It’s Great Books Monday, and we are closing in on 9,000 pages of reading. Congratulations to all who have devoted any amount of time to these works.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “Customs and Opinions of the Erewhonians” by Samuel Butler (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 483-506; chapters 10-13 of Erewhon)
- “Machiavelli” by Thomas Babington Macaulay (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 295-329)
- “That the Faculties Are Not Safe to the Uninstructed” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 107-108; Discourses Book I Ch. 8)
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Prologue (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 1)
- The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 14 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 207-229)
- The Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Book II (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 122-137)
Don’t be intimidated by seeing Epictetus, St. Thomas, and Aristotle all in the same week’s reading. We only have one page of reading from each of the first two authors. I figure we’ll take Thomas in small doses to prevent our brains from exploding.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Poor poison girl—to be experimented on by her mad scientist father and then to be judged so harshly by her boyfriend. My wife and I talked this one out; I think Hawthorne is doing something here like he does in “The Minister’s Black Veil,” where people get all worked up about physical stuff and fall short in the spiritual. Here the daughter is pure spiritually but is condemned for her physical nature.
- The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli: I’ve dealt with this work over the years more than I have most others of the Great Books. So many of Machiavelli’s specific recommendations and much of his analysis seems irrelevant to the 21st century, but the amoral foundations of his approach still rule the day, as is apparent in this presidential election year.
- “Of the Use of Sophistical Arguments . . .” by Epictetus (Discourses Book I Chapter 7): Epictetus defends hypothetical arguments as a necessary means of discovering Truth while also condemning those who manipulate such arguments for unjust ends. “Why are we still indolent negligent and sluggish, and why do we seek pretences for not labouring and not being watchful in cultivating our reason?” Good question.
- “Demosthenes and Cicero Compared” by Plutarch: This one is very nearly a tossup. Demosthenes has the edge over Cicero in integrity of argument, but Cicero seems to hold the upper hand in overall quality of character. From the pagan point of view, Demosthenes met the better end, but a Christian naturally frowns on suicide.
- The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 13: This chapter is an extension of Chapter 12’s argument, with attention to hypothetical gradual changes in climate in the prehistoric past and their likely impact on species. Again, if Darwin has his millions of years, this all is plausible.
- The Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Book I: I read this one before the Prior Analytics and now think that may have been a mistake, given the several references to the latter in Book I. I would have been completely lost in the terminology had I not already familiarized myself with syllogisms teaching grade school logic. This is one I may have to revisit in the future, but for now I’ll press on to Book II.
Hot and muggy in Alabama this week . . . typical July. Here’s hoping the A/C bill stays reasonable while I read indoors.