Get Up, Lazybones

I don’t know about you, but it irks me that even after reading 3,000 pages of science and mathematics in this Great Books Project, I still have trouble reading Isaac Newton. Oh, and I completely forgot to mention that we passed the 14,000-page mark across all categories a couple of weeks ago.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Prologue” and “Knight’s Tale” (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 275-309)
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 259-264)
  3. That to Philosophize Is to Learn to Die” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 84-91)
  4. Solon” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 64-77)
  5. Optics by Isaac Newton, Book One, Part II (GBWW Vol. 32, pp. 424-455)
  6. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 251-287)

You knew we had to read Chaucer at some point, right? I’m much more scared of the Kant selection.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. schiller“On Simple and Sentimental Poetry” by Friedrich Schiller:  This essay is quite long and contains a lot of interesting material, but if you’re familiar with Romanticism, you’ll understand what Schiller is advocating. He posits a distinction between the “simple” poets of antiquity, who excel in presenting the immediate, concrete, and finite; and the “sentimental” poets of modernity, who specialize in the abstract and reflective by necessity (because moderns have lost touch with nature). I especially liked his discussion of Book VI of the Iliad
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book V: I read the opening of this book to freshmen every semester. It’s just too perfect: “In the morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present—I am rising to the work of a human being. . . . Have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?—But this is more pleasant.—Dost thou exist them to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion?”
  3. “That Our Happiness Must not be Judged until after Our Death” by Michel de Montaigne: Anyone who has followed along with this reading program would have known simply from this essay’s title that Montaigne was going to discuss the scene from Herodotus about Croesus and Solon. 
  4. “Numa Pompilius” and “Lycurgus & Numa Compared” by Plutarch: I really liked this life, which I had not encountered before. As is usual with Plutarch, we get several neat vignettes, including one about Numa’s reluctance to take up the responsibilities of kingship when both Romans and Sabines were importuning him. I thought on the whole that Numa’s laws were more humane than Lycurgus’s, although Plutarch attempts to minimize the differences between them. 
  5. Optics by Isaac Newton, Book One, Part I: Although the format of this work is similar to that of the pure mathematicians like Euclid, the propositions are proved by experiment rather than by deduction. This first part has mostly to do with the refraction and reflection of sun rays and the demonstration that different rays actually have different potentials for refraction. 
  6. “The Immutability of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: I’m not 100% sure how St. Thomas derives God’s immutability from the fact that He is “pure act.” I guess Malachi 3:6 is enough for me. As usual, St. Thomas has to wade through certain equivocations hiding in the objections to God’s immutability.

The summer is wearing away so quickly. My fall semester will be firing up very soon, and I’m still in the thick of trying to prepare multiple new courses for online delivery. Nevertheless, I will 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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7 Responses to Get Up, Lazybones

  1. alexanderschimpf says:

    I know what you mean about St. Thomas on immutability and the divine attributes in general. I just worked through some of that with my students in my Philosophy of God course, and the act/potency stuff was, shall we say, less than wildly popular.

  2. David K. says:

    Change is the actualization of a potential. To say that God is pure act means that He does not have any unactualized potentials. Therefore God cannot change.

  3. David K. says:

    To be “in act” with regard to an attribute is to possess it; to be “in potency” with regard to an attribute is to have the potential or capacity to acquire it. Aquinas thought that every being except God was composed of act and potency (i.e., in act with regard to some attributes and in potency with regard to others) and that God alone was “pure act” (i.e., not in potency with regard to anything).

    When something changes, it acquires a new attribute which it did not have before; thus, it must have been in potency with regard to that attribute before the change and is now in act with regard to it. In Thomistic terminology, change involves the “reduction of potency to act,” i.e., the actualization of a potential.

  4. Sean says:

    Dr. J.,
    I’ve started with compiling the Librivox recording links. Anybody is welcome to view/add to/edit them here

  5. Clark Wolf says:

    Any thoughts on the charge that Newton fudged his data in the Opticks? I’ve heard the charge, but never heard what people think he fudged.

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