It has been months since we’ve had a weekly reading list with so many new works on it in the Great Books Project. This week is a great opportunity to jump into the program if you’re new to the blog or have lapsed in your commitment at some point along the way.
Here are the readings for the coming week:
- “Preface to Shakespeare” by Samuel Johnson (GGB Vol. 5, pp. 316-353)*
- “Of Friendship” by Michel de Montaigne (GBWW Vol. 23, pp. 134-140)
- “Upon the Circumcision” by John Milton (GBWW Vol. 29, pp. 12-13)
- The Histories by Tacitus, Book I (GBWW Vol. 14, pp. 189-214)
- “On the Nature of a Calculus” by Alfred North Whitehead (GGB Vol. 9, pp. 68-78; Chapter I of A Treatise on Universal Algebra)
- Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part III (GBWW Vol. 28, pp. 629-655)
If my calculations are correct, the Whitehead piece will complete our reading of another volume in the Gateway to the Great Books series, leaving just one unfinished before we’re done with the whole set!
Here are some observations from last week’s readings:
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, Book XVIII: All’s well that ends well. Tom’s true parents are revealed (both long deceased), Blifil’s treachery is discovered, Tom becomes Allworthy’s heir, and he is reconciled and married to Sophia. Best of all, his philandering stops. Now I want to see how the film industry managed to get this sprawling tale into a single film starring Albert Finney.
- “It Is Folly to Measure the True and False by Our Own Capacity” by Michel de Montaigne: I found this brief essay to be one of the most interesting of Montaigne’s I’ve yet encountered. At first it seems to validate the received impression of Montaigne as a “skeptic” because he writes about the limits of knowledge and not trusting entirely to one’s own experiences. But by the end of the essay he’s defending Roman Catholic orthodoxy and insisting that his fellow believers must not indulge in a “partial surrender of beliefs” to their opponents (presumably Protestants) by conceding any of their points when debating them. “We must either submit completely to the authority of our ecclesiastical government, or do without it completely.”
- The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, Part I, Chapters 47-52: In this final section of Part I, it was interesting to see the canon, a new character, defend tales of chivalry to some extent. I wondered whether Cervantes might have inserted him into the story to represent his own view. Perhaps someone familiar with the literary criticism can fill me in.
- On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, Parts 3-5: Mill continues to develop his case for individualism, arguing (for instance) that there is no justification for society to impose constraints on individuals “in things where the individual alone is concerned.” I’m not sure I grasp the logic of Mill’s argument that one cannot relinquish one’s freedom, for example, by selling oneself into slavery: “The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom to be allowed to alienate his freedom.” Well, why not?
- On Regimen in Acute Diseases by Hippocrates: This work has a different organization from the other Hippocratic writings we’ve seen. The main body of the piece (about half the overall length) gives general advice on the administering of certain medicines like the “ptisan” or the “cyceon.” Hippocrates even says that a bath sometimes helps when someone is ill (!). There follows a long appendix recommending treatments for specific symptoms, e.g. a rough tongue during a winter fever.
- Ethics by Benedict de Spinoza, Part II: I didn’t have sufficient time to soak this up as I wished, but here Spinoza discusses the human mind. He seems to hold to a pretty radical mind/body separation. There’s a lot here about the “inadequate” knowledge the mind has of the body and vice versa. The propositions on truth and falsehood of ideas got my attention as well. They seemed vaguely like what Locke wrote about in the Essay on human Understanding.
It has been another rough week for reading. I lost an entire day to a professional conference last Friday, and I have been working on a couple of encyclopedia articles that are now overdue. Here’s hoping that I’ll have a productive weekend!