We Have Heard the Chimes at Midnight

In the next seven days, we will hit the 16,000th page of reading in the Great Books Project. Along the way, St. Thomas Aquinas will instruct us on the nature of Truth.

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book VI (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 98-121)*
  2. Concerning Truth” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 17, p. 94-100; Part One, Chapter 16 of Summa Theologica)
  3. The Second Part of King Henry IV by William Shakespeare (GBWW Vol. 24, pp. 467-502)
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book V, Chapter 1 (GBWW Vol. 36, pp. 338-401)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 9 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 395-402)
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book IV, Chapter 16 (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 366-371)

*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. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book V: Tom Jones certainly doesn’t have much self-control, does he? I am really interested to see whether Fielding has a redemptive arc to the philandering aspect of his character. Although Thwackum and Square are preposterous characters in their own way (not to mention hypocritical), they actually give Tom good advice from time to time, advice he ignores. 
  2. “Of Ideas” by St. Thomas Aquinas: Predictably, this question contains several references to Platonic forms and the dispute between Plato and Aristotle. St. Thomas says that (multiple) ideas do exist, and that all ideas are in God. There’s a reference to the privation theory of evil here in the first objection of the third article and its reply: “Evil is known by God not through its own type, but through the type of good. Evil, therefore, has no idea in God, neither in so far as an idea is an exemplar nor as a type.
  3. The First Part of King Henry IV by William Shakespeare: This play has never been very satisfying to me, although it certainly has its moments. The extended joke at Falstaff’s expense in Act II is very funny, for example. However, Prince Harry acts in unaccountable ways; the giving way to Falstaff over Hotspur’s corpse makes no sense at all. I’ve always thought that Hotspur comes off as a more sympathetic character that Harry.
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book IV, Chapters 8-9: This section wraps up the discussion of mercantilism and gives a relatively brief treatment of the ideas of the French physiocrats. Smith clearly doesn’t have as much to criticize the Physiocrats for, but he still thinks their system is lacking. He flat out denies that all wealth comes from the soil (no argument here). However, he does give them credit for relieving some of the oppression of agriculture in France. 
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 8: This chapter kicks off the book’s second part, which is all about sexual selection. Darwin notes that a problem for his theory is explaining how, assuming a roughly numerical parity between males and females of a given species, stronger and more attractive males would sire more descendants  than the weaker and less attractive ones, since most species do not practice polygamy. He speculates imaginatively.
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book IV, Chapters 9-15: Does Locke’s positing of a “threefold knowledge of existence” undercut his empiricism? “We have the knowledge of our own existence by intuition; of the existence of God by demonstration; and of other things by sensation.” Maybe you can tie the proof of God’s existence to sensory data, in that presumably the knowledge that something can’t come from nothing is an inference from observation. It’s still tricky, though, and I can’t decide whether it works.

I would have posted this yesterday, but Halloween festivities intervened. And because my internet connection is very sluggish right now, I’m having to upload without any images. We are slowly establishing new routines following the birth of Son #6. Although it warmed up to around 80 degrees during the day this week, I think we’re about to head into cooler weather, something I welcome. Hopefully I’ll be able to read outside in the near future.


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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