First You Decorate Him, Then You Shoot Him

It’s Great Books Monday once again, and I’m ready to dig into another serving of some of the best books ever written. If you haven’t joined the party yet, why on earth not? Step up and let your mind expand.

Here are the selections for the upcoming week:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapter XVI* (GGB Vol. 2, pp. 91-105)
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 5, pp. 186-313)
  3. Of Discourse” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 95-96)
  4. Federalist #41 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 132-136; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book XIII (GGBW Vol. 10, pp. 369-396)
  6. Symposium by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 149-173)

*The GGB set contains only 117 pages of excerpts from Robinson Crusoe. I plan to read the whole novel, but this week it doesn’t make any difference; all of Chapter XVI is in Adler’s excerpts.

After more than three months of weekly assignments, we’ll be saying goodbye to Euclid this week. If the number of people who have made a point of saying they’re NOT reading Euclid is anything to go by, I suppose not many of you will be shedding tears. (You should, though. Isn’t this a great graphic?)

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Chapters XV: I liked the theological discussions between Crusoe and Friday, and that Friday wanted to be a missionary to his own people. It was interesting to see Crusoe puzzle over the problem of evil.
  2. The Histories of Herodotus, Book V: I feel like going back and counting all the times in this work that somebody does something because of what an oracle said. It’s especially interesting now that we see the Pythoness at Delphi could be corrupted. The story of Anaxandridas and his children was interesting . . . the idea that the Ephors could order him to take another wife seemed pretty weird.
  3. “The Battle With the Cannon” by Victor Hugo: After reading this, I’m going to think twice before ever calling someone a “loose cannon.” Was justice done here? To decorate the gun captain and then have him shot was bizarre. But the ship was endangered and half a dozen people had just died because of his negligence, despite his subsequent heroics. Did his death serve any purpose?
  4. Federalist #39-40: It appears a lot of people were very upset with Rhode Island. The whole discussion of what was federal and what was national about the proposed Constitution was really interesting, I thought. I have to say, though, that the argument in #40 that the document was really just an amending of the Articles was kind of silly.
  5. The Elements of Euclid, Book XII: I don’t think I ever knew that a given cone is one third the volume of a cylinder with an identical base and height. That knowledge could come in handy someday. I’d like to say that the most difficult proofs in all the books for me are the ones where he demonstrates his proposition by showing the impossibility of the contrary. Those drive me crazy, although I realize it’s a valid and maybe even essential tool.
  6. “The Ethics of Belief” by William Clifford: This argument looks compelling on its face, but something seems to be a little off on reflection. In particular, the dismissal of authority has some holes in it, I believe. I also don’t think it’s possible to follow Clifford’s prescriptions to the letter; it seems there will always be situations in which we’ll have to take some sort of action on the basis of evidence he would say comes up short of justifying belief.

We signed a contract on a house last week, so the quest for living quarters should take less time away from my reading going forward. I hope that you’re able to resolve things that might interfere with your reading time as well.

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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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