He Who Destroys a Good Book, Kills Reason Itself

It feels like we’re starting a new chapter in the Great Books Project. After all, I’ve had to set three new hyperlinks for this week’s reading list! What’s more, this is the last week of Ptolemy.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Sorrow-Acre” by Isak Dinesen (GGB Vol. 3, pp. 615-641)
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XIII (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 607-619)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book II (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 23-45)
  4. Of Prognostications” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 65-67)
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XIII, 5-11 & Appendices (GBWW Vol. 15, pp. 456-478)
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Preface & Introduction (GBWW Vol. 43, pp. 1-21)

I know Hegel is scary, but I doubt he’ll be any worse than Kant. One step at a time!

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Areopagitica by John Milton: Milton makes about as strong an argument as can be made for freedom of the press here, and he does it without playing the “fundamental human rights”card, at which everyone in the mid-17th century would have scoffed. This work comes from the period in which I specialized in grad school, so I didn’t have any trouble with the idiom, e.g., references to “tonnage and poundage.” There are some great lines here, too, like the one I used for the post title.
  2. The Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book XII: This book returns to the question of substance. Aristotle lays out three different kinds. It was amusing to read this book in conjunction with Berkeley this week, as radically different as they are. 
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book I: Apparently, being a soldier in the mighty Roman legions was a pretty tough life. Had it not been, there wouldn’t have been a major mutiny right after Augustus’s death. I couldn’t help thinking that the successful effort to shame the soldiers out of rebellion would have fallen flat in today’s culture of entitlement. You may have noticed that we get our first glimpse of Caligula in this book. He seems harmless enough now, but just wait!
  4. Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley, Sections 82-156: I’m still shaking my head at Berkeley’s attempt to annihilate anything that’s not perceived. Would he have thought that light and the firmament didn’t really exist on the first and second days of creation because no physical beings were around to sense them? I also had to wonder at his assertion that insistence on the reality of unperceived things gives the game away to atheists.
  5. The Almagest of Ptolemy, Book XIII, Parts 1-4: We’re on the home stretch here. This book tries to tie up loose ends, most importantly the planets’ lateral deviations from the ecliptics established in previous books. Not surprisingly (to us), Ptolemy has to treat Mercury’s and Venus’s deviations differently from those of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. I broke off right before the tables started. 
  6. “Against Those Who Wish to Be Admired” by Epictetus: This one-paragraph discourse is pretty clever. Epictetus notes that many thinkers wish to be admired by the masses, but in their philosophical reflections they consider the masses mad. “Well then, do you wish to be admired by madmen?”

I don’t know about you, but I’m planning to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day. There’s corned beef brisket and shamrock-shaped ravioli in the freezer as I type. I hope that you won’t be celebrating so much that you won’t have time to read something from the Great Books this weekend.

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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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