All Academic Labor Is Unproductive

This week in the Great Books Project, we’re temporarily going off script again, this time to pick up one of the “original” Great Books. See below for more details.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book I (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 1-19)*
  2. The Unity of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 46-50; Part One, Chapter 11 of Summa Theologica)
  3. The Misanthrope by Moliere (GGB Vol. 4, pp. 6-51)
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book III (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 183-203)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 2 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 266-286)
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book III, Chapters 1-6 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 251-283)

*The volume and page references from Tom Jones are from the 1952 GBWW edition. This novel was not included in the 1990 edition and is thus “extra” reading for this project, but I’ve never read it before and want to.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. OthelloiagoOthello by William Shakespeare: This is one of the plays I’ve read several times over the years. This time around I was frequently reminded of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s Otello my wife and I saw a year or two ago. I confess, too, that I liked Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othello and Iago. Iago is an evil genius who has inspired countless literary and film villains through the past 400 years.  He’s a major piece of evidence in John Erskine’s argument that the English-speaking world has always been suspicious of the highly intelligent. (You remember that essay, right? From the very first week of our reading program in January 2011?)
  2. “The Eternity of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: St. Thomas endorses Boethius’s definition of eternity: “the simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of of interminable life.” He argues that God (and God alone) is eternal and that both eternity and aeviternity (the mode of existence experienced by angels and the saints in heaven) is different from time.
  3. “Of Pedantry” by Michel de Montaigne: Montaigne rehearses every prejudice against teachers he can come up with in this essay. To balance things out a bit, he does reference several great scholars from history who also proved to be capable leaders and men of action. The long and the short of it is that the mastery of lots and lots of information doesn’t necessarily make one wise.
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book II, Chapters 3-5: Fortuitously, I had a lengthy discussion with my doctoral students about Chapter 3 last week. The distinction between unproductive and productive labor rankled a couple of them. One of them justly asked, “What about the ‘unproductive’ labor that is a necessary support for the ‘productive’ laborers and makes them more efficient?” Smith doesn’t drill down into that much detail, although actual job training he might attempt to classify as some kind of capital investment given his earlier definition of “productive labor.” Of course, by Smith’s definition our entire discussion was “unproductive,” but perhaps not unnecessary.
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Introduction & Chapter 1: This chapter purports to rehearse many sorts of evidence for the alleged descent of man from lower forms of life. Most of this would have been quite familiar to anyone who read through Origin of Species with us last year: similarity of anatomical structures between humans and other species, etc. Of course, all of that is merely correlation and does not imply anything. 
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book II, Chapters 28-33: To be honest, I ended up having to skim most of this because of time constraints this week. These chapters round out Book II of the work. Locke goes into standards of morality (different types of law: divine, civil, philosophical) along with a discussion of the nature of truth and falsehood (anyone who has studied formal logic would recognize a lot of what he does in those sections).

It seems like we might be on the front end of some cooler weather here in Alabama. At least, that’s what I’m hoping. Early morning temperatures in the low 60s are a good start! I’m going to do my best to make up a day or two on the schedule next week, although I must warn you that I’m still scrambling to meet some editor deadlines for a writing project. Have fun reading this week!

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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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