Category Archives: Literature

Duration to Completion of the Great Books of the Western World

I get many search queries that hit my website, and loads of questions, pertaining to how long it takes to read the Great Books of the Western World (GBWW), edited by Mortimer Adler.  Of course, there’s no strict answer to this question, but I can give some perspective.  I think, for the average working layperson, reading the set within ten years is more than reasonable.  A couple such plans may be found by clicking here and here.  In fact, another plan puts the duration at seven years, and this might be the outright reasonable timeframe for the average working (and more or less disciplined) layperson.  Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Great Books and Harvard Classics Series, Literature

Allusion to Forms in Plato’s Theaetetus

Between having had two undergraduate courses on the Platonic dialogues —one on ancient Greek philosophy, one on Plato’s dialogues, specifically, and having read the remainder of the dialogues on my own—, I had never encountered the “Unitarianism versus Revisionism” debate, until taking (currently) a graduate course on Plato’s theory of knowledge.  Not just that, I had no inkling or intuition that there might be such a debate.  In examining why, with a mind to Theaetetus, I felt it difficult to buy the Revisionist position, and so it seems blog-post worthy to explain.

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Filed under Ancient Greek, Literature, Philosophy, Plato

“The Great Gatsby” and Aristotle’s Four Causes

The Penguin Critical Studies Guide to The Great Gatsby has an interesting analysis of locations in Fitzgerald’s masterpiece —probably the standard interpretation of the symbolism of West Egg, East Egg, the valley of ashes, and New York City.  Since this is, no doubt, well understood, I leave it to the interested reader to look into said interpretation.  The purpose of this blog post is to explore a different interpretation, an Aristotelian interpretation of the feature locations in the book.  Admittedly, I am not particularly familiar with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s extended biography, and especially not his intellectual influences.  Yet, having done some research, I have not found an Aristotelian interpretation of any kind pertaining to Fitzgerald’s writings.  This is intriguing, because, as will be seen, imposing Aristotelian causes, as symbolism, onto the book makes for a consistent reading, and I would not be surprised to find that Fitzgerald did have some such symbolism in mind.  Continue reading

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Humanity’s Relation to Nature: Hawthorne, Rappaccini and Blithedale

In his The Blithedale Romance and Rappaccini’s Daughter, Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates elements of an enduring clash between humanity and Nature, and humanity’s attempt to find an equilibrium point in its relation to the natural world.  Though they take different forms, and even their primary subjects are quite different, there is a sense in which they can be viewed as two parts of a larger story; and the two parts may be viewed as having some amount of overlap, as well.  For those who have not read The Blithedale Romance, the story is a very warm tale that ends grimly, postulating that communal living in close quarters to Nature is the aforementioned equilibrium point, and equally expostulating humanity’s inability to recognize and facilitate this fact. Continue reading

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Filed under Literature, Natural Philosophy, Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

Comparing the Great Books of the Western World to the Harvard Classics (Part IV): Why Read the Harvard Classics or the Great Books of the Western World?

Please excuse mid-post rant.  If you disagree with my opinion, you will just have to forgive me, and let me my opinion.

Some of the search engine results that end up leading folks to my GBWW vs. HC series are “why should I read the harvard classics” and “why should I read the great books of the western world.”  Since there seems to be considerable demand for an answer to these questions, I figured I would take the time to give my two cents.  I will start with the Harvard Classics (HC).  Continue reading

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Comparing the Great Books of the Western World to the Harvard Classics (Part III): Assessing the Philosophy Selections

I think the real limitation of Harvard Classics can be seen in the philosophy selections it contains.  Unfortunately, I think the Harvard Classics could have been put together with much greater efficacy, had the editor taken a much more piecemeal approach in selecting excerpts to be included.  Otherwise, I am not sure I see any way that Harvard Classics could present a sustained usefulness to a readership seeking novelty in the set.  The approach of the Great Books of the Western World, including whole swathes of philosophical literature, essentially, obviates the most desires to own the Harvard Classics, at least as far as the philosophy goes.  In fact, when I began this blog, I owned the Harvard Classics, but not the Great Books of the Western World; but finding the latter to be such an asset, I now on it and sold the former.  Continue reading

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Filed under Great Books and Harvard Classics Series, Literature, Philosophy

S.L. Clemens and J.-J. Rousseau: Similar Dispositions Toward Life?

Right around the time of making a trip to Samuel Clemens’ boyhood home, in Hannibal, Missouri (see my travelogue), I was reading a great deal of Rousseau, and I noticed an interesting similarity.  The realization takes some developing, so I will start with how I arrived at noticing the similarity, before saying what it was.

There is a very good biography of Clemen’s last years (approximately his last decade) by Michael Sheldon, called Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of his Final Years.  It struck me as very, very out of place, with respect to my overall impression of Clemens.  In retrospect, I know that this is because I read much of Twain’s books, while knowing very little about Clemens, the man.  “Grand Adventure” is a really bizarre way of putting such a grim, dismal, and pessimistic end to a life.  It had its ups, don’t get me wrong; for instance, he was awarded his DLitt and doctoral robes from Oxford.  Continue reading

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Why Are Narratives So Moral?

This question’s answer seems very, very obvious and without a doubt, for me at least: Why are narratives so moral?  The question was posed to me in an e-mail, which served as a call for responses to be presented at IU Bloomington’s conference, a conference that is thematically in line with our “Themester.”  Fall 2012’s theme is “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.”  The “molecules to morality” part is the part I don’t like about the theme’s title, primarily because I think the proposal of an ought from an is is silly.  There is some limited sense in which I think an ought can come from an is, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Anyway, my answer to the above posed question is —surprise!  surprise!— Kantian in flavor.  If you are in cognitive science, psychology, or neuroscience, and actually know a thing or two about the philosophical founding of your science, then this will, on the contrary, not surprise you. Continue reading

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Filed under Kantian Philosophy, Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Science

The Time Traveller’s Instantaneous Cube

I offer for consideration a very interesting dialogue from the opening of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Pocket Books, 2004, page 5).  The protagonist begins:

“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence.  They taught you that?  Neither has a mathematical plane.  These things are mere abstractions.”

            “That’s all right,” said the Psychologist.

            “Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”

            “There I object,” said Filby.  “Of course a solid body may exist.  All real things —”

            “So most people think.  But wait a moment.  Can an instantaneous cube exist?”

            “Don’t follow,” said Filby.

            Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”

            Filby became pensive.

            “Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions, it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and —Duration.”

The dialogue points to what is, in my experience, a much overlooked idea: that there is an interesting constraint applied to time by the first three spatial dimensions.  When we look around, we don’t see triangles, we see things that look like triangles.  This is the sort of thinking that led Plato to the idea of universal forms and the allegory of the Cave.  The dialogue points out an interesting question: Supposing that one can obtain, say, a platonic solid, what if it exists only for an instant —that is, no duration at all?  I don’t see this question come up often in the more academic forums; maybe it does and I am just missing it.  Continue reading

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Filed under History of Science, Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Pure Philosophy

A Problem with Popular Physics/Science Books: The Problem of Authorship

It should be common knowledge that it isn’t wise to accept, without air of caution, someone’s opinion on a matter as absolute fact, if that person is not an expert in the given field.  Consider popular physics, for the moment.  What field is it that a physicist (or, as will be the case in the blog post, a mathematician) is expert of?  That’s one question.  Another is: What does the composition of works in popular physics entail?  If the answer to the former is not the answer to the latter, then there is something wrong.  I believe something is. Continue reading

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Filed under Literature, Philosophy, Philosophy of Physics, Philosophy of Science, Physics, Popular Science