Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad

It’s Great Books Monday once again, and this week we are on track to pass the 3,500-page mark of this reading program. It seems crazy that after reading so much, we have yet to complete a single volume of either the Gateway to the Great Books or the Great Books of the Western World, but when you have seventy volumes to work through, that’s how it goes.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell, Chapters VI-X  (GBWW Vol. 60, pp. 496-524)
  2. Of Democritus and Heraclitus” by Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 186-187)
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book VII (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 388-401)
  4. Federalist #49-50 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 159-162; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin (GGB Vol. 8, pp. 47-93)
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter X-XII (GGB Vol. 10, pp. 143-169)

I hope you’re in the mood for some science this week; Darwin’s autobiography makes up almost half of the reading this time out.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Animal Farm by George Orwell, Chapters I-V: I think I was in high school the last time I read this book, and I knew relatively little about the Soviet Union then. This time through, I’m struck by how exact the allegory of the Russian Revolution and following years is. I wonder how far Orwell is willing to go with the innate capacities of the different species of animals; it seems as though making that concession by itself could threaten the whole socialist project.
  2. “Themistocles” by Plutarch: Hopefully, this biography was a smooth read for you if you read Herodotus over the last few months with me. It’s amazing to the modern mind how war heroes like Miltiades and Themistocles can find themselves booted from their cities not long after their victories. I found very interesting the statement that ostracism was not so much to punish the ostracized as it was to limit the potential violence of the envious.
  3. Plato’s Republic, Book VI: You knew Plato had to play the Sun card sooner or later if you were familiar with that philosophical tradition to any degree. Still, the whole discussion of sight and the contrasting of it with the other senses seemed a bit strange to me.
  4. Federalist #48: Would that Madison had been as concerned to safeguard from the executive branch as he was to safeguard us from the legislature. Obviously he did not anticipate the imperial presidency of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  5. “Mathematics in Life and Thought” by Andrew Forsyth: This is a solid exposition of the value of mathematics to society. Essentially he argues that the modern world could not exist without it. But at the same time he shows respect for the Great Tradition of Western learning and recognizes the limitations of the natural sciences. What’s not to like?
  6. How We Think by John Dewey, Chapter IX: This chapter seemed a bit more subtle to me than the preceding ones. Taken one way, it’s almost as though you could read Dewey as arguing that ideas don’t mean anything. Nor do things in themselves. Meaning from his perspective is a connection between the human mind and the “real world.” Of course, for those of us with a theocentric orientation, this position is problematic.

My scrambling to finish up summer projects in anticipation of the fall semester’s beginning kept me from posting much last week. We have freshmen on campus now to dominate my attention for the next couple of days, and classes begin Wednesday. I’m counting on the Great Books to keep me sane through it.


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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