All the World’s a Stage

Three Great Books Monday posts in a row . . . what is the world coming to? If you have never read Henry James before, you’re in for a treat this week.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Pupil” by Henry James (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 530-568)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 587-598)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Appendices II-III (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 400-411)
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Sections 1-81 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 413-428)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XII, 6-10 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 411-425)
  6. About Reason, How It Contemplates Itself” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 119-120; Book I, Ch. 20 of the Discourses)

This week we say good-bye to Alexis de Tocqueville. Reading two appendices isn’t exactly going out with a bang, but we’ve encountered many great insights from him along the way. I know there’s material for several blog posts if I ever find the time.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. asyoulikeitAs You Like It by William Shakespeare: Even though it has some great speeches like “All the world’s a stage . . .” this play doesn’t grab me like so many others from Shakespeare. I suppose something is lost in translation; I’m sure the irony of an Elizabethan actor pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man onstage would have been immensely funny at the time. Bryce Dallas Howard is easy on the eyes, but she’s just not the same.
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book X: This book discusses the idea of unity. The problem of “the one and the many” is a thorny one. What does it mean to say that two things are the same, or that two things are different. Is there a unity of all things, some genus that comprehends every species? As usual, by the end of the book you are convinced that the problem is more difficult that you ever thought before.
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Four, Ch. 6-8 and Appendix I: Here at the end, Tocqueville makes some interesting reflections on how God might view the changes in the world. His point about God’s being concerned with the welfare of all and not just those of Tocqueville’s class is important. Of course, by itself it does not prove that democracy is desirable.
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Preface and Introduction: The influence of Locke on Berkeley is evident from the beginning; there are at least five or six citations from Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding in the Introduction. I started to wonder whether I should have read that work first, but it’s too late now! Berkeley claims that “general abstract” ideas are harmful to sound reasoning, even though the use of language inevitably draws us to them to some extent.
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XII, Parts 1-5: I got really confused in this section because editorial notes were inserted into the text with no warning other than a slight change in font size. This book lays out a different way of treating the “regressions,” or apparent backwards motions, of the planets. The editor indicates that much of what Ptolemy does here foreshadows Copernicus’s work of more than 1,000 years later.
  6. “How We Should Behave to Tyrants” by Epictetus: Libertarians will enjoy Epictetus’s statement that one should react to a tyrant as one does “to a fever and the bile.” Not surprisingly, Epictetus emphasizes that the tyrant can’t touch you where it counts, on the inside.

Average annual rainfall here is around 55 inches; so far in February we’ve had more than 11 inches. I’m feeling a bit waterlogged and hoping we’ll get a reprieve soon.

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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1 Response to All the World’s a Stage

  1. Victoria says:

    Ronald Knox wrote the following limericks as a spoof of the bizarre theological notions of Bishop Berkeley. Berkeley’s teaching on the relationship between existence and perception is often, if inadequately, summed up in the formula esse est percipi, “to be is to be perceived.”

    There once was a man who said, ‘God
    Must think it exceedingly odd
    If he finds that this tree
    Continues to be
    When there’s no one about in the Quad.’

    Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;
    I am always about in the Quad.
    And that’s why the tree
    Will continue to be
    Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.

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