The Prime Mover

Now that you are all shopped out following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, surely you’re ready to settle back down to some good reading this week, right? Fortunately for you, this week’s Great Books readings include some Greek tragedy, Stoic philosophy, and Dickens. Dive right in!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 13-18 (GGB Vol. 2, 396-399)*
  2. How Everything May Be Done Acceptably to the Gods” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 113-114; Book I Chapter 13 of the Discourses)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Chapters 6-7 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 119-136)
  4. Medea by Euripides (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 277-295)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IV, 6-11 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 123-142)
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Chapter 2 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 129-173; begins on p. 251 of the linked PDF)

*Seven chapters from The Pickwick Papers are excerpted in the GGB series. I’ve elected to read the entire novel and will list page numbers from Volume 2 of GGB when I reach excerpted chapters.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 7-12: Apart from not understanding the part about cricket (a sport I’ve never comprehended), I enjoyed this section very much. A high-speed chase after a ne’er-do-well eloping with a spinster under false pretenses is followed by a dubious archeological discovery and an accidental proposal to the landlady. What’s not to like? 
  2. The Physics of Aristotle, Book VIII: “Since there must always be motion without intermission, there must necessarily be something . . . that first imparts motion, and this first movent must be unmoved. . . . The first movent must be something that is one and eternal.” This section is by far the longest of the Physics, but in some ways I found it the most interesting.
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Ch. 1-5: Tocqueville thinks the brief period of Federalist power was a fortunate thing for the U.S. He also points out that universal suffrage is no guarantee of selecting good leaders. He sees the connection between salaries for public offices and democracy, something that dates back to ancient Greece. He also makes some interesting comments on U.S. foreign policy, which at that time was non-interventionist. 
  4. “That Intention Is Judge of Our Actions” by Michel de Montaigne: When I first saw the title of this essay, I had an unpleasant feeling that Montaigne was going to attempt to exonerate rulers who “mean well” and implement policies with disastrous consequences. Actually, that’s not what this essay is about at all. Montaigne argues that people who use their own deaths as an excuse to renege on their agreements made in life are morally wrong. No argument here. 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IV, 1-5: More tables in this section. The topic of discussion is the cycles of the moon. Ptolemy reviews what earlier astronomers have calculated, and begins reconciling their observations to his theory of orbits and epicycles. 
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Chapter 1: Just as a valid syllogism can result in a false conclusion when its premises are false, a “transcendental paralogism,” says Kant, has a correct form but concludes falsely because its foundation is in the nature of human reason, which cannot avoid ascribing objective reality to the illusions discussed in the previous book. At least, that’s what I think he’s saying.

The fall semester is drawing to a close! This is Dead Week at my university, and I’m looking forward to getting back on schedule fully with this project in December. Maybe I’ll even have time to make some blog posts on other topics!

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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4 Responses to The Prime Mover

  1. JS says:

    I just discovered your wonderful website and admire your persistence with the 7-yr reading plan! It raises some questions for me, though, as I can’t imagine squeezing such a reading plan into our current schedule (I write from home 3/4 day, wife is prof, 3 boys under five who bounce off our walls with their noggins made of flubber). We tried the 10-yr plan in grad school – reading by candlelight at night – but my wife quickly passed out and I soon followed. When do you read? How much/day? What level are you reading at (Inspectional, Analytical, etc., a la Adler’s “How to Read a Book”)? Are both you and your wife following the reading plan? Do you read together? Kids put in cryofreeze??? And congrats on the new PhD program. Any special treatment for someone who wants to do it but already has a PhD;)?


    • Dr. J says:

      James, thanks so much for your comments. I know exactly where you’re coming from; my wife and I have five boys ages 10 and under, and we homeschool them. Because my wife can stay home with the kids, our dynamic is a bit different. I rarely am able to get any reading done when I’m home and the kids are awake. My reading is done 1) early in the morning while the house is still quiet, 2) in the evening after the kids are in bed (8:30 p.m. is bedtime for them), 3) during lunch at the office, and 4) on the weekends in coffee shops and the like.

      I usually get through the week’s reading in 5-10 hours. I read analytically as much as I can, but if I’m behind I sometimes end up reading inspectionally, particularly if it’s an especially dense work. My wife has done a lot of the plan with me, but not all of it. It’s hard to get her motivated to read Ptolemy or Kant, for instance. Sometimes we read together, but more often she reads at odd times during the day when things quiet down with the kids or when she nurses a baby.

      You can always audit a course with us!

      • Jamie Schroeder says:

        Hi Dr. J, We had a correspondence about your Great Books effort last December (see below). Well, I must say I was inspired and started reading the Great Books again (now, along with the GGB) in January using your plan – not Adler’s 10-year plan. I’ve been getting up at 5 am and reading for two hours: one of quiet time, one of Great Books before the boys rush in and tackle me at 7 am and it’s been working out.

        Around the six-month mark, I likewise started a blog to track my progress:

        Any communal interaction is better than none. As Adler says – reading alone is about as much fun as drinking alone. Years back I had tried getting some personal friends interested in going through the 10-year plan together on a yahoo group. It was a spectacular failure, I couldn’t help but chuckle. So, I figured your strategy of starting by finding a coalition of the interested online and merely shooting for an interaction over the readings (friendship not needed) was the best strategy for solving this problem of a finding a reading community in the modern world (outside of Academia, I suppose).

        So, I just wanted to share that with you. I’m also trying to generate some traffic at my website to facilitate that community interaction. And, for an extra step of crazy ambition, in January I’m planning on adding a second ‘track’ to my blog simply called the “Quiet Time” track. I noticed: there’s plenty of people reading through Scripture together online, plenty of lists of recommended classic spiritual/theological books to read, but no online communities reading through these classic books together (like with our attempts at the Great Books). So, we’ll be trying to do that with a weekly list of readings split into three categories: biblical/sermon, theological/apologetic, historical/missions. This will include whole books from people such as Charles Spurgeon, J.I. Packer, Athanasius, Josephus, Eusebius, Os Guiness, Richard Pratt, Abraham Kuyper, J.P. Moreland, etc. It’s meant to be something that can be accomplished in 30-40 minutes/day, 6 days/week.

        Anyway, hope you’ll check out the website and would love to hear any feedback!

        Thanks, Jamie (oddly, also Dr. J)

        Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2012 02:05:35 +0000 To:

        • Dr. J says:

          Jamie, thanks for checking in again, and congratulations on getting your own reading schedule on track. I’m going to add your blog to the blogroll here, and I’ll stop by as often as I can.

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