The Owl of Minerva Spreads Its Wings Only with the Falling of the Dusk

We’re reaching another milestone in the Great Books Project this week: upon completion of the Claude Bernard reading below, we’ll have completed five of the ten volumes of the Gateway to the Great Books series. I believe that makes nine volumes completed overall!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Tragedy of King Richard II by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 24, pp. 320-351)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XIV (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 619-626)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book III (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 45-63)
  4. Of Taxes” by David Hume (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 85-88)
  5. Experimental Considerations Common to Living Things and Inorganic Bodies” by Claude Bernard (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 266-290; Chapter III of An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine; these links may not work)
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, First Part (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 22-41)

It will be nice to finish Aristotle’s Metaphysics this week, although it doesn’t seem nearly so difficult now that we’ve started a work by Hegel.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. “Sorrow-Acre” by Isak Dinesen: This story features a giant head-fake that had me convinced the climax would be a lynching of the landlord following the old woman’s death. I’m glad it didn’t turn out that way. The ambiguity at the end of the story leaves you wondering whose view of the world is more accurate: the uncle’s or the nephew’s.
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XIII: After all the discussion of substance, Aristotle turns to mathematics to discuss whether numbers are real, etc. This book contains several citations of Plato, who thought mathematics showed evidence of the ideal Forms. 
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book II: Tacitus certainly wants you to think that Tiberius is a reprehensible figure. His maneuvering in the Senate is pretty disgusting, as is his treatment of many public figures. Germanicus, on the other hand, comes off as pure as the driven snow. It’s interesting how Tacitus doesn’t say flat out that Piso had Germanicus poisoned, but contents himself with noting that circumstantial evidence appeared to point in that direction. 
  4. “Of Prognostications” by Michel de Montaigne: I found it very interesting that Montaigne appears to give some credence to ancient pagan prophecy, quoting Cicero to the effect that it had faded in efficacy by the first century B.C. As usual, he juxtaposes classical references to examples from his own time, expressing incredulity that French nobles sought the aid of diviners even in the sixteenth century. 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XIII, Parts 5-11 and Appendices: After 21 weeks, we’re finally putting this work to bed. I probably understood 25-30% of what I read, and I don’t think I’ll be able to comprehend it fully until I’ve come back to it after a close study of Euclid and the other ancient mathematicians in this series. I liked the second appendix, which bridges Ptolemy’s system with that of Copernicus and Kepler. I’ve had it with astronomy for a while, though. We’ll come back to those guys later. 
  6. Owl_of_MinervaThe Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Preface & Introduction: This work is not what I was expecting. Hegel is essentially commenting on his own university lectures, and he appears to assume that readers are his students. I liked the image at the end of the preface about the owl of Minerva spreading its wings at dusk. Hegel essentially believes philosophy can only comprehend a phase of history too late for it to be of any practical use.

I am sort of on spring break this week; at least two of my classes aren’t meeting. It doesn’t feel like it, though, with a new issue of the Journal of Faith and the Academy to edit and a conference to attend at the Ludwig von Mises Institute tomorrow. Here’s hoping I can make up another day or two on the schedule next 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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