Moderns Hate Aristotle

Reading the Great Books won’t burn off the turkey you ate last week, but it ought to. This week we pass 1,500 pages in Imaginative Literature and 1,300 pages in Philosophy and Theology; that is some hard work, let me tell you.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 23-39  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 48-77)
  2. The Power Within Us” by Haniel Long (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 246-261)
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections IV-VII (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 458-478)
  4. Federalist #80-81 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 234-242; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book II, Chapters 8-39 (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 43-59)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book II (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 455-471)

I can almost taste the completion of the Federalist Papers. We’ve been at those for so long, it’s hard to believe we’ll wrap them up in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I can’t find a complete online version of the Long text, so I have inserted a Googlebooks link.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapters 16-22: Here we are about 20% of the way through the book, and Ahab, the protagonist, has yet to make an appearance. Shades of the Odyssey, it seems to me. Melville, like just about everyone else, was supposed to have been influenced by Homer a great deal, so I am not too surprised. I love the two captain/owners who argue with each other over the shares for each crewman.
  2. “Letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol” by Edmund Burke: This piece is significant on several levels. Unlike so many statesmen, Burke knows when to cut his losses, and in the case of the colonies, he knows that Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together. However, I get the feeling that even if he had thought the colonies could still be salvaged via abrogation of civil liberties, he would not have favored such a course. If I ever do a “Tier 2” of great works after 2017, Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France will certainly be on the list.
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections I-III: It’s a mark of the educated Englishman’s horse sense that Hume has to bend over backwards to defend speculative moral philosophy in the first section. In building his case for empiricism, I thought it significant that he has to concede his argument isn’t airtight.
  4. Federalist #78-79: Well, I get the argument that, lacking the sword and the purse, the judiciary is the least dangerous branch of government, but my goodness, it seems that the last sixty years has proven it wrong!
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book II, Chapters 1-7: It never occurred to me that people would mistakenly call amber a magnetic substance, but Harvey takes great pains to disabuse us of that notion. He also answers other questions I never would have thought to ask, such as where the new poles of a divided magnet would be. No doubt this is why I am not a scientist.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book I: Thomas Fleming has said that the modern world is in large part a giant rebellion against the thought of Aristotle, and if you read this book I’m sure you can already see a hint of that. Egalitarians will gnash their teeth, but Aristotle is simply reporting what is being practiced throughout the ancient world and trying to explain it in a realistic way. And for the record, if you are an employee, you are probably a slave by Aristotle’s definition.

Today a big “Happy Birthday!” goes out to my father, who is now seventy years young. Also, we might actually get snow in Alabama this week. The best response to that, of course, is to prop up one’s feet in front of the fireplace while reading one of the Great Books of Western civilization.

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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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5 Responses to Moderns Hate Aristotle

  1. laurie says:

    wonder if it is too late to join? most readings in progress i see.

    • Dr. J says:

      Certainly not, Laurie! Jump in at any time. We just began Aristotle and Hume last week, and Melville and Gilbert were the week before. This week is actually unusual in that we are in the middle of so many multi-week works, but it shouldn’t take too much extra effort to catch up on one or two of them. Of course, you could wait until next week when we’re starting some more new things, too.

      • laurie says:

        wow this is harder than i thought! I graduated high school on NC with great grades, went to unc-chapel hill and was on dean’s list several semesters…graduated with bsn in nursing but looking back it was easy. I never was exposed to plato aristotle or other great works. I never heard of great books ww until my 40’s. I’ve always been a reader mostly fiction or some biography but have never been challenged like this! Our kids are really missing out in school as i dont think any of this literature or writings are covered..certainly not the philosophy or ancients for sure. By the way we read moby dick condensed version out or a literature book, never the whole thing. This one I’m actually enjoying believe it or not.

  2. Dr. J says:

    If you find the volume reading threatening to overwhelm you, don’t feel bad about scaling back a bit, even if you just do one or two of the readings each week. Better to do a little consistently than to binge and burn out!

    I’m glad you’re enjoying Moby Dick. So am I!

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