Shakespeare Slut-Shames Time

I’m back again after a long hiatus with more of the Great Books Project. Let’s dig right into it.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 275-302)
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Part I, Chapters 13-16 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 84-98)
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 90-93 (GBWW Vol. 17, pp. 480-501)
  4. Sonnets LVI-LX by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 594-595)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIV, heading “Special Human Instincts” to end (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 712-737)
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters IV-V (GBWW Vol. 55, pp. 162-180)

Having just begun Whitehead and Hobbes recently, we don’t appear to be on the verge of starting any other new works, but it has been so long since the last of these posts that even William James seems fresh to me at the moment.

Here are some observations from the last set of readings:

  1. 3037af6900000578-3415334-natasha_rostova_and_prince_andrei_bolkonsky_waltz_in_the_bbc_s_l-a-14_1453715575882War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book VI: We keep seeing wild swings in the moods of the characters: Pierre, Andrew, Natasha, and more. Andrew goes from preoccupation with rural solitude to the thick of committee work in St. Petersburg to infatuation with Natasha. Pierre goes from passionate devotion to the Freemasons to private sort of Stoic endurance leading to a formal reconciliation with his wife, after which he lives in her shadow socially. Andrew and Natasha’s engagement pleases some and mystifies others. Will it endure?
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Introduction and Part I, Chapters 8-12: “Riches, knowledge, and honour are just various kinds of power.” What a Baconian way of looking at the world. A few paragraphs later Hobbes is offering very novel interpretations of scripture, explaining away passages where God or some other spirit is said to have influenced certain people in favor of a materialistic explanation. The “demon-possessed” in the Gospels, for instance, were just madmen cured by Jesus the psychologist, whose words led them to abandon their disordered passions. It looks like Hobbes is a precursor to theological modernism. He does profess to believe the accounts of miracles associated with the Exodus and the divine revelation to Moses, but rule out anything supernatural happening in pretty much any other Christian culture.
  3. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I, Questions 86-89: According to St. Thomas, when it comes to material things, the intellect can know contingent things, but not singular things in and of themselves. The intellectual soul knows itself by its acts, not its essence. The union of soul and body makes the knowledge of immaterial things difficult, but the soul separated from the body has greater scope for this knowledge. (These were tough questions to get through.)
  4. Sonnets LI-LV by William Shakespeare: In these sonnets we read, again, how the poet’s lines will preserve his beloved’s beauty long past her death. The imagery in #55 is most striking: “But you shall shine more bright in these contents/Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time.” Neither war, death, nor “all-oblivious enmity” will destroy it.
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXIV, beginning to heading “Special Human Instincts”: James categorizes all instinctive actions as a kind of reflex, acknowledging that his definition raises the question of whether we can really believe that “mutual dependence be so intricate and go so far,” given the astounding number of situations in which these instinctive actions can be observed. He insists that we must, and that understanding the nervous system makes instinct appear just like all other facts of life. “Every instinct is an impulse.” However, instinct also combines with experience to alter behavior; instinct can be inhibited by habit. Additionally, instincts can be transitory, fading away after a certain age. James concludes the section by writing that instincts serve the purpose of forming habits, after which they fade.
  6. Science and the Modern World by Alfred North Whitehead, Chapters II-III: This section begins with an overview of mathematics: what it is and how it figures in the history of thought. According to Whitehead, the early Greek emphasis on mathematics lessened greatly under the influence of Aristotle, who was more of a classifier. The focus on classification kept medieval thinkers from doing science in the modern sense. Mathematics revived in the early modern period and formed the basis of the “century of greatness,” or the 17th century, during which measurement became preeminent: “The seventeenth century . . . produced a scheme of scientific thought framed by mathematicians, for the use of mathematicians.” Unfortunately, the “misplaced concreteness” ascribed to this scheme in its treatment of mind and matter has “ruined” modern philosophy.

I alluded in an earlier post to my many travels and family developments this summer. I’m on the road again this week, but next week I plan to return home to prepare for the fall term and establish a regular routine. I promise that the Great Books Project will be part of that.

Apropos of nothing, I’m listening to a Mozart string quartet right now on a Bluetooth speaker I just got from Amazon, and I’m really surprised at the sound quality despite its being so small and cheap. Seriously, I set it out in the reception area outside my office, and it is coming through with great clarity. If this is the sort of thing you might be able to use in your office, check it out here. It’s still on sale at the time of this writing.

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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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