Happiness is a Form of Contemplation

Here we are on another Great Books Monday, and this week we’ll break that 8,000-page barrier I mentioned last week. That includes almost 2,400 pages of imaginative literature, over 1,900 pages of “man and society,” over 1,600 pages of science/mathematics, and over 2,100 pages of philosophy/theology. Not too shabby!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 17-25 (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 310-342)
  2. By Diverse Means We Arrive at the Same End” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 51-52; Book I Chapter 1 of the Essays)
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book I Chapter 1 (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 99-100)
  4. Civilization” by Francois Guizot (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 302-317; Lecture I of History of Civilization in Europe)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 7 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 99-118)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XXI (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 632-661; in the linked text, it’s the material under the second of the headings “Of the eternal punishment of the wicked . . .” and its subheads)

You may recall that we read Epictetus’s Enchiridion last year. His Discourses will occupy us for a long time to come because I’ve decided to take them in very small doses.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 11-16: Life on the Mississippi is perilous, it seems. In this section we have blinding fog, a huge storm, and a shipwrecked steamboat in addition to the human element that keeps giving trouble to two fugitives.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book X: This book is pretty weighty. First Aristotle argues that pleasure is a good, or at least than it can be a good. Then he argues that happiness is a good pleasure, and that it is a form of contemplation—good activity, not simply amusement. Finally, he says we need laws to help people achieve happiness, and this discussion sets up the Politics. I wish now we had read the latter after this work.
  3. julius-caesar“Caesar” by Plutarch: Like Alexander before him, Caesar was willing to set the world on fire to satisfy his own ambition. Of course, if you submitted to him, he was magnanimous. Nietzsche has something to say about that, I think. Did you notice how many details Shakespeare lifted from this account?
  4. “Of Followers and Friends” by Francis Bacon: Another very short piece with a few gems. The best reason for someone to follow you is that you “advance virtue and desert in all sorts of persons.” Bacon thinks there are few friendships among equals; most are between superior and inferior. Is this in accord with Aristotle and Cicero?
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 6: Darwin recognizes that his theory presents a number of difficulties, but he thinks he has plausible answers to the objections. He believes that the fossil record will eventually produce many transitional forms (it hasn’t). He thinks natural selection explains nature’s great “variety” and lack of “innovation” better than Creation (why?). He thinks very complex organs like the eye could have been produced by natural selection because he can cite “eyes” in the animal world operating on different levels of functionality (I guess it depends on how you define “eye”).
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XX: This book deals with the last judgment. Augustine denies the premillennial viewpoint, arguing that the present dispensation is the 1,000 years of Revelation 20. Premillennialists (or “chiliasts”) err in interpreting Revelation “carnally,” just as the Jews err in interpreting Old Testament prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel carnally. On this interpretation, the Church is the kingdom of Christ.

This week I’ll get to spend some time on that big river Huck and Jim have been on! Never fear, though. I plan to keep the weekly posts coming during the vacation. Have a great week!

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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4 Responses to Happiness is a Form of Contemplation

    • Dr. J says:

      From the page you linked: “Ideally, this list would only recursively include ‘true’ transitionals, fossils representing ancestral species from which later groups evolved, but most if not all, of the fossils shown here represent extinct side branches, more or less closely related to the true ancestor.”

  1. Tony Gill says:

    Hapiness is also a warm puppy.

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