This week in the Great Books Project we will come within a whisker of our 3,500th page in the Man and Society category. We’ve also made up two weeks of the three-week hiatus I took in June for my vacation. Good progress!
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Cook’s Prologue” through “The Man of Law’s Tale” (GBWW Vol. 19, pp. 323-338)
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VIII (GBWW Vol. 11, p. 270-275)
- “One Man’s Profit Is Another Man’s Harm” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 96-97)
- A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (GBWW Vol. 35, pp. 321-366)
- Optics by Isaac Newton, Book Two, Parts III-IV (GBWW Vol. 32, pp. 478-506)
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Introduction and Book I (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 83-121)
Our readings are clustered in the early modern period this week, but it just seemed to work out that best when I was trying to select readings of appropriate lengths to get us back on our original schedule in a reasonable time.
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, “Words between the Host and Miller” through “The Reeve’s Tale”: The Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale are both extremely crude. Perhaps we should just leave it at that.
- The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VII: I didn’t detect an overarching theme in this book beyond the usual Stoic admonitions to “look within” and the like. There were, of course, some excellent quotes. For example: “Adorn thyself with simplicity and modesty and with indifference towards the things which lie between virtue and vice. Love mankind. Follow God.”
- “Of the Power of the Imagination” by Michel de Montaigne: It seems like “suggestion” or “will” might be more appropriate than “imagination” in this title. Montaigne describes how being around sick people makes him sick, or how being around well people makes some people well. Then the essay takes some strange turns, and he ends up digressing on sexual impotence. I believe this essay sets the record for the most occurrences of the word “fart” in any Great Books work I’ve encountered heretofore.
- “Poplicola” and “Solon and Poplicola Compared” by Plutarch: I knew practically nothing about Valerius/Poplicola before reading this life. For some reason I didn’t find him quite as compelling a figure as Solon. It’s probably because of his tendency to centralize power into his own hands the way Plutarch describes.
- Optics by Isaac Newton, Book Two, Parts I-II: These sections go into great detail about the ways in which thin, transparent substances such as glass lenses refract light. Newton describes several experiments with prisms and telescope lenses, and the like.
- Pragmatism by William James: This work was about as long as everything else in the week’s readings combined. I find myself of two minds about James’s philosophy. On the one hand, I like the insistence that we not be absorbed in questions the answers to which don’t change anything. It doesn’t seem to be a good use of time to focus on things that don’t lead to any sort of growth or development. On the other hand, when I read James’s own characterization of the rationalist attack on pragmatism, I find myself in complete agreement with it. I just can’t see my way to adopting the position that truth itself changes as our knowledge grows or needs change.
This week is a hectic one. I am leading a group of freshmen around all week while also trying to finalize arrangements for three new online courses beginning next Monday. It’s almost a miracle that I managed to post anything by Wednesday!