On Stupid Companions and Murdering Governments

I’m a bit tardy getting the post up today since I was fighting off a fever last night, so apologies to any of you who have been champing at the bit. Here are the selections for the upcoming week:

  1. The Odyssey of Homer, Books XIII-XVI (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 427-466)
  2. The Declaration of Independence (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 1-3)
  3. Biographical Sketches” by Thomas Jefferson (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 522-526; note there are two links here to different letters by Jefferson in which he gives his reminiscences about Washington and Franklin; on the second link, begin reading at the heading “FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN / REFLECTIONS REGARDING “)
  4. Phaedo by Plato (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 220-251)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book I (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 1-29)
  6. Second Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 760-761)

We’re starting Euclid this week. The Elements is the most successful mathematics textbook in the history of the world. We’ll be reading from it for a few months, and I hope everyone will give it a try. I expect it will be a challenge for most of us, but I am looking forward to it.

Here are some comments on last week’s readings:

  1. The Odyssey of Homer, Books IX-XII: This is the section of the Odyssey with which readers are most familiar. There are so many fantastical stories here that some have concluded Odysseus was just making it all up to impress his hosts. I’m not in that camp. What does it say about Odysseus that he keeps so many secrets from his companions, though?
  2. Crito by Plato: I expect most libertarians would dislike this dialogue. What is the individual apart from society? According to Plato, not much, if anything. Even granting that observation, does it follow that the polis can kill you if it wants, and that you’d be returning evil for evil in trying to avoid that? Does your “implied consent” to the laws of the place go that far? I’m not too sure about that.
  3. “Observations on Mental Education” by Michael Faraday: My wife and I agreed that this one was a bit hard to follow. All the references to “table raising” are about séances where the table would allegedly move of its own accord. Faraday wants everyone to adopt a scientific mindset which asserts nothing without proof. He does except religious dogma from this requirement. I wonder if he would be in Hume’s camp on miracles.
  4. “The Empty Column” by Tobias Dantzig: I used to watch merchants do calculations with an abacus when I lived in China, and I could never figure out how they did it. I prefer having a zero to put in that empty column. Thank you, unknown Hindu, for coming up with that.
  5. The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon: Government scientists perform secret experiment . . . Bacon always sounds so modern! I wonder what this story would have looked like had he ever gotten around to finishing it. I like the imaginative account of Bensalem’s conversion to Christianity and the deluge in the Americas. What about this statement?: “The reverence of a man’s self, is, next religion, the chiefest bridle of all vices.”
  6. “The Art of Life” by Walter Pater: This whole business of “burning always with the hard, gemlike flame” to succeed in life presumes that this life is all there is. It’s too Dead Poets Society. “You’re just food for worms, boys.” If you believe that there is something beyond the grave, the formation of habit is not a bad thing as Pater says, as long as the habits fortify us spiritually.

I’m on spring break this week and looking forward to having time to read that’s not attended by near-constant interruptions. I shouldn’t even have to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get my reading done. Have a great week!

[This post was originally published on this site’s parent blog, The Western Tradition.]

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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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One Response to On Stupid Companions and Murdering Governments

  1. drcdat says:

    Back to work Monday, so I predict my pace will slow down to weekly readings. One more set of readings completed this week.

    The Odyssey of Homer, Books IX-XII (GBWW Vol. 3, pp. 384-427): the myths and most popular parts
    Crito by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 213-219): love the “love it or leave it” attitude.
    “Observations on Mental Education” by Michael Faraday (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 208-232; the lecture begins on p. 39 of the linked file): really got into this one about thinking for one’s self; very motivational.
    “The Empty Column” by Tobias Dantzig (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 178-189; Chapter 2 of Number: The Language of Science): the importance of nothing so to speak.
    The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 199-214): my post modern sense of irony kept looking for the twist where they found out that they weren’t welcome there and the utopia goes wrong.
    “The Art of Life” by Walter Pater (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 258-261; the concluding section to The Renaissance): another inspiring and short reading.

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