Why Diogenes Refused to Give References

This week in the Great Books Project we will hit the 5,000-page mark in the Man and Society category, although I can’t say I’m really feeling more manly or social than usual.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 10-14 (GBWW Vol. 52, pp. 404-420)
  2. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXVI (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 409-435)
  3. On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament,” “On the Lord Gen. Fairfax at the Siege of Colchester,” and “To the Lord Generall Cromwell May 1652” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, p. 68-69)
  4. Against a Person Who Had Once Been Detected in Adultery” and “How Magnanimity Is Consistent with Care” by Epictetus, Discourses Book II, Chapters 4-5 (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 33)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XI (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 260-298)
  6. Of the Name of the Holy Ghost as Gift” and “Of the Persons in Relation to the Essence” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 200-213; Part I, Q. 38-39 of the Summa Theologica)

We could have finished the Brothers K this week, but I decided to save the Epilogue for next week to try to make sense of it all. This William James book has really been making the science readings disproportionately large over the last several weeks.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Part IV, Book XII, Chapters 6-9: All four of these chapters are taken up with the prosecutor’s closing argument against Mitya. Anyone familiar with crime fiction or police procedurals on TV will find this familiar. The prosecutor does everything possible to make the defense’s case seem implausible, particularly the case against Smerdyakov. He doesn’t actually discount Ivan’s testimony, but spins it to suggest Smerdyakov and Mitya were accomplices. 
  2. Colosso-de-barlettaThe Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XXV: After three entire chapters devoted to Julian and his brief reign, it was a bit jarring to see so much crammed into this chapter: the short reign of Jovian, the much longer of reign of Valentinian (who gets high marks from Gibbon), the division of the eastern and western empires, the career of Valens, etc. There’s an interesting aphorism here: “The prince who refuses to be the judge, instructs his people to consider him as the accomplice of his ministers.”
  3. Sonnets XVII-XIX by John Milton: I couldn’t detect any connection among these three sonnets, other than that they were all composed about individuals. Sonnet XIX was the most moving: a vision of the narrator’s deceased wife. If you read Euripides’s Alcestis along with us, you’ll recognize a couple of the references. Typical of Milton, Hercules sits alongside the Mosaic Law here. 
  4. “To Those Who Recommend Persons to Philosophers” by Epictetus: This essay is only one paragraph long. It begins with an anecdote about Diogenes refusing to recommend someone to an acquaintance. Diogenes said if the acquaintance was a good judge of character, he wouldn’t need the recommendation, and that if he was a poor judge of character, the recommendation wouldn’t do any good anyway. Epictetus says we all need to become good judges of character so that we will not to rely on the recommendations/references of others.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapters X: It’s a good thing James lays out his chapters’ organization clearly; otherwise, I couldn’t have handled this marathon. The chapter examines various aspects of the Self, which everyone says is one of the key ideas of modern thought. James defines the term broadly: “A man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his.” This definition includes things like friendships, reputation, property, etc. I’m still not sure what to think of that or whether contemporary psychologists would accept the definition.
  6. “Of the Name of the Holy Ghost—Love” by St. Thomas Aquinas: It’s curious that here quotes from St. Augustine’s On the Trinity form an objection to one article and the “on the contrary” of the other. Of course, St. Thomas asserts that St. Augustine supports his interpretation when read in the proper sense. What’s asserted in this question is that Love is the proper name of the Holy Ghost and that the Father and the Son love each other through the Holy Ghost.

The school year is back in full swing, and I’m left wondering when I’m going to do my weekly readings for this project. I need to get back into my early-morning routine, but of course that means I have to start going to bed earlier, which in turn is difficult when I sometimes don’t finish teaching class until 9:00 p.m. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

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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1 Response to Why Diogenes Refused to Give References

  1. Michelle says:

    I hope you keep finding time. I enjoy your posts!

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