Archimedes Breaks Things

I failed to mention last week that we have passed the 17,000-page mark in our Great Books Project. With all the works we’ve completed or are about to complete this month, it got lost in the shuffle. Let’s celebrate with a classical liberal author.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XVII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 356)*
  2. Of the Divine Happiness” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 150-152; Part One, Chapter 26 of Summa Theologica)
  3. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 38-46 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 172-214)
  4. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, Parts 1-2 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 267-293)
  5. Space” by Henri Poincare (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 265-293; Part II of the linked PDF)
  6. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part I (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 589-606)

*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.

The reading from the Summa this week is the last section of the treatise on God, so I expect we’ll take a break from that work going into February. Lots of turnover!

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XVI: It’s always darkest before the dawn, and Fielding has certainly put Jones in a dark place: in prison awaiting trial for the murder of Fitzpatrick. Mrs. Western and Lady Bellaston are scheming to put Sophia into the arms of Lord Fellamar, and Blifil is no doubt planning some desperate stratagem to throw a wrench into the works. I eagerly await the deus ex machina
  2. “The Power of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: This section contains a few expected arguments, e.g. there is power is God, and that power is infinite. St. Thomas also argues that God could not have created things better than they are, “better” being defined in the sense
  3. DonQuixote-LuscindaThe History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 27-37: We’re very deep into the subplots and stories within stories in these chapters. The aptly named “man who was too curious for his own good” provides a pathetic counterpoint to the ultimately happy endings for Cardenio/Luscinda and Dorotea/Fernando. By the end of the section it looks like pretty much the whole world is playing along with Don Quixote’s madness. 
  4. “Marcellus” and “Marcellus and Pelopidas Compared” by Plutarch: It had been some time since I had read the biography of Marcellus, and I’m not sure I’d ever read the whole thing. Archimedes steals the show, of course, with Plutarch’s account of his inventions being used in the defense of Syracuse. Marcellus himself, though, is a pretty impressive character: five-time consul, one of only three sitting consuls to slay an enemy king on the battlefield, etc. 
  5. The Method Treating of Mechanical Problems by Archimedes: The scheduling of a work by Archimedes the same week as we had Plutarch’s mini-bio of him was coincidence, I assure you. I ended up being as lost in this work as I had feared I would be. Archimedes continually cites proofs from his other works (most of which I have not yet read) and Euclid (most of which I have forgotten). Moreover, many sections of the work are missing, leaving the editor to attempt a reasonable reconstruction. I gather that the distinctive point of this work is Archimedes’s argument that we often get ideas for geometrical (abstract) proofs by seeing an approximation of it in the material (mechanical) world.
  6. Objections Against the Meditations, and Replies by Rene Descartes, “Letter to Father Dinet”: Well, it seems we’re ending with a whimper rather than a bang. In this letter to a Jesuit leader, Descartes primarily complains about the ill usage he has received at the hands of other member of that order in lecture halls and printed works. He states that his work has been misrepresented as being heretical. There’s not much in the way of substantive discussion of ideas here.

It’s snowing in the South, which of course means the whole region is shutting down. Now that most of my teaching is done online, though, I keep plugging away. If you’re snowed in this week, don’t have the TV on the whole time. Read some!

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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2 Responses to Archimedes Breaks Things

  1. Zach says:

    I might try to read some but TV is just so much easier 🙂

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