Bertrand Russell Is a Snob

I have no witty intro for this week’s Great Books Monday post, so let’s just jump right in, shall we? 

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 152-174)
  2. Pompey” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 499-538)
  3. Of Natural Affection” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 110-112; Book I Chapter 11 of the Discourses)
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act III (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 197-213)
  5. The Postulates of the Science of Space” by William Kingdon Clifford (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 243-259)
  6. The Existence of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 10-14; Part I Question 2 of Summa Theologica)

Milton, St. Thomas, Plutarch, Epictetus—what’s not to like about a slate of readings like this for the week?

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book III: The first section of this book is glorious: the setting, the language, the sentiment, all of it. I found the discourse on why men are offered grace, whereas the fallen angels are not, pretty interesting. 
  2. “Agesilaus” by Plutarch: Agesilaus was king of Sparta in the early fourth century B.C. Fresh off its victory over Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta under Agesilaus campaigned against the Persians for awhile before getting bogged down in fighting with Thebes. Plutarch’s biography highlights Agesilaus’s skills as a commander, but also dwells on his willingness to pervert justice to gratify his friends and weaken his enemies. I came away with an unfavorable view.
  3. “How the Soul Discharges Its Passions on False Objects When the True Are Wanting” by Michel de Montaigne: This short piece gives a number of examples of contemporary and historical figures who took out their frustrations on “false objects”: people beating their breasts and tearing their hair, etc. Montaigne views this as people blaming the wrong things for their misfortunes, a position I find pretty strange. He concludes, “But we shall never heap enough insults on the unruliness of our mind.” 
  4. An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, Act II: The poor doctor gets introduced to politics in this act. Everyone has an agenda and views the research solely with a view to advancing that agenda. The brother is the worst, demanding that he cover up his findings and threatening his livelihood. We already see hints of his wife turning against him toward the end.
  5. “Mathematics and the Metaphysicians” by Bertrand Russell: Russell is a witty guy, but sheesh, what a snob! Of all the great thinkers who came before his generation, the only one for whom he has some kind words is Leibniz; to hear him tell it, all the others were incompetents. 
  6. The Advancement of Learning by Francis Bacon, Book II, Chapters XVII-XXV: I like that Bacon recognizes the dearth of writing on business ethics as a problem, considering that most people operate in that world. His attempt to lend weight to the field by copious quotations from Proverbs looked impressive, running longer than his treatments of other subjects. Unfortunately, he then rambled on ad nauseam about politics.

The hits keep on coming for me this week, with a hurricane in the vicinity and lots of fall semester items still to get up and running. Nevertheless, I will soldier on with these readings, and I hope you find some time to read this week as well!

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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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