William James: We Can’t Walk in Each Other’s Shoes (?)

In this week’s Great Books post, I’d like to note that last week we passed the 2,200-page mark in the Man and Society category and the 2,300-page mark in Religion/Philosophy. Big numbers, to be sure, but there’s much more to come!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book III (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 135-151)
  2. Agesilaus” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 480-499)
  3. How the Soul Discharges Its Passions on False Objects When the True Are Wanting” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 57-58)
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act II (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 179-196)
  5. Mathematics and the Metaphysicians” by Bertrand Russell (GGBW Vol. 9, pp. 95-110; Chapter V of Mysticism and Logic)
  6. The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon, Book II, Chapters XVII-XXV (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 64-101)

I’ve been on a Plutarch kick recently, so I hope no one minds the continued readings from him. We have a nice mix of ancient, Renaissance, and modern works this week.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book II: I like how Milton hints at competition among the demons. It makes sense, when these guys rebelled against God’s authority and will, that they don’t meekly accept Satan’s leadership or the preexisting pecking order. Satan himself fears that someone will try to upstage him. Also the whole interaction with Sin and Death was fascinating.
  2. “Antony and Demetrius Compared” by Plutarch: Plutarch does a good job of showing that although Antony and Demetrius were both screwups, they were screwups in different ways. Both are great object lessons in the dangers of a life of dissipation.
  3. “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” by William James: The title of this lecture had me thinking that James was going to talk about an ideological bias that “hard facts” disprove. Instead we get a very subjectivist discussion about what makes each individual happy or fulfilled. James almost comes across as a Romantic, despite the analytical tone of the discussion. He continues to surprise me.
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act I: Hmm, I think I see where this is going, and it’s not going to be pretty. The doctor really thinks everyone is going congratulate and admire him for bursting their bubble and dashing their hopes for a prosperous summer?
  5. The Book of Prognostics by Hippocrates: Having no medical expertise myself, I have no idea whether the discussion of symptoms and what they lead to is accurate. The statements about the trust being built up by the physician’s predictive power upon examination of symptoms were very interesting. Hippocrates takes the moral high road, only discussing the value resulting from the patient’s greater willingness to follow the physician’s prescriptions.
  6. The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon, Book II, Chapters I-XVI: Bacon provides us with a taxonomy of human learning here. I’m not 100% certain it works, even in a 17th-century context, but it seems pretty thorough, and I always admire attempts to impose some sort of order on vast topics such as this one. It’s noteworthy that the father of modern empiricism here insists that philosophical inquiry be bounded by religion. What would modern materialists think?

As I feared, last week was so full for me that I was unable to finish the readings on schedule (thus the late post today). This week is another rough one as I try to get things in motion on several big projects. I hope, however, to be back on schedule next Monday.

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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2 Responses to William James: We Can’t Walk in Each Other’s Shoes (?)

  1. wville says:

    Who’s good at making reading recommendations?

    I’ve read these classics, and am looking for recommendations on what to pick up next, after I finish Gulliver’s Travels and King Lear:

    Illiad and Oddessy
    Pilgrim’s Progress
    Paradise Lost
    Reflections on the Revolution in France
    Vanity of Human Wishes and Rasselas
    Boswell’s Life of Johnson (abridged, disappointing)
    I’ll Take My Stand
    Gone With the Wind
    All the Kings Men
    The Unvanquished
    Keynes at Harvard
    God and Man at Yale
    Life Without Prejudice and Lanuage is Sermonic, plus the entire Weaver Canon
    Elements of Style

    • Dr. J says:

      If you like Weaver, you may enjoy some more Platonic dialogues. I’d start with Euthyphro, the Apology, and Crito. Also, it looks like you’re into the Southern tradition. If you want to read what the Founding Fathers read, try some more Greco-Roman stuff like Tacitus’s Annals. Plutarch’s Lives are also very valuable.

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