The Fundamental Human Right to . . . Join a Union?

The records keep falling here at the Western Tradition on our Great Books Project. This week we’ll pass the 7,500-page mark. Are you ready? 

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 247-259)
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 387-394)
  3. Childhood and Youth” by John Stuart Mill (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 5-47; Chapters 1-3 of Mill’s Autobiography)
  4. Of Custom and Education” by Francis Bacon (GGB Vol. 7, pp. 18-19)
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Ch. 2 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 24-31)
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XVI (GBWW Vol. 16, pp. 482-511; in the linked text, it’s the material under the heading “The history of the City of God from Noah . . .” and its subheads)

Yes, I know Walt Whitman is a step down from what we’ve been reading the last couple of months, but bear with me here. John Stuart Mill is usually pretty lively. 

Aucassin-NicoletteHere are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. “Aucassin and Nicolette” by Anonymous: The alternating verse and prose sections are the chantefable genre. Aucassin is reminiscent of Achilles in not only his prowess, but also his refusal to fight when he’s denied access to the girl. The conventions of romance are all here: the overbearing father, the princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess, etc. It’s all good fun.
  2. The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Book V: Those of you who have been reading my economics posts will recognize a big problem in Aristotle’s discussion of justice as an intermediate between gain and loss in one’s dealings with others. He’s working from the idea of objective value, but we’ve seen that value is subjective. I thought the discussion near the end of the book about justice operating between the different parts of the soul was interesting; the debt to Plato seems pretty clear.
  3. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: We were going along really well through the first half of this thing (right not to be tortured, etc.), and then we got into the “right to a job,” “right to an education,” and “right to join a union” stuff. Translation: the State has the right to force people to provide you with all these things.
  4. “The Darling” by Anton Chekhov: Mortimer Adler believed Olga is Aphrodite, who loves and is loved in return. I don’t know about that, but there’s certainly something significant in the way third parties react to her while she is “in love.” I wonder if we’re supposed to make connections to Russian Orthodoxy somehow in the way she completely loses herself in the different relationships she develops.
  5. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: Historical Sketch, Introduction, and Ch. 1: The discussion of domesticated animals in Chapter 1 is pretty interesting, and Darwin is certainly right to point to the importance of hereditary factors as opposed to environmental factors in explaining so much related to these animals. When it comes to figuring out the aboriginal stock from which the domesticated breeds are descended, things get more speculative, but I think he’s still on pretty firm ground. Nothing so far is really dealing with the origin of a new species, only of particular varieties or breeds (“races”).
  6. The City of God by St. Augustine, Book XV: This book is another section that undoubtedly leads many modern readers to scoff. That Augustine would devote so much time to an examination of the antediluvian characters in Genesis 4-6 surely strikes believers in a old earth as silly. However, Augustine succeeds in showing (I think) that the text of this part of Genesis contains no internal contradictions and, further, produces plausible replies to those arguing the unreliability of the received manuscripts.

It’s finals week here in Montgomery, and you can smell the fear on campus. Best wishes to any of you who are on the receiving end of professors’ exams. Still, you should find time to read this week!

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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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