Bohemians Who Want to Be Philistines

Ever since beginning this Great Books Project, I’ve known that some of you out there have been itching to read about crazy Roman emperors. We’re going to start reading Tacitus this week, so your wait is over.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Areopagitica by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 379-412)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 598-606)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book I (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 1-23)
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Sections 82-end (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 428-444)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XIII, 1-4 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 426-455)
  6. Against Those Who Wish to Be Admired” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 120; Book I, Ch. 21 of the Discourses)

We’re close to the end of Ptolemy and Aristotle, and we finish Berkeley this week, too, so we’ll have some significant turnover in the schedule soon. I’m excited to sit down and select what to read next!

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. “The Pupil” by Henry James: “Bohemians who want to be Philistines”—for some reason I found this statement absolutely hilarious. I’ve never read a story quite like this about social climbers impoverishing themselves. I’m not sure how interpret Morgan, “the pupil,” here. Any ideas? 
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XI: Is there one science that treats of all being? Aristotle, unsurprisingly, says it depends on how precise we are with our definition of “being.” Here he also makes an interesting refutation of Heraclitus and Anaxagoras, arguing that to apply their ideas consistently would ultimately result in a violation of non-contradiction. 
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Appendices II-III: I was struck by the statement in Tocqueville’s speech before the French legislature that the aristocracy lost control of the country, at least in part, because they deserved to, because of their moral degradation. It was the sort of statement that didn’t occur much, if at all, in the more analytical Democracy in America
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Sections 1-81: I don’t buy it. The idea that something must be perceived to exist just doesn’t pass the smell test. The only way to salvage this, I guess, would be to say that God perceives all things, so that the chair is still there even when we close our eyes, but I don’t see where Berkeley allows this. Maybe it’s coming up in the next section . . . 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XII, Parts 6-10: We start off here with a discussion of Mercury’s regression before moving another table or two. Then there’s an analysis of Mercury’s and Venus’s “elongation with respect to the sun.” The assumption of circular orbits certainly led to a lot of finessing! The modern astronomer wants simpler math, I suppose.
  6. “About Reason, How It Contemplates Itself” by Epictetus: “It is the chief and the first work of a philosopher to examine appearances, and to distinguish them, and to admit none without examination.” I think I’ll use that somewhere.

My three-week streak of making Great Books posts on Mondays has been broken, and in a big way. It may take a few weeks to claw back, but really this week the delays were unavoidable. I apologize to any of you who were bent out of shape over the wait.

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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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