Stoics are so Christian-Sounding

Season’s greetings. I trust that most of you, unlike me, have completed your Christmas shopping and thus have sufficient leisure time to devote to reading the Great Books this week. This time out we are completing Volume I of Tocqueville and entering the home stretch on Kant. Hop aboard!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 25-30 (GGB Vol. 2, 405-411)*
  2. What Philosophy Promises” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 114-115; Book I Chapter 15 of the Discourses)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Chapter 10 and Conclusion (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 165-218)
  4. Of the Standard of Taste” by David Hume (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 99-119)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book V, 12-19 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 166-188)
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Doctrine,” Chapter 1 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 210-233; begins on p. 402 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 19-24: The hits just keep on coming for poor Mr. Pickwick. Now he has been arrested on the basis of false testimony by someone who has a grudge stemming from an innocent incident. I really liked the hunting episode in this section. 
  2. “That the Deity Oversees All Things” by Epictetus: Another short piece from Epictetus here. On reading this I was struck again with how easily Christian writers would have been drawn to the Stoic conception of God and His providence. Here we also have the notion of the guardian angel (daimon), reminding me of a discussion of Aristotle’s use in Nicomachean Ethics of  eudaimonea (usually translated “happiness”) I had last week. Everything is connected.
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Ch. 8-9:  Tocqueville returns here to the importance of administrative decentralization in the American system and argues that it is the main reason there’s no tyranny of the majority. Of course that has changed over the last 170 years. He also notes that it would be impossible for the American system to exist exactly as it does in some other part of the world because of accidents of geography and the like.
  4. “On Style” by Arthur Schopenhauer: This essay is surprisingly good. I love the insistence on the connection between style and substance, that to have a good style one must have something to say. Having suffered through Kant for the past couple of months, I could only offer a hearty “Amen!” to Schopenhauer’s lambasting of German philosophers for writing stuff no one can understand. 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book V, 1-11: We’re still on the moon in this book. I thought it was pretty neat that Ptolemy constructed his own astrolabe and gave a detailed description of it. He recognizes that even with the system he’s articulated so far, there are still a couple of anomalies in the movement of the moon for which he needs to account, so we get this tweaking of the epicycles. 
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Chapter 3: In this chapter Kant lowers the boom on several traditional proofs of God’s existence: Anselm’s ontological proof, Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s “prime mover” proof, and the “watchmaker” proof. If Kant is correct in the epistemology he has articulated to this point, these refutations follow logically because the proofs rely on categories he claims are illegitimate.

It has been an extremely busy week. Even though I finished the readings Tuesday, I’m only now (Friday!!) able to post about them. Now that the fall semester has been almost entirely put to bed, I need to kick the blogging into high gear over the next 2-3 weeks to get back to Monday posts related to the Great Books. Of course, today I have to finish moving offices, attend an important meeting, and go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Crazy!

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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