It’s shaping up to be a challenging week in the Great Books Project. Our psychology reading is quite long, and we have a short work by Kant as well. Hang in there, and flee to Dostoevsky if the pressure builds too much.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 365-386)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXIV (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 361-382)
- Sonnets, numbers XIV-XVI by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 66-67)
- General Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 381-394)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter IX (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 146-187)
- “Of the Person of the Holy Ghost” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 190-197; Part I, Q. 36 of the Summa Theologica)
Full Disclosure: I’m teaching a new interdisciplinary seminar on Justice this fall, and I need to double-dip on some of my readings for that course and this project. Hence the Kant reading this week. There will be a few more of those crossovers over the next few months.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XI, Chapters 6-10: SPOILER ALERT: So Smerdyakov is the killer and thief after all. The thriller addict in me kept expecting another twist, but I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect a 19th-century novelist to conform to my genre-film-influenced expectations. I liked the dialogue between Ivan and the devil, although I don’t know that it was completely orthodox. Smerdyakov’s suicide will probably prevent the truth from becoming generally known and thus will keep Mitya in trouble.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXIII: Gibbon focuses on Julian’s religious policy in this chapter, and he is actually pretty critical. Obviously he liked the policy of toleration, but he throws up several statements and decisions that place the emperor in a pretty bad light. I was expecting him to sanitize Julian a bit more.
- Sonnets X-XIII by John Milton: Sonnet X is addressed to a young woman who reminds Milton of her late father. Sonnets XI-XII are ruminations on a book called the Tetrachordon. Sonnet XIII praises a composer for his airs. The last contains some extravagance: “Dante shall give Fame leave to set thee higher/Then his Casella, whom he woo’d to sing/Met in the milder shades of Purgatory.”
- “That Confidence Is Not Inconsistent with Caution” and “Of Tranquility” by Epictetus: The first essay’s argument is that we should emply caution “toward things which are really bad,” i.e. bad exercise of the will, and employ confidence toward all things not in our control. Of course, Epictetus writes, most people do the opposite. Epictetus sort of attempts to claim Socrates for the Stoics in the second essay by pointing to the calm way in which he met his death stemming from his confidence that he had lived a good life.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapters VII-VIII: James gets into the subject/object distinction and the problems it causes in psychology in some depth. At the end of Chapter VII he identifies the “psychologist’s fallacy” as “the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report.” In Chapter VIII, “The Relations of Minds to Other Things,” James seems to veer in Sigmund Freud territory; there’s talk of unconsciousness and how hysterics frequently display ailments for which no physical cause appears to exist.
- “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: What grabbed me the most as I worked my way through these questions was an article in “The Knowledge of the Divine Persons” that delineated five specific “notions” or properties of God—innascibility, paternity, sonship, common spiration, and procession—and went on to distinguish the persons of the Trinity by which notions each contains. It was pretty dense reading.
Happy anniversary to my wife of fifteen years! Every year the date falls during the week where I’m saddled with responsibilities on campus related to the Freshman Experience week.