Bad Philosophy Leads to Moral Corruption

It’s Great Books Monday, and this week we’ll come within a whisker of our 8,000th page of reading since January 2011. Things sure do add up after awhile.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 11-16 (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 292-310)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book X (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 426-436)
  3. Caesar” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 577-604)
  4. Of Followers and Friends” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 20-21)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 6 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 80-98)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XX (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 600-632; in the linked text, it’s the material under the second of the headings “Of the last judgment . . .” and its subheads)

This week we finish Aristotle, but don’t despair; we’ll come back to another work of his in a few weeks.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 4-10: More comical relation of Huck and Jim’s superstitions here. I found the description of the Mississippi’s flooding pretty striking, and I’m sure the East Coast people who read Twain’s work had the same reaction. Huck lives in a world where the population density is so low he can live as a hunter-gatherer where no one else can find him. How times have changed.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book IX: Continuing the discussion on friendship, Aristotle also deals with the issues of self-love and self-sufficiency along with the desire of friends to spend time together. Good quote: “The friendship of bad men turns out an evil thing (for because of their instability they unite in bad pursuits, and besides they become evil by becoming like each other), while the friendship of good men is good, being augmented by their companionship.” Make friends with good men, and if no good men want to be your friend, make yourself into the kind of person that good men want to befriend!
  3. Alexander-coin“Alexander” by Plutarch: What a fascinating read this was! There were so many engaging anecdotes, and I will probably use one or two of them in my lectures from now on. I thought it was significant that Plutarch attributed Alexander’s eventual corruption of character to a philosopher who kept telling him that everything a conqueror does is just by definition. Ideas have consequences.
  4. “Literature of Knowledge and Literature of Power” by Thomas De Quincey: I really enjoyed this essay. It blows up the Baconian “knowledge is power” dictum in a way. It also is an effective answer to utilitarian educators who insist on a “practical” curriculum shorn of the humanities.
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 5: What we have here is essentially a series of speculations on how natural selection might operate within a species. We still see Darwin leaving the door open for acquired characteristics being passed on to offspring, something I find surprising. 
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XIX: Reading this book in conjunction with the Alexander biography was very interesting because on its face it appears that Alexander disproves Augustine’s contention that everyone wants peace; Alexander seemed to like war itself. Obviously Augustine knew all about Alexander, and I think he would argue that Alexander’s true desire was to prove himself the greatest in war. Once an enemy was defeated there was no further need for conflict, and thus Alexander was aiming for a state of peace in which he had established his preeminence.

It was 95 degrees here over the weekend. Ick. Maybe tropical storm Beryl will give me a little rain to cool things down slightly. Until then, I’ll read indoors.

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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