaceably maintain hegemony. It reminded me of how the musical “Hamilton” (based on the excellent biography by Ron Chernow) presented a seriocomic King George singing:

    You say
    The price of my love’s not a price that you’re willing to pay
    You cry
    In your tea which you hurl in the sea when you see me go by
    Why so sad?
    Remember we made an arrangement when you went away
    Now you’re making me mad
    Remember, despite our estrangement, I’m your man
    You’ll be back, soon you’ll see
    You’ll remember you belong to me
    You’ll be back, time will tell
    You’ll remember that I served you well
    Oceans rise, empires fall
    We have seen each other through it all
    And when push comes to shove
    I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!

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