Back to Great Books Monday!

We hit 2,500 pages of Science and Mathematics this week in the Great Books Project. Just thinking of it makes me mentally tired.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Part IV (GBWW Vol. 34, pp. 133-184)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 570-578)
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Four, Chapters 1-5 (GBWW Vol. 44, pp. 361-374)
  4. Of the Good in General” and “The Goodness of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. , pp. 23-30; Questions 5-6 of Summa Theologica)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XI, 5-12 (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 364-390)
  6. That We Ought Not to Be Angry with the Errors of Others” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 117-118; Book I, Ch. 18 of the Discourses)

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Part III: I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but this part of the work has always been my favorite. The picture of a scientist attempting to get sunlight from pickles is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever encountered. The recent hubbub about a “God switch” in the genes that can make us effectively immortal calls to mind the discussion of the Struldbruggs; is that what we really want?
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book VIII: This short section summarizes what Aristotle has been saying in earlier books. It also adds some comments on the question of matter and form. “The proximate matter and the form are one and the same thing, the one potentially, and the other actually.” This view differs significantly from that of Plato. 
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume II, Part Three, Ch. 21-26: The main theme in these chapters is the qualities of armies in democratic nations. Tocqueville makes the curious (to me) assertion that noncommissioned officers are always the ones hankering for a war; in his view it gives them hopes of advancement. 
  4. Euthydemus by Plato: Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are the two biggest equivocators ever. It seems odd to think that people could be confounded by their elementary fallacies, but of course this work dates before Aristotle helped establish the science of logic. I guess we stand on the shoulders of giants.
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XI, Parts 1-4: These first four sections detail Jupiter’s orbit. The math is getting simpler here, and the proofs aren’t nearly as long, particularly the one accounting for the variations in the orbit. One thing that stood out to me here (I had probably just overlooked it earlier sections) was the length of time that had elapsed between Ptolemy’s own observations of the planet in specific positions. This was really a long-term project! 
  6. “That the Logical Art Is Necessary” by Epictetus: Many would find it ironic that a discourse on logic goes into the art of examining animal entrails for divine guidance. As Epictetus says, logic has the power of distinguishing and examining other things.

Sure, it’s less than ten minutes to midnight, but I’m going to crow over actually posting on a Monday this week. We’ve had buckets of rain here in Alabama; I wish everyone who is buried in snow the best.


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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