The Prime Mover

Now that you are all shopped out following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, surely you’re ready to settle back down to some good reading this week, right? Fortunately for you, this week’s Great Books readings include some Greek tragedy, Stoic philosophy, and Dickens. Dive right in!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 13-18 (GGB Vol. 2, 396-399)*
  2. How Everything May Be Done Acceptably to the Gods” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 113-114; Book I Chapter 13 of the Discourses)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Chapters 6-7 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 119-136)
  4. Medea by Euripides (GBWW Vol. 4, pp. 277-295)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IV, 6-11 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 123-142)
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Chapter 2 (GBWW Vol. 39, pp. 129-173; begins on p. 251 of the linked PDF)

*Seven chapters from The Pickwick Papers are excerpted in the GGB series. I’ve elected to read the entire novel and will list page numbers from Volume 2 of GGB when I reach excerpted chapters.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Chapters 7-12: Apart from not understanding the part about cricket (a sport I’ve never comprehended), I enjoyed this section very much. A high-speed chase after a ne’er-do-well eloping with a spinster under false pretenses is followed by a dubious archeological discovery and an accidental proposal to the landlady. What’s not to like? 
  2. The Physics of Aristotle, Book VIII: “Since there must always be motion without intermission, there must necessarily be something . . . that first imparts motion, and this first movent must be unmoved. . . . The first movent must be something that is one and eternal.” This section is by far the longest of the Physics, but in some ways I found it the most interesting.
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume I, Part Two, Ch. 1-5: Tocqueville thinks the brief period of Federalist power was a fortunate thing for the U.S. He also points out that universal suffrage is no guarantee of selecting good leaders. He sees the connection between salaries for public offices and democracy, something that dates back to ancient Greece. He also makes some interesting comments on U.S. foreign policy, which at that time was non-interventionist. 
  4. “That Intention Is Judge of Our Actions” by Michel de Montaigne: When I first saw the title of this essay, I had an unpleasant feeling that Montaigne was going to attempt to exonerate rulers who “mean well” and implement policies with disastrous consequences. Actually, that’s not what this essay is about at all. Montaigne argues that people who use their own deaths as an excuse to renege on their agreements made in life are morally wrong. No argument here. 
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book IV, 1-5: More tables in this section. The topic of discussion is the cycles of the moon. Ptolemy reviews what earlier astronomers have calculated, and begins reconciling their observations to his theory of orbits and epicycles. 
  6. The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, “Transcendental Logic,” Book II, Chapter 1: Just as a valid syllogism can result in a false conclusion when its premises are false, a “transcendental paralogism,” says Kant, has a correct form but concludes falsely because its foundation is in the nature of human reason, which cannot avoid ascribing objective reality to the illusions discussed in the previous book. At least, that’s what I think he’s saying.

The fall semester is drawing to a close! This is Dead Week at my university, and I’m looking forward to getting back on schedule fully with this project in December. Maybe I’ll even have time to make some blog posts on other topics!


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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