If the World Stinks, It’s Not God’s Fault

This week we pass 13,000 pages in the Great Books Project. And I don’t care who you are; you have to admit that a program where you read Dante, Freud, and Plato all in the same week is at least a little bit cool.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, Cantos XVII-XXXIII (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 66-89)
  2. What Is the Law of Life” by Epictetus (GBWW Vol. 11, pp. 123-124; Book I Chapter 26 of the Discourses)
  3. The Annals of Tacitus, Book XIII (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 125-141)
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapter 7-8 (GBWW Vol. 57, pp. 70-89)
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part III-IV (GBWW Vol. 54, pp. 189-205; pp. 44-57 of the linked PDF)
  6. Cratylus by Plato (GBWW Vol. 6, pp. 85-114)

Cratylus is a new one for me, so I’m especially looking forward to that.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. The Divine Comedy: Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, Cantos I-XVI: Obviously there is plenty to chew on here, but I was especially struck by the discussion in Canto XVI about free will. Fortunately for us, Dante was a student of philosophy, and he doesn’t give us anything trite or banal: “You lie subject, in your freedom, to a greater power and to a better nature, and that creates the mind in you which the heavens have not in their charge.”
  2. “How We Should Struggle with Circumstance” by Epictetus: Most of this discourse is going over what by now is familiar ground: only the internal is your own, do not be distressed by the external, etc. I found the middle section rather puzzling; Epictetus says it’s inconsistent to suppose that it’s night and also to think that it’s night. Maybe there’s a translation issue or a typo of some sort. 
  3. claudius-agrippinaThe Annals of Tacitus, Book XII: Agrippina is a rather unpleasant character. Paranoid and vindictive, she stiffs her stepson Britannicus and has her husband Claudius killed after securing the succession for her own son. Next to all of this intrigue, wars against Parthia seem positively ho-hum.
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, Chapters 5-6: “Our standard of decency in expenditure, as in other ends of emulation, is set by the usage of those next above us in reputability.” I actually have no problem with this statement, but I do differ with Veblen on the motive; whereas he attributes it purely to envy, I think it’s much more likely that the higher class is “educating” the lower class as to what’s possible in a standard of living. The higher standard is worthwhile in itself; Veblen occasionally admits this, and why he doesn’t think that this is a sufficient reason for pursuing it is beyond me.
  5. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, Part II: Freud treats us to a very detailed analysis of one of his dreams in this section. I don’t know that I’ve ever recalled so many details of a dream as he claims he does in this instance. His interpretations of the various details seem plausible but by no means compelling. What makes Freud’s interpretation correct and not merely speculative? 
  6. The Philosophy of Right by G.W.F. Hegel, Additions:  As I feared, these additions prove to be nearly unintelligible unless read in context with the earlier sections, something I am not about to go back and do on this reading. If anyone else wishes to do so, I commend him heartily.

I’ve only made up one day of my posting schedule this week, even though the kids were out of town visiting grandparents. The impending end of the semester has resulted in my having to scramble to meet many deadlines. I hope that your schedule is a bit more relaxed than mine at present, and that you will find some time to read this week.


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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