Rationality, Instinct, and Miracles

At long last, I’m able to make this week’s Great Books post, after going close to a week without a decent internet connection.

Here are the readings for this week:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 37-43 (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 377-395)
  2. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Book II (GBWW Vol. 35, pp. 395-406)
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book I Chapter 3 (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 102)
  4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, pp. 29-72)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 9 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 136-151)
  6. The Poetics of Aristotle (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 681-699)

I hope you’ll all see the propriety of reading the Poetics alongside Shakespeare!

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Ch. 26-36: I remember reading in junior high a Twain excerpt that was supposed to exemplify irony of tone. At that time I didn’t “get it.” Now I do. The way Twain invites you to view a situation one way while presenting it in the opposite way through the eyes of the narrator is pretty remarkable.
  2. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Book I: I think Rousseau is a bit too dismissive of the patriarchal theory of political authority, just as Locke was. His critique of “might makes right,” on the other hand, is pretty good. Then he makes this move toward the General Will which I find wholly unpersuasive. So there are a lot of ups and downs here . . .
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book I Chapter 2: How does one maintain a proper character on every occasion? I love this line: “We must discipline ourselves in the winter for the summer campaign.” Anticipating the situations in which you’ll find yourself and resolving ahead of time to act properly in them are powerful tools.
  4. “Of Usury” by Francis Bacon: Having read a bit on the history of interest theory, I feel confident in saying that Bacon’s take on usury is fairly progressive for the early 17th century. He recognizes that usury is inevitable given human nature and human needs, and that trying to ban it is utopian. He also recognizes its effects on a concentration of wealth in society and on land prices. Overall I was pretty impressed.
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 8: Much of this chapter seems very reasonable to me. Fear of man, for example, is an instinct that one could easily explain through natural selection. I’ve seen some authors raise objections to instincts that Darwin doesn’t address, such as the long-distance flight patterns of some migratory birds.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XXII: This last book is lengthy but well worth the read. I found the discussion of miracles particularly interesting. Most moderns, of course, will dismiss Augustine’s testimony of miracles has witnessed or otherwise had knowledge of, but he certainly doesn’t come across as a superstitious Huck or Jim.

For anyone reading along with me, I apologize for getting the schedule thrown off, but it was unavoidable given my lack of internet access. Fortunately, I’m back home now and should be able to resume a regular posting schedule, for other topics as well as the Great Books Project. Next week I may make the Great Books post on Tuesday to give me adequate time to return to a normal posting schedule.

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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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