Here are some observations on last week’s Great Books readings:
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapters 55-75: If Ahab’s soliloquy over the dead sperm whale didn’t give you chills, I think there must be something wrong with you. And since I still bear emotional scars from seeing Jaws as a small child, the scene with the sharks was unsettling; “if you have never seen that sight, then suspend your decision about the propriety of devil-worship, and the expediency of conciliating the devil.” *shudder*
- “First Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln: The tone of this speech is conciliatory, but if you read it closely, he’s telling the South that he will come after them if they don’t submit fully to federal power. It’s no wonder that Lincoln continues to excite such strong emotions on both sides.
- An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections X-XII: I want to make a separate post discussing Hume’s argument against miracles, so you should see that in another day or two.
- Federalist #84-85: Just some miscellaneous mopping up here. It’s too bad that Hamilton wasn’t a sincere defender of the doctrine of enumerated powers. His statement is defense of it in #84 is great, but once he became Secretary of the Treasury he spent nearly all of his time trying to undermine it.
- On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book IV: When I was a Boy Scout and did orienteering, I learned the difference between true north and magnetic north, but this was the first time I had ever encountered a detailed discussion of why the phenomenon exists and what its practical effects are. It was quite illuminating. I found especially interesting the part about how the compasses made in different parts of Europe were sometimes incompatible with the mariners’ charts made in different regions.
- The Politics of Aristotle, Book IV: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, here again I can’t help thinking that society must relearn the lessons taught in this book. A society in which the middle class preponderates and property ownership is widely distributed is the best safeguard of social order. It’s too bad that our system today is designed to squeeze the middle out of existence.
If you’re hitting the road to see family this time of year, it’s a fine opportunity to take along a Great Book to help pass the time in the airport or when it’s not your turn to drive. (I wouldn’t recommend reading a Great Book while driving.) Who knows? You could very well read something that has a bearing on something you’ll run into during those reunions.