The Christmas Carol Before “A Christmas Carol”

I’m clawing my way back towards a Great Books Monday post. Making up two days this week is a good start. The prospect of finishing The Critique of Pure Reason is a powerful motivator to get started on this week’s readings as soon as possible.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 31-36 (GGB Vol. 2, 411-448)*
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book I (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 495-511)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part One, Chapters 1-7 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 219-240)
  4. Of Liars” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 62-64)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book VI, 1-6 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 189-202)
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Doctrine,” Chapters 2-4 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 233-250; begins on p. 446 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 25-30: Mr. Wardle’s story about the sexton who got carried off by goblins on Christmas Eve reads like a first draft of “A Christmas Carol.” There were too many similarities to escape notice. I literally laughed out loud at the part where the goblin asks the sexton about his liquor, and the sexton was seized by a sudden fear that the goblin was a collector of the excise tax. 
  2. “What Philosophy Promises” by Epictetus: “Philosophy does not propose to secure for a man any external thing.” Well, not Stoic philosophy, anyway. I like the caution against the expectation of instant gratification, too. That’s a lot for an essay that’s only two paragraphs long. 
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Ch. 10: I’m sure I’m not the first person to note how valuable this chapter is as the observations of a more or less disinterested outsider concerning the racial situation in America in the 1830s. Tocqueville predicts the eventual extinction of the Indians and war between whites and blacks. The first prediction nearly came true, and the second might have come true had the whites not started killing each other in the 1860s. Tocqueville makes some telling remarks about the economic impact of slavery and the retarding effects it has on the southern economy (retarding effects that were recognized by southerners at the time). He also avoids falling into the mistake of assuming the moral superiority of northerners, noting that slavery was abolished for the benefit of whites.
  4. “Of the Standard of Taste” by David Hume: As usual, Hume provides us with a very stimulating essay. I liked his rejection of the view that “sentiment is always right” and his espousal of the notion that certain objects are fitted by nature to produce particular sentiments such as disgust, admiration, etc. His insistence on the ability to make relative comparisons of the species of whatever genus is being investigated is also good. 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book V, 12-19: More heady stuff in this section. Ptolemy describes another instrument of his own design, this one for measuring parallaxes. He also works his way around to measuring the size of the earth, sun, and moon.
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Doctrine,” Chapter 1: Kant doesn’t like dogmatism. Interestingly, he doesn’t like skepticism, either. He thinks we have to discipline our minds not to take pure reason beyond the realm of sense experience, but deviates from Hume in saying that skepticism doesn’t solve any problems (except as a counterweight to dogmatism).

The cold weather still hasn’t hit us here in the South, but I’m ready for it. There aren’t many things better than reading in front of the fire on a cold winter’s evening. I hope that in the midst of all the Christmas hubbub, you’ll be able to find some time to read this week.

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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