It looks like I’m just barely going to make an actual Great Books Monday post this week. The big news is that, after wrapping up Paradise Lost last week, we embark today on Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, which has the distinction of being the source of one the most famous nonexistent quotes circulating today: “America is great because America is good.” Thanks, Ronald Reagan!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “The Overcoat” by Nikolai Gogol (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 452-478)
- The Physics of Aristotle, Book V (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 304-312)
- Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Author’s Preface (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 1-7)
- “Of Money” by David Hume (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 62-71)
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book II, 1-8 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 34-55)
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Analytic Book II, Ch. 2 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 64-93; begins on p. 116 of the linked PDF)
Thirty pages of Kant this week. Prayers are in order.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Paradise Lost by John Milton, Book XII: We end on a hopeful note. Even though Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, they are given a glimpse of the ultimate redemption of mankind through Christ. I was struck by the angel’s statement to Adam that he could attain a “paradise within” better than Eden through the attainment of virtue.
- The Physics of Aristotle, Book IV: This is the second detailed exploration of the concepts of space and time we’ve encountered in three weeks. It reads very differently from Kant’s! I like how Aristotle is so methodical in laying out possibilities and examining them one by one.
- “The Balance of Trade” by David Hume: Oh, that we could make every congressman read this. Hume anticipates Adam Smith’s arguments against the mercantilists brilliantly here. It’s such a shame that these lessons still haven’t been learned by so many policymakers.
- The School for Scandal by Richard Sheridan, Act V: Even if the rest of the play had been boring (it wasn’t), it would have been worth reading it all just to get this line from Act V: “He appears to have as much speculative benevolence as any private gentleman in the kingdom, though he is seldom so sensual as to indulge himself in the exercise of it.” Brilliant.
- The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book I: Before beginning this work, about all I “knew” of Ptolemy was that he promoted the geocentric theory that Copernicus overturned; that’s pretty much all the mention he gets in most textbooks. If Book I is anything to go by, this work is going to be one of the deepest and most difficult I’ve read yet. Right up front there’s a discussion of the earth’s spherical nature and the immense distances between the earth and the stars, and that’s even before we get into the mathematical proofs, which assume thorough knowledge of Euclid.
- The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Introduction and Chapter I: Even when the reading is relatively short, you know you’re in trouble when the chapter title is “Of the Schematism of the Pure Conceptions of the Understanding.” Kant argues here (I think) that we must rely on a priori categories to relate to external phenomena. He rattles off several schemas of things such as causality, possibility, necessity, etc. I love how Kant continually tosses off phrases like “hence, it is evident . . .” when most of what he’s saying does not at all appear so to me!
Cold weather! Perfect for Halloween. I am concerned, though, for the people on the East Coast who are being hammered by Hurricane Sandy. Stay safe, and if your power goes out, read a book!