Euclid Rolls Over in His Grave

Welcome to Week 161 of the Great Books Project. This week we wrap up Tom Jones, On Liberty, and Part One of Don Quixote!

Here are the readings for the coming week:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XVIII (GBWW Vol. 37, pp. 374-405)*
  2. It Is Folly to Measure the True and False by Our Own Capacity” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 132-134)
  3. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 47-52 (GBWW Vol. 27, pp. 214-237)
  4. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, Parts 3-5 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 293-323)
  5. On Regimen in Acute Diseases by Hippocrates (GBWW Vol. 9, pp. 54-90)
  6. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part II (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 607-628)

*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.

Don’t let all the section links on the Hippocrates page discourage you; they generally link to a page containing a single paragraph of the text.

Here are some observations from last week’s readings:

  1. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XVII: Fielding anticipated my thoughts 270 years before I thought them. Last week I mentioned that I was awaiting a deus ex machina, and in the opening of this book Fielding writes, “If you’re expecting a deus ex machina, forget about it.” However, I am still supremely confident that Tom Jones will pull a rabbit out of his hat and end up living happily ever after with Sophia. We shall see. 
  2. “Of the Divine Happiness” by St. Thomas Aquinas: St. Thomas describes happiness as “the perfect good of an intellectual nature.” I guess that would mean that beasts or other forms of life lacking reason are incapable of happiness, which in turn means that for St. Thomas, happiness goes beyond mere sensation. It is an “act of the intellect.” 
  3. The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 38-46: I tell you, Don Quixote must be staying in the most exciting inn in all of Spain. In one night it hosted three of the most beautiful women in the world, one of whom was a Moorish convert to Christianity; a dashing soldier who had escaped slavery in North Africa; a prominent nobleman; a reformed lunatic; and an eminent attorney; not to mention Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The story of the captain’s escape from captivity was well told, although it was another major digression from the main plot. 
  4. JohnStuartMillOn Liberty by John Stuart Mill, Parts 1-2: It has probably been 12 or 13 years since my last reading of this work, and I’m rediscovering quite a few things along the way. Mill advocates what today would probably be called a sort of “thick libertarianism.” In other words, freedom from aggression by itself does not satisfy him; he also wants individuals to enjoy some sort of zone of personal autonomy free some social pressure of any kind. However, most of his comments so far appear to be aimed at defending the individual against oppression by a democratic government.
  5. “Space” by Henri Poincare: Poincare here lays out some of the basics of non-Euclidean geometry. The geometries of the 19th-century figures he discusses are valid in that they are internally consistent, and he asserts that we can’t one geometry to be “correct” while the others are “incorrect.” We can only say that one is “more convenient.” I confess I’m not certain how to respond to that assertion. 
  6. Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part I: This work proceeds in the manner of a mathematical treatise, with definitions and axioms followed by propositions that are demonstrated by reference to what has already been given. I didn’t understand everything in this first section, but I got the impression that Spinoza attempts to change the definition of God by smuggling into the definition attributes and the like that neither Judaism nor Christianity would accept. It ended up sounding like pantheism in some ways.

I am quite dismayed to find myself slipping on the posting schedule again, but the last couple of weeks have been so packed there didn’t seem to be anyway to avoid it. Here’s hoping I can make up at least a day on the schedule next week. In the meantime, stay warm if you’re encountering the freezing weather (again) in the U.S.

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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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