We have no significant milestones to report in the Great Books Project this week, although we are closing in on the 5,000-page mark in the Man and Society category. Gibbon, no doubt, will carry us through in the next couple of weeks.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 6-9 (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 386-404)
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXV (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 382-409)
- Sonnets, numbers XVII-XIX by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 67-68)
- “To Those Who Recommend Persons to Philosophers” by Epictetus, Discourses Book II, Chapter 3 (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 33)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter X (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 188-259)
- “Of the Name of the Holy Ghost—Love” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 197-200; Part I, Q. 37 of the Summa Theologica)
This week’s readings are even more lopsided than last week’s. The chapter from James is 72 pages long, so everything else is relatively brief except for the Gibbon chapter.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 1-5: Things were looking good for Mitya until Ivan testified in his behalf, sounding crazy and self-incriminating. This in turn set off Katerina, whose repressed love for Ivan finally burst out and caused her to throw Mitya over with what looks like conclusive evidence. Will he end up in Siberia after all?
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXIV: Three chapters on Julian, a guy who reigned a mere 22 months. Gibbon lauds his character and relates his death scene in loving detail. I liked the “amiable inconsistency” with which he mourned the death of his friend mere moments after he gave a philosophical discourse on the benefits of dying in one’s youth. I have to admit, though, I’m ready to move on to someone else.
- Sonnets XIV-XVI by John Milton: Sonnet XIV is a beautiful eulogy. I’m surprised I can’t ever remember hearing it at a funeral: “Thy Works and Alms and all thy good Endeavour/Staid not behind, nor in the grave were trod;/But as Faith pointed with her golden rod,/Follow’d thee up to joy and bliss forever.” As for Sonnet XV, I’ll just say I didn’t expect to see a massacre of civilians in the Piedmont commemorated in verse.
- General Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant: Kant makes a distinction between ethics and jurisprudence in that (if I understand him correctly) the motivation of the former is internal, whereas the motivation of the latter is external. The final section is also interesting: meeting an obligation but not going beyond it incurs neither praise nor blame; you only get those for going “above and beyond” or for falling short.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapters IX: This chapter explores and seeks to justify five propositions about the stream of thought. James refuses to argue from first principles, writing that this method has produced all sorts of pitfalls. Instead, he “plunges in medias res” with his observations. Each of the five propositions seemed to make sense to me, e.g. the mind focuses on objects independent of itself and chooses among the different parts of these objects at different times.
- “Of the Person of the Holy Ghost” by St. Thomas Aquinas: At least half of this question is taken up with the filioque issue: does the Spirit proceed from the Son? St. Thomas says yes, but he has to deal with seven objections (the typical question has three or four). I had never considered his argument that without filioque there would be no effective way to distinguish the Son from the Spirit; there must be some definable relation between them.
My fall semester has begun, and I am off-balance as usual with the non-stop emails from students and admissions people who are trying to get into classes at the last possible minute. Still, I made up a couple of days on the posting schedule!