Every Action Aims at Some Good

In our Great Books project, we read only works that have had a significant influence on our culture, but right now, I can’t help but have a heightened sense of the weightiness of what we’re doing. We are in the midst of four of the most influential works in the history of the world: the Aeneid, Nicomachean Ethics, City of God, and the Two New Sciences. The profound insights are coming at me so quickly I can barely keep up!

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book XI (GBWW Vol. 12, pp. 276-298)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book II (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 348-355)
  3. Of Giving the Lie” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 362-364)
  4. The Hero as King” by Thomas Carlyle (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 110-145; Lecture VI of On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History)
  5. Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, Fourth Day (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 238-260)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XII (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 396-415; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “Of the creation of angels and men . . .” and its subheads)

We’re wrapping up Galileo this week; maybe my brain will be able to rest. We are also nearing the climax of the Aeneid.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Aeneid of Virgil, Book X: Poor Pallas. We barely meet him before Turnus cuts him down. Compared to Patroclus in the Iliad, Pallas is much less developed. You can’t help but feel for Mezentius in this book, even though you’re supposed to have a negative impression of him overall. For a father to be even partially responsible for his son’s death is a heartrending thing. With all the Homer parallels here, it’s interesting that Turnus et al are placed in the role of besiegers instead of the other way around.  
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book I: Commenting on the view that pleasure is happiness, Aristotle writes, “The mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts, but they get some ground for their view from the fact that many of those in high places share the tastes of Sardanapallus.” Talk about being out of step with the modern world! Is he trying to tell us that all-you-can-eat buffets and casual sex don’t constitute the good life?
  3. “Of Marriage and Children” by Francis Bacon: I’ll dedicate a full post to this piece later this week. 
  4. “A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge among the British Plantations in America” by Benjamin Franklin: In the age of the internet, it’s had to appreciate the extraordinary efforts early modern scholars had to put forth simply to  stay abreast of what colleagues were doing. Great ideas could easily “die on the vine” in the absence of some sort of infrastructure to disseminate knowledge. Franklin’s efforts in building the American Philosophical Society were pretty remarkable.
  5. Two-New-SciencesDialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences by Galileo Galilei, Third Day: Near the end of this section, one of the characters remarks that many of the theorems just discussed, “for their complete comprehension, would require more than an hour of study each.” No kidding! These 44 pages are probably the most difficult reading I’ve done in this program thus far, with the exception of Book X of Euclid. I certainly learned a lot, but I wasn’t able to linger over each proof as long as I probably should have. This is another work I’ll likely have to revisit in the future.
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XI: If you read the last few chapters of the Confessions, a lot of this book would have sounded familiar to you. I’ve never been a big fan of allegorical interpretation of scripture, but I found the discussions of the number six’s perfection and the equating of the “light” of Genesis 1 with angels to be very engaging.

Sorry for the tardy post today; Galileo caused me to limp to the finish line this afternoon, but at least I didn’t have to delay the post until tomorrow.

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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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