My sophomore class has been reading Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for the past week, and I started feeling really guilty for not having made a Great Books Project post in a while, so here we are! (By the way, we’ve just crossed the 22,000-page threshold of the project.)
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book V (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 194-234)
- Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Introduction and Part I, Chapters 1-7 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 39-66)
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 84-85 (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 440-461)
- Sonnets XLVI-L by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 593-594)
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 693-699)
- Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapter I (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 135-144)
It seems like forever since we started Gibbon, and we’re not done with him yet. But having completed GBWW Volume 37, I want to take a break from Rome for a while, so Hobbes it is. Also, I can’t find an online version of the Whitehead text, although it was written in the early 1920s. If anyone locates one, I’d appreciate a link.
Here are some observations from the last week’s readings:
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book IV: These characters seem to do better at war than at home, even when they are getting shot up. Prince Andrew returns home just in time to see his wife die in childbirth. Rostov loses 43,000 rubles at cards to the jerk who is envious of Sonya’s love for him. Pierre fights a duel, miraculously survives despite having never held a pistol before, and chases his wife away. Get back to the war already!
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter XL: This final chapter of Vol. 37 discusses the reign of Justinian, with which I was already pretty familiar. It’s a sort of greatest-hits chapter: the Nike revolt, the bravery of the empress Theodora, the colossal construction projects in Constantinople. Good stuff.
- The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 80-83: This section deals with the “appetitive powers,” which St. Thomas treats generally before focusing specifically on sensuality, the will, and free choice. The appetitive power of the soul is “an inclination surpassing the natural inclination” of forms without knowledge. I had never thought about classifying the will and choice as part of the appetite, but it makes sense. St. Thomas, of course, does believe that human beings have free choice.
- Sonnets XLI-XLV by William Shakespeare: It appears that love triangles were a thing even in the 16th century. The first two sonnets in this group accuse the poet’s friend of stealing his mistress. The next two or three dwell on the theme of separation from the beloved. There’s some interesting play on words in #43: “darkly bright are bright in dark”; “thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright”; “thy shadow’s form form happy show,” etc. My favorite is probably #44, in which the poet wishes his body had the speed of thought so he could cross the earth instantaneously to reunite with this beloved.
- Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXII, heading “The Intellectual Contrast between Brute and Man” to the end: As best I can tell, the key difference between brute and man as far as James is concern is language. Man “has a deliberate intention to apply a sign to everything. The linguistic impulse is with him generalized and systematic.” Sure, animals communicate in various ways, but to James human language represents a difference in kind, not just degree. He seems to frown on Darwin’s notion that human intelligence is one end of the same continuum on which the intelligence of fish and dogs also rest.
- The Laws of Plato, Book XII: The final book of the work contains regulations on several different things, some of which are repetitions of what came in earlier books. I found particularly interesting the assertion that an “open society” in which people and ideas freely flowed in and out was undesirable. There were to be strict regulations on travel both by citizens and foreign visitors; the Athenian even states that the better the city’s laws are, the more damaging are the new ideas put into circulation by contact with the outside world. By the time we get to the final few pages, it has all come back around to virtue–courage, temperance, wisdom, and justice–and the need for it in the city’s legislators.
My spring semester is drawing to a close. Although the summer schedule is frighteningly full, I think the administrative workload will lighten up enough for me to start posting at least semi-regularly again. Here’s hoping!