“Spin Me the Yarn!”

After yesterday’s summary of our 2011 accomplishments, I hope you’re feeling motivated to press forward. Remember that you can jump in midstream at any time with shorter works and go back to pick up earlier selections as you are able!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 102-132  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 204-246)
  2. Of Repentance” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 429-436)
  3. Rules for the Direction of the Mind by René Descartes, XII-XVI (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 240-257; I could not find a complete version of this work online, but this site contains at least the summary of each rule. Here is a volume containing the entire text.)
  4. Of Seditions and Troubles” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 12-17)
  5. Probability” by Pierre Simon de Laplace (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 325-338; Chapters I-IV of A Philosophical Essay on Probability)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 527-542)

Three standalone works make this week another good one for first-time readers to get their feet wet. I wasn’t quite able to close the door on Moby Dick this week, but we’ll come within a few chapters of the end.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 93-101: The meeting between Ahab and the captain of the Samuel Enderby is illuminating; the contrast between the two men could hardly be greater. Ahab’s obsession with the white whale looks even worse when placed beside the jovial captain who lost an arm but bears the world no grudge.
  2. “The United States in 1800” by Henry Adams: I thoroughly enjoyed this selection, with a couple of reservations. By the end of Chapter I, you are wondering along with Adams how on earth the United States was able to amount to anything. Contemplating the difficulty of simply moving around the country made me appreciate modern modes of travel. What I disliked were the New England prejudice and the rhapsodizing on the American repudiation of European modes of thought.
  3. Rules for the Direction of the Mind by René Descartes, I-XI: None of this is too surprising to those of us who read the Discourse on Method in 2011, although the fixation on mathematics never ceases to intrigue me. Although I am not a Cartesian, I have to say that the problems of faulty reasoning about which he complains are really widespread today. But why does he dismiss dialectic? I thought that very odd.
  4. “Sanity of True Genius” by Charles Lamb: This is the last of Lamb’s essays in the GGB collection, but I want more. The anti-Romantic tone of this piece was refreshing. The great artist truly is master of his craft; he is not mastered by it.
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book VI: I confess I did not know there were still any people in 1600 who needed to be persuaded that the earth rotates on its axis.Gilbert effectively demonstrates this proposition, and then wisely ends his treatise by saying it would be imprudent to speculate further without evidence. I didn’t realize it when we started this work, but Gilbert really established a lot of things that are fundamental to modern science.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book VI: I wasn’t as gripped by this book as I was by several of the others. I do think it’s interesting how Aristotle is so pragmatic in his recommendations. That the most stable democracies are ones where the Assembly hardly ever meets is worth noting.

I was without internet access for about five days last week; oddly enough, I didn’t have much trouble getting the reading done! Now I am more or less back in the saddle, although some deadlines coming up in the next two weeks will mean my posts may be infrequent. The reading, however, will go on. 2012 won’t know what hit it!

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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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