Civilization Trumps Love

Don’t look now, but this week those who have followed the Great Books Project in its entirety will read their 2,000th  page of philosophy and theology since January 2011. Feeling smarter?

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 1-3 (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 269-275)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book VIII (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 406-416)
  3. Of Great Place” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 9-11)
  4. Cupid and Psyche” by Lucius Apuleius (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 197-212; excerpted from The Golden Ass)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 4 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 40-64)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XVIII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 537-574; in the linked text, it’s the material under the second of the headings “A parallel history of the earthly and heavenly cities . . .” and its subheads)

The choice to read Twain at this particular moment is motivated by my family’s upcoming vacation to Missouri. I’m not sure if we’ll make it to Hannibal yet, but we’ll be seeing plenty of the Mississippi River, so Twain seemed appropriate.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. “The Apple Tree” by James Galsworthy: 21st-century readers probably guess early on whose grave is seen at the beginning of the story and may indulge themselves in some laughter at the now-familiar scenario of the traveler meeting the farmer’s daughter. Even so, the story still packs a wallop. Sigmund Freud commented on this story in Civilization and Its Discontents, saying that it illustrates the impossibility of a purely natural love between a man and a woman in a civilized age. Civilization is too precious a thing even for love to get in the way.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book VII: “Continence” is a word that needs to be brought back into everyday usage, and in a way that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with people’s bladders. In the discussion of pleasure as a good, the rigorous argumentation that so influenced St. Thomas Aquinas’s style is on display. I was a bit surprised to read that “the study of pleasure and pain belongs to the province of the political philosopher.”
  3. “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania” by Benjamin Franklin: This plan to persuade wealthy patrons to fund an educational institution is laudable. I can see how some might have imputed sinister motives, though. The mutual assistance to be rendered by graduates and preferential treatment for alumni over similarly qualified people started to sound rather Skull-and-Bones-ish.
  4. “The Red and the Black” by Charles Sanders Peirce: This essay on probability takes some unexpected turns, brief as it is. Logic is rooted in the social principle? An immortal individual must always come to misery? Adler’s introduction identifying Peirce as the founder of pragmatism and as being deeply concerned with the theory of meaning was very helpful in trying to figure this one out.
  5. bearsThe Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 3: I had forgotten how Darwin took a Malthusian tack in explaining how species come into balance with their surroundings. The section on how competition is most intense between individuals and varieties of the same species naturally sets up Darwin’s theory of extinction, but again I wonder how much of this can be salvaged if varieties within species are not really “incipient species” as he believed.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XVII: After reading the Confessions and seeing the constant references to the Psalms, it was no surprise to see a big emphasis on David and his psalms in this book. I found myself again wishing that there was a clear spelling out of Augustine’s hermeneutic so I’d understand exactly why he interprets some of the prophetic writings the way he does.

The blog languished last week as I tried to tie up about 1,000,000 loose ends from the spring semester. I’m hoping to post four or five times this week, though. And of course, I plan to keep reading the Great Books. I hope you will as well.

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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