It Only Counts If Others Are Watching

This week we are closing in on 13,000 pages of total reading in the Great Books Project. Simply typing that makes me tired.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, Cantos I-XVI (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 45-66)
  2. How We Should Struggle with Circumstance,” part 2, by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 122-123; Book I Chapter 25 of the Discourses)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 110-125)
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapter 5-6 (GBWW Vol. 57, pp. 43-70)
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part II (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 178-189; pp. 35-44 of the linked PDF)
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Additions (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 119-154)

Fair warning: I doubt that this Hegel selection will lend itself to reading straight through. I suspect that we’ll just need to do an inspection of these addenda.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Dante-CocytusThe Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Cantos XVIII-XXXIV: I’ve always found it interesting that Dante places Mohammed with the schismatics. I also paid more attention during this reading to the various demons and monsters Dante and Virgil encounter and who lie to them or help them get from one circle to another. 
  2. “How We Should Struggle with Circumstance” by Epictetus: In a style reminiscent of some New Testament writers, Epictetus writes that difficult circumstances are providential, that they are a means of testing or preparation. I like the line, “no poor man fills a part in the tragedy, except as one of the chorus.” 
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book XI: Books VII-X and part of Book XI have been lost, so we jump from the death of Tiberius into the middle of Claudius’s reign, completely skipping over Caligula. The main subject in the surviving portion of Book XI is the adultery and fall of Claudius’s wife Messalina. 
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapters 4: According to Veblen, our dominant economic urge is “conspicuous consumption.” We consume things not because we enjoy the consumption, but because we want other people to see us doing the consuming. Consumption is virtuous only insofar as it is “wasteful,” or not helpful to human life in general. One problem (of several) with this reasoning is that Veblen’s definition of “wasteful” as he elaborates it appears to include anything that’s not manufacturing or agriculture. This is a big problem for his theory in an economy in which the majority of people are employed in providing services.
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Introduction and Part I, Sections D-H: I couldn’t help laughing out loud at Freud’s 1909 addendum in which he complains that his critics have misrepresented his ideas: “My only possible answer to my critics would be a request that they should read this book over again—or perhaps merely that they should read it!” For the rest of the selection, the part I found most interesting was the discussion of whether the ethical sense is present while we dream in the same way it does when we are awake.
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Third Part, Sections III: “Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that the individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life.” Eeeeeekkkkk! It’s telling how Hegel firmly subordinates the church to the state in his lengthy discussion of religion.

Many apologies for the extremely tardy posting this week. I was out of town for a conference from early Sunday through late Wednesday, and attempts to catch up on my workload swamped me through today. With my children out of the house for the next week, I have high hopes of making up most of the time in the next few days.

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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