Adam Smith: Opera Singers Are Prostitutes

This week in the Great Books Project we’ll pass the 15,000-page mark. If that’s not enough of an introduction to this post, I don’t know what would be.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Merchant’s Prologue” through “The Franklin’s Tale” (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 418-448)
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 286-290)
  3. Paraphrase on Psalm 114” and “Psalm 136” (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 7-10)
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book I, Chapter 11 (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 71-131)
  5. On Injuries of the Head by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 133-146)
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapter 21 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 178-200)

After thirteen or more consecutive weeks with a Montaigne essay on the menu, I thought it was time for a change of pace with some short poems from Milton. I hope you don’t mind.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. wifeCanterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Physician’s Tale” through “The Clerk’s Tale”: Lots to cover here! I skimmed over the Wife of Bath because I teach that story every semester to freshmen, but I do think they let the knight off easy. I found the summoner and friar’s argument entertaining. The marquis in the Clerk’s Tale must be the biggest jerk in the history of the world. I wasn’t expecting the gruesome nature of the Physician’s Tale, with knight doing the mercy killing of his daughter. 
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book X: I’m sorry, but this is a low blow: “Imagine every man who is grieved at anything or discontented to be like a pig which is sacrificed and kicks and screams.” How’s this for determinism: “Whatever may happen to thee, it was prepared for thee from all eternity; and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning the thread of thy being, and of that which is incident to it.”
  3. “Various Outcomes of the Same Plan” by Michel de Montaigne: The angle here is politics and how similar policies can lead to radically different results depending on external circumstances. I was reminded of a statement that occurs often in Bill Bonner’s financial writings: you can’t guarantee good investment results, but you can act in such a way to deserve them. 
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Introduction and Book I, Chapter 10: This is an important (and long) chapter that discusses the relative incomes of labor and capital based on numerous factors, such as the nature of the employment and regulatory regimes. The other singers in my vocal ensemble liked this quote: “There are some very agreeable and beautiful talents of which the possession commands a certain sort of admiration; but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of public prostitution.” He mentions stage actors and opera singers specifically in this regard. 
  5. Optics by Isaac Newton, Book Three, Part I, Queries: In this final section of the work, Newton simply throws out a series of questions that he hopes future investigators into the nature of light will be able to answer. I can only assume, not being that familiar with the history of optics, that others have come along and found the answers Newton was looking for. 
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapters 14-20: These chapters consist mainly of Locke’s attempts to explain how various concepts we hold can be interpreted as originating in sensory data. He writes at length on space, time, number, infinity, and several other things.

I lost yet another day this week on my posting schedule. After three consecutive weekends of travel, it will be good to stay put for the next few days and do some catching up. The important thing for me (or for you, if you are trying to stick to a reading program of your own) is not to throw in the towel. See you 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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