In the Great Books Project this week, we will wrap up the English language’s greatest poem as well as one of the English language’s funniest plays. We’ll also embark on a reading of one of the most important scientific works in the history of the world which practically no one has read. Shall we?
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 319-333)
- The Physics of Aristotle, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 287-304)
- “The Balance of Trade” by David Hume (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 72-84)
- The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan, Act V (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 142-159)
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Introduction and Book I (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 1-33)
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Analytic Book II, Intro & Ch. 1 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 59-64; begins on p. 116 of the linked PDF)
It pains me to say it, but there are only two English translations of the Almagest, and neither of them is available online. If you wish to follow along in that work, you’ll need your Great Books of the Western World set or Toomer’s 1984 translation.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book XI: The prophetic vision to which Adam is given access seems almost like a punishment rather than a reward. To see how your descendants are all so messed up would be pretty depressing.
- The Physics of Aristotle, Book III: If you’ve been doing the philosophy and science readings, you may have had Bertrand Russell’s discussions of the infinite and motion come to mind here. Russell, you may recall, rejects Aristotle’s conception of motion as one of continuity. In the sections on the infinite, you can almost see Aristotle scratching his head trying to resolve the apparent contradictions. It’s not the sort of thing I expected to see in a physics treatise.
- “The Concurrent Majority” by John C. Calhoun: Moderns are so prone to falling into the genetic fallacy when it comes to Calhoun (“He defended slavery, so none of his arguments have any merit”) that I doubt they’ll ever avail themselves of the wisdom in the Disquisition. Popular democratic ideology cannot stand up to the analysis here; to preserve liberty, there must be legislative checks of the sort he recommends.
- The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan, Act IV: I confess I wasn’t expecting the reversals in the portrayals of the two brothers in this act. The dissolute one turns out to have a good streak, whereas the sober one is revealed as a stinker. By the end of the third scene I was wondering how many people would end up hiding in different places in the room.
- “Scientific Study of the So-Called Psychical Processes in the Higher Animals” by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov: This creeped me out, and not because he was pouring acid into dogs’ mouths. The dehumanizing implications of what Pavlov recommends with regard to the study of physiology in striving to view ourselves from the outside are really frightening. What would Henri Bergson say? It may be a stretch to blame Nazi practice of vivisection on Pavlov, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision their being inspired by his vision.
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Introduction and Analytic Book I: I don’t mind admitting that I feel that I’m in over my head a bit here. I think I’m OK with the positing of different kinds of logic. I need to work more on understanding Kant’s categories. This week’s Kant reading is only a few pages long, so I hope I’ll be able to nail this part down better.
Nothing profound to say in closing this week. Just strengthen your mind this week!