William James Argues for the Soul

This week in the Great Books Project we return to the wisdom of the Stoics after a lengthy hiatus. It’s time to begin Book II of Epictetus’s Discourses.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XI, Chapters 6-10 (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 335-365)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXIII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 344-361)
  3. Sonnets, numbers X-XIII by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 64-66)
  4. That Confidence Is Not Inconsistent with Caution” and “Of Tranquility” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 130-133; Chapters 1-2 of the Discourses)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter VII-VIII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 120-145)
  6. Of What Belongs to the Unity or Plurality in God,” “The Knowledge of the Divine Persons,” “Of the Person of the Father,” “Of the Person of the Son,” and “Of the Image” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 171-190; Part I, Q. 31-35 of the Summa Theologica)

This week we’re a bit heavy on St. Thomas, but we do have a long way to go still in the Summa, so I thought it would be good to cover some ground there this week.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XI, Chapters 1-5: If Alyosha is correct, my Ivan-killed-Fyodor theory is all washed up. Ivan and Lise are turning out to be disappointing; I’ve been holding out for some sort of redemption for Ivan, and it now looks like not only will that fail to happen, but that he’ll also drag Lise down with him. I’m interested to see how the conversations with Smerdyakov go. 
  2. julian-apostateThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXII: This chapter on Julian was briefer than I expected. Gibbon seems most interested in whether Julian actually wanted to be emperor. He’s certainly interested in holding him up as a virtuous guy in contrast to Constantius and the bishop/eunuch coalition represented by Eusebius. I couldn’t help thinking from the tone that Gibbon’s anti-Christianity was coming through again.
  3. Sonnets I, VII-IX by John Milton: Sonnets I and VII are both “woe is me, I can’t find love” poems. I found Sonnet IX to be the most interesting. The imagery and references are almost purely Biblical. It’s also the first time I can recall seeing someone described as having “ruth,” a word the OED defines as “the quality of being compassionate.” So now you know what it means when the villain of a piece is described as being “ruthless.”
  4. “Of Prayers” and “Of Age” by Michel de Montaigne: “Of Prayers” is pretty long for Montaigne. It communicates his sense of the sacred effectively. He’s leery of loose or casual religious conversation, a fact that may explain why there’s comparatively little of a spiritual or devotional nature in his essays. He thinks the Lord’s Prayer is the one prayer that be continually on the lips of Christians. In “On Age,” Montaigne argues that death of old age is the most unnatural death of all since so few reach it. He wants more responsibility to be shifted onto people at younger ages, especially in their twenties. The body is in peak condition then, and Montaigne thinks the soul is fully matured as well. These two pieces complete the first volume of Montaigne’s essays.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapters VI: Props to James for putting the soul out there as the only reasonable explanation for the mind. He played the card close to the vest until late in the chapter when he had exhausted all other possible theories.
  6. The Theaetetus of Plato: This dialogue focuses on epistemology. Socrates and Theaetetus discuss different several concepts of knowledge before concluding that none of them are satisfactory. The very first one they find wanting is the god of modernity: sense perception.

After some gloriously cool temperatures last week here in Montgomery, we’re back to the mid-90s with high humidity. It’s perfect weather to welcome the freshmen to campus this weekend. I hope the rest of you are able to stay somewhat cool 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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