Moscow Becomes French (Briefly)

Historical causation, the freewill/determinism dilemma, and the authority of scripture are just a few of the heavy topics we covered in the last set of readings. Now it’s time to press on.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book XI, Chapters 20-34 (GBWW Vol. 51, pp. 499-532)
  2. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Part III, Chapters 42-43 (GBWW Vol. 21, pp. 207-246)
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book II, Chapters 10-11 (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 140-142)
  4. Sonnets LXXXVI-XC by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 25, p. 599-600)
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXVII (GBWW Vol. 53, pp. 836-850)
  6. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Book I, Chapters 13 (GBWW Vol. 20, pp. 41-61)

It’s hard to believe, but we are only a couple of chapters away from finishing the James book. I think I might be be ready to get back to some mathematics once it’s over. We’ll see.

Here are some observations from the last set of readings:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Book XI.1-19: Things are certainly rushing ahead now. Pierre’s wife finally leaves him, using conversion to Roman Catholicism as a pretext. The inhabitants of Moscow flee the city before the approaching French army despite the mayor’s calls for a last stand, following the Russian army’s example. Andrew arrives severely wounded at Natasha’s house, but the household conspires to keep this knowledge from her. The first chapter of the book is Tolstoy’s most overt statement of his philosophy of historical causation to this point. He argues that the life or career of a Great Man is an inappropriate unit for a historian to use in order to calculate the sum of history.
  2. 220px-witch_of_endor_28nikolay_ge29Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Part III, Chapters 36-41: Hobbes continues to play word games in this section in an attempt to drain scripture of its supernatural character and its testimony about the supernatural. A good example is his statement that the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28) was a fraud and that Samuel’s spirit never appeared to Saul. He naturalizes to the greatest extent he can all the passages dealing with prophecy and miracles. He apparently doesn’t know how to handle clearly passages dealing with heaven or hell, but he spills a lot of ink in discussing the nature of the church. We’re not quite there yet, but he appears to be working towards an Erastian framework.
  3. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book II, Chapters 8-9: I don’t call attention to this very much when discussing the pagan authors, but these two essays contain some screaming parallels to the Bible. On the surface, there’s the discussion of “what makes one a Jew” in Ch. 9. More interesting to me was the section about the human body’s being the house of God in Ch. 8: “You carry him within yourself, and you perceive not that you are polluting him by impure thoughts and dirty deeds.” This is very close to St. Paul’s language in I Corinthians about the body’s being the temple of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Sonnets LXXXI-LXXXV by William Shakespeare: The same themes of earlier sections, e.g. the poet’s verse as a memorial to the beloved, are repeated here. However, Shakespeare keeps up coming up with new imagery and analogies. My favorite is in #85: I think good thoughts whilst other write good words,/And like unletter’d clerk still cry “Amen”/To every hymn that able spirit affords/In polish’d form of well-refined pen./Hearing you praised, I say “‘Tis so, ’tis true.”
  5. Principles of Psychology by William James, Chapter XXVI, heading “Will Is a Relation between the Mind and Its ‘Ideas'” to the end: I found a couple of surprises in this section. James holds that “ideas” are not independent things that float around, but that the totality of whatever is before the mind at a given moment is an “idea.” I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that view before. When he gets to the topic of freewill, he concludes that it is “insoluble on strictly psychologic grounds.” He does say that the fatalistic argument for determinism is “radically vicious,” so presumably he doesn’t favor it. He concludes with a section on the “education of the will” which seems like a kind of process of habituation.
  6. Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, Book I, Chapters 8-12: This section begins with a rational defense of the truth and authority of scripture, with attention being paid to both the Old and New Testaments. Calvin lays into “Fanatics” who substitute direct revelation for scripture and claim that their being guided by “the spirit” is superior to “the letter” of the scripture. Calvin holds up scripture as the authority championed by the apostles and states that it is the only sure defense against “the devil’s impositions.” A long chapter warns against attributing a visible form to God and against the dangers of idolatry, into which the “Popish Churches” often fall.

Apologies for no Project post last week. I was on track to get it published by the middle of the week, but then I came down with a flu-like illness that sidelined me for a few days. Even so, my track record over the past month has been far better than most of the last couple of years. We’re getting traction again and will see this thing through.

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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2 Responses to Moscow Becomes French (Briefly)

  1. Kyle says:

    I just found your blog and it is of interest to me. I’m wondering if there’s some memo I’m unable to find but I’m curious why posts seem to have stopped abruptly in September. I hope everything’s alright.

    • Dr. J says:

      Kyle, thank you for your comment. Everything’s fine, but I got overwhelmed with work in the fall semester. I have been slowly digging my way out from under the pile and hope to resume posting in the near future.

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