Get Over Yourself, Walt

With 7,500 pages down and a mere 30,000 or so to go, we are motoring through the Great Books here at the Western Tradition. For new readers, this may be a good week to jump into the program because we have several “one-shot” works this time around, just as we did last week.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Apple Tree” by John Galsworthy (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 323-367)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 395-406)
  3. Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania” by Benjamin Franklin (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 536-542)
  4. “The Red and the Black” by Charles Sanders Peirce (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 342-348; pp. 606-612 at this link.)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 3 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 32-39)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XVII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 512-537; in the linked text, it’s the material under the second of the headings “The history of the City of God from Noah . . .” and its subheads)

We are getting pretty close to finishing the mathematics volume of the Gateway to the Great Books. After this week, I think there will be just four or five selections left for us to read.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: You can easily tell that Whitman is a kindred spirit to Emerson, Thoreau, and other 19th-century authors who are fascinated with themselves and who reject any higher authority. All the stuff about there soon being no more priests, rejecting everything you’ve ever been told in church, making light of all personal failings as long as you’re candid about them, etc., has been a favorite trope of the secular liberal since at least the time of Rousseau. Profundity or puerility? You be the judge.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book VI: Remember our very first week of readings in this program, when we read Erskine’s essay “The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent”? I was reminded strongly of that piece when going through Aristotle’s discussion of the virtues of the intellect as opposed to the virtues of character. Scientific knowledge, practical and political wisdom, etc.
  3. “Childhood and Youth” by John Stuart Mill: Never again will I think I’m being too hard on my kids after reading what James Mill put his son through: Greek starting at age three, Platonic dialogues and Herodotus (in Greek) by age eight, and much more. Mill goes out of his way to parade his religious skepticism around; that was fairly irritating. However, there were several good observations here about education.
  4. “Of Custom and Education” by Francis Bacon: The emphasis on custom (or habit) gives this essay an Aristotelian flavor. Bacon quite rightly points out that “education” is in effect really an “early custom.” Those who rail against “tradition” would do better simply to acknowledge that they are trying to substitute different traditions for existing ones.
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 2: In this chapter the main point seemed to be that there’s no way to define “species” in a way that everyone will agree on. If two species can interbreed, should they be considered different species in the first place? Why not just two varieties of the same species? From what I understand, modern scientists don’t give much credence to the idea of “incipient species.” How much modern “Darwinism” would Darwin recognize?
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XVI: This book again focuses on the text of Genesis but eventually takes us up through the rest of the Pentateuch as well. I found the speculations concerning the “sons of God” and giants in Genesis extremely interesting. The notion that Hebrew was mankind’s original language was novel to me, although it makes sense aesthetically. I want to know Augustine’s standard for interpreting things allegorically!

Finals are over for me; the averaging and submitting of grades is what delayed my posting until the afternoon. I hope that the next few weeks will contain a less hectic schedule for me, allowing me to do the weekly readings in a slightly more leisurely manner.

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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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One Response to Get Over Yourself, Walt

  1. Put me down for puerility.

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