If I Don’t Think, Do I Not Exist?

As Great Books Monday rolls around again, we’re preparing to dive into one of the greatest classics of spirituality of all time, not to mention the world’s first autobiography. Are you ready?

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 5-26)
  2. On the Feeling of Immortality in Youth” by William Hazlitt (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 565-570)
  3. Of the Education of Children” by Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 115-132)
  4. Federalist #6-10 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 38-53; Anti-Federalist responses are here.)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book V (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 81-98)
  6. The Confessions of St. Augustine, Books I-III (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 1-24)

With the addition of St. Augustine’s Confessions this week, we’re reading three long works simultaneously (assuming we count the Federalist as a unified work). I expect that from this point on, the majority of the time we’ll be in three or maybe four long works at once. We still have a lot of short pieces from the Gateway set to enjoy, and there are many essays, plays, and other shorter works to come in the long set as well. Even so, the longer works will eventually come to dominate the weekly readings. The advantage of our format is that we’ll still be eating those elephants one bite at a time.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. “Of Love” by Francis Bacon: I like the part about how no one can get away with speaking in constant hyperbole except in matters of love. Also, “whosoever esteemeth too much of amorous affection quitteth both riches and wisdom.” So love makes you poor and stupid. I disagree, but let’s face it: Bacon does have many case studies to cite.
  2. The Constitution of the United States: I don’t have much to say about this one except that it is a fairly short, straightforward document. To think that acres of trees have been sacrificed so that people can argue over what it means seems absolutely crazy.
  3. Federalist #1-#5: I kept getting the feeling that John Jay was presenting New York with a false choice: ratify the Constitution or break up the Union. Why not just amend the Articles of Confederation, which is what the convention was supposed to do in the first place? But this is never presented as an option. Is this intentional?
  4. The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Molière: I’m not a big fan of Molière, but this was a hoot. Just make some references to Aristotle and speak Latin-sounding gibberish, and everyone will be impressed with your sagacity. And if the patient fares ill, it’s always his fault, never the physician’s! Of course, we have the happy ending brought on by the deus ex machina; it seems like no comedy can be without one.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book IV: I’m hanging in there on these propositions. There was a whole lot of inscribing and circumscribing one shape within or around another shape in this book. I trust that Euclid has some larger design idea in mind he’ll ultimately share with us.
  6. Discourse on Method by René Descartes: Cogito ergo sum must be one of philosophy’s most quoted declarations. I thought Parts V and VI were a bit of a letdown after the somewhat daring proofs of Par IV. I was also a bit put off by all the declarations of how modest he is. Still, this is a central work of modern philosophy and the physical sciences, and the focus on epistemology has had far-reaching consequences.

I apologize for posting only three times last week, but professional and personal life both got very busy suddenly. At least I managed to stay on the reading schedule! I hope to get back to the normal 5-6 posts this 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 If I Don’t Think, Do I Not Exist?

  1. drcdat says:

    Wow, on the whole this ends up being about 7-8 hours of reading, and I am a fairly fast reader. I can only imagine when we get to the GBWW exclusively with its notorious double columns of almost impossible font that it will be over 10 per week. I am finding that librivox helps.

    “Of Love” by Francis Bacon (GBB Vol. 10, pp. 351-352): I don’t know where to place these short essays by Bacon. At times there are brilliant lines, but the whole sometimes leaves me wanting more. Perhaps the parts don’t add up to the whole.
    The Constitution of the United States (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 11-21): I always forget that it took women 50 years longer to vote than all males. Here’s another way to think of it; the last time the Cubs won the World Series, women couldn’t vote.
    Federalist #1-#5 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 29-38; click here for the Anti-Federalist responses): I was expecting some dry political theory, but I found these compelling.
    The Doctor in Spite of Himself by Moliére (GBB Vol. 4, pp. 52-81): Interesting to note that this one comes on the heals of _The_Misanthrope_ which was too dark for contemporary audiences, as a type of public appeal play. Still fun, if the conclusion is rather sudden. I almost see this is as 17th century sitcom.
    The Elements of Euclid, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 10, pp. 67-80): these are getting difficult, not because of the logic, but because they seem esoteric. If I don’t finish these now, I never will so onto Book V. I do like the picture though.
    Discourse on Method by René Descartes (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 265-291): I remember reading Descartes over 20 years ago in college, and I thought that he was hard to read. Now I see him as an excellent prose stylist (even in translation). Also the sincerity of search for truth is inspiring, and I place him closer to Montaigne that I thought I would.

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