Captain Ahab Means Business

Another Monday, another feeling of accomplishment at what we read in the past week. If you find yourself struggling to find enough time to read, consider picking up audio versions of some of these works and listening to them in the car or while you exercise.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 40-54  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 78-120)
  2. Farewell Address” by George Washington (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 484-497)
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections VIII-IX (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 478-488)
  4. Federalist #82-83 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 242-251; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book III (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 60-76)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book III (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 471-487)

Hume’s work is shorter than I remembered; we’ll put it to bed next week, along with the Federalist!

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapters 23-39: Ahab’s speech to the crew offering a bounty for the sounding of Moby Dick sure is dramatic, and Ishmael’s ruminations upon recalling it are poignant. This is definitely the most powerful passage in the novel thus far. I enjoyed Ishmael’s defense of the classification of whales as fish; one can easily imagine 19th-century seamen scoffing at Linnaeus.
  2. “The Power Within Us” by Haniel Long: Long has taken an authentic account of a 16th-century Spaniard’s eight-year trek across North America after the failure of his expedition and turned it into a literary Dances with Wolves. It well written and engaging, but probably should not have been included in the GGB set. It’s a 20th-century liberal’s fantasy of how a 16th-century figure ought to have thought. At minimum, it should have been classified as Imaginative Literature rather than Man and Society.
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections IV-VII: Armed with Hume, you can now tell your friends in the natural sciences that they are slaves to convention and don’t arrive at their conclusions through reasoning. They will have no idea what you’re talking about. Incidentally, I was just reading Philip Jenkins piece in Chronicles that discussed a 19th-century rebuttal to Hume’s denial of miracles based on probability. I’ll try to dig out the author’s name and post it.
  4. Federalist #80-81: It really is amazing how prophetic some of the Anti-Federalist critiques of the Constitution were. Hamilton scoffs at the notion that the Supreme Court would ever “mould [laws] into whatever shape it may think proper” under the cover of “construing the laws according to the spirit of the Constitution.” Well, we know how that one has turned out, and Hamilton looks like a chump.
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book II, Chapters 8-39: More things here I’ve never thought about . . . “arming” a magnet to give it more juice? I had also assumed that the center of the earth’s magnetic force would be in the pole, but Gilbert places it in the core. It makes sense the way he explains it, at least. I could do without a few of the disparaging comments he makes about other scientists.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book II: Thank you, Aristotle, for demolishing Plato’s argument in favor of a community of wives and children in the city. Aristotle does give Plato the nod (correctly, I think) in criticizing the Spartan constitution for focusing only on the virtue of courage to the neglect of everything else. I wasn’t as energized by the comparisons of Sparta, Crete, and Carthage, but you can’t have everything, I guess.

Our fall term wraps up this week with finals, but I still have a big project or two to finish before Christmas, so there is no rest for the weary. Still, the reading must go on, and we’ll be better for it!

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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1 Response to Captain Ahab Means Business

  1. Jane says:

    Long, The Power Within Us: A harrowing tale, describing not only the limitations of “civilized” people once the trappings of civilization are stripped away, but also the limitations of the indigenous people who were far from thriving when encountered by the shipwrecked Cabeza de Vaca. It points to how pooled resources can elevate a community’s standard of living, but also how the vagaries of experience can wipe away advantages, either when an individual is separated from the group or when some catastrophe makes critical technologies inoperable. Long’s narrator writes, “It is curious to have so graphic a lesson in what life may become. We have become a proud band, relying on our united strength, our armor, and our horses. Slowly our strength disunited, until nothing that we had in common remained to help any of us.” Imagine what would happen to our modern society should a solar flare occur, or a massive hack, extinguishing the electrical grid on which so much is dependent? I also appreciate the observation that humans in groups tend to ignore another individual’s needs: “Someone else will do it, we say. Our communal life dries up our milk: we are barren as the fields of Castile.”

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