A First: Three Volumes of Great Books Completed the Same Week

I feel as though I should be blogging about the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death today, but I really do need to make this Great Books Project post. (On Lewis, here’s a post commemorating his contributions.) I suddenly realized we’ve just completed Volume 3 of the Gateway to the Great Books series AND Volumes 33 and 36 of the Great Books of the Western World series. I think that means we’re done with eight of the ten GGB volumes and six of the fifty-eight GGBW volumes. Not too shabby!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book IX (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 189-204)*
  2. The Will of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas (GBWW Vol. 18, pp. 108-119; Part One, Chapter 19 of Summa Theologica)
  3. A Lost Lady” by Willa Cather  (GBWWW Vol. 59, pp. 409-466)
  4. Alcibiades” by Plutarch (GBWW Vol. 13, pp. 155-174)
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 12 (GBWW Vol. 49, pp. 435-450)
  6. On Interpretation by Aristotle (GBWW Vol. 7, pp. 25-38)

*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.

There’s a lot of turnover in this week’s readings, something that might give a little boost to those who were starting to find Locke and Smith a bit tiresome. I have a hazy recollection of reading excerpts of a story in grade school that might have been by Cather, and I’m wondering whether “A Lost Lady” will turn out to be it.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book VIII: It seems that everyone wants to take advantage of poor Tom Jones. I confess that so far I’m lost as to why the old man’s autobiographical story is in the narrative. I can’t tell whether it will tie into the central plot at all. The reappearance of Partridge promises to complicate things. At least we now know he’s not Jones’s father.
  2. “The Life of God” by St. Thomas Aquinas: Why do we say that plants have life, but that stones do not? Schroedinger calls life negative entropy (remember?); St. Thomas says life belongs to things that move themselves. Of course, this leads to the question of whether life can be attributed to God, since God is unmoved. St. Thomas says that actually God’s intellect moves itself, and that’s actually life in a higher degree.
  3. spinoza-of-market-street“The Spinoza of Market Street” by Isaac Singer: Let’s face it; this is a pretty depressing story. The protagonist wishes to understand the universe and his place in it, but his obsession with Spinoza and his heterodoxy lead him to isolate himself more and more as the years pass. You think maybe he’s making up for lost time by marrying near the end of the story, but then he cries out to the stars that he has become a fool. Why?
  4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Book V, Chapter 3: “The progress of the enormous debts which at present oppress, and will in the long-run probably ruin, all the great nations of Europe have been pretty uniform.” This reads as though it were written in the 21st century. Of course Smith is referring to the debts incurred by European governments in large part to fight the dynastic wars of the 18th century. He goes to discuss different methods of incurring debts and warns against the usual suspects such as debasement of the currency.
  5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, Chapter 11: Insects again! This time the focus is primarily on butterflies. Darwin hypothesizes that colors on the male butterflies perform a mating function, that females prefer the brilliantly colored males. Much of this chapter consists of recording observations he and others have made on butterfly mating rituals. 
  6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, Book IV, Chapter 18-21: I don’t know that Locke’s strict division of the realms of faith and reason is tenable. I’ve seen some critiques of this idea that are hard to answer given empiricist assumptions. The chapter on Enthusiasm makes me chuckle at how the meaning of the word has changed over the centuries. Today it’s considered almost unequivocally a good thing, but in the 17th century it was a real bogeyman.

I’m having an interesting experience this week keeping my three oldest sons at home by myself while my wife has the three youngest in Texas. Let me tell you . . . I miss her! In case I don’t get the next post up by next Wednesday, let me go ahead and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

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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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