Friday, July 3, 2015

Author Timeline

BC
Euripides 480-406
Plato 428-348
Aristotle 384-322

AD
Augustine 354-430
Aquinas 1225-1274
Montaigne 1533-1592
Galileo 1564-1642
Bacon 1561-1626
Descartes 1596-1650
Newton 1642-1726
Locke 1632-1704
Hume 1711-1776
Kant 1724-1804
Melville 1819-1891
Dostoyevsky 1821-1881
James 1842-1910

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Books Read in June

June was another busy month for reading.

The Fourth Part of the World, Toby Lester - Very interesting book.  Highly recommended.  This book details how the Europeans found out about the other parts of the world.  It serves as a history of map making for the Western world.  If you've ever been interested in the Age of Exploration, this is a must read.
The Call of Cthulhu, by HP Lovecraft - I've never read any of the Cthulhu mythos before.  Very interesting stuff.  The idea of 'knowledge that man should not know' horrifies me.  But it's a fascinating horror.  Hard to look away from.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein - A reread of one of my favorites.  This involves a futuristic revolution by a penal colony on the moon.  There are echoes of the American revolution but I love this book because of the questions that it asks.  Early on, a professor asks 'what is moral when done by a group of people that would be immoral if done by one'.  I've pondered this for twenty some years and I still don't have a good answer.
Thomas Paine's 'Rights of Man' by Christopher Hitchens - This is part of a series about 'Books that Changed the World'.  Hitchens writes of the history of Paine and the influence that Paine's writing had on both the American and French revolutions.  Good stuff and I wish that Paine was covered in the Great Books list.
Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas by himself - Fredrick Douglas was an escaped slave who wrote about his experiences under the whip.  Some horrifying stuff and this was highly influential on the abolitionists of the day.  Full of insights.  A very necessary history of the systematic awfulness of slavery.  Wish I'd read it earlier in my life.

All in all, a very good month of reading, even beside the Great Books.  If you're looking for something to read, I'd say that any one of these five will be rewarding.

Short stories:
You Go Where it Takes You by Balingrud - good
My First Love by Nadir - excellent
Alas, Babylon by Fitzgerald - very good
Master and Man by Tolstoy - very good

This brings me to 26 read through June.  Right on target.  These deserve a more full treatment but I'd be kidding myself if I thought that I would find time to write more about these stories each month.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Readings for July

(Man, I've gotten behind.  Almost missed this!  Sorry.  Will improve.)

July
Descartes: Discourse on the Method link
Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (prefaces, definitions, axioms, general scholium) link

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Novum Organum - Bacon

Francis Bacon wrote 'Novum Organum' as a kind of response to Aristotle's 'Organum' which deals with logic.  Bacon wrote his 'new' piece in large part to question how we prove things. 
Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm than spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own.
This is a reaction to the way that science was seen as established and permanent.  The works of Aristotle (especially) and others were held as settled science and no real effort could be made to question them.  Bacon sought to change that.
I propose to establish progressing stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction which follows the the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from simple sensuous perception.
From this, Bacon launched the scientific method and this created an enormous bloom of science. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Readings for the Rest of Year Four

For whatever reason, this year has been top heavy in terms of number of pieces.  After July, fully 2/3rd of the number of pieces will be done.  For those interested, that comes to 66 of the 180 pieces in the full list.  Or 11/30ths. 
That's a little misleading though because the heaviest reading is in the second half.  Some is easy, some not so much.  I see my nemesis, Kant, lurking there in September again.  I will at least start the reading but I no longer make any promises on finishing the old windbag.  October and November are heavy from a page count sense but they're both fiction.  (Somewhat contrary to its own narrative, I predict smooth sailing with 'Moby Dick'.) 
But let me not get too far ahead of myself.  Next month brings Descartes and Newton.  When I looked at June and July and this month I cringed at the amount of science reading there would be.  Not because I don't like science but because the primary sources here can be very dusty.  Galileo and (especially) Bacon surprised me.  Hopefully July will bring pleasant surprises too.

July
Descartes: Discourse on the Method link
Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (prefaces, definitions, axioms, general scholium) link

August
Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (book 2) link

September
Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding link
Kant: A Critique of Pure Reason (prefaces, introduction, transcendental aesthetic) link

October
Melville: Moby Dick link

November
Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov (part 3 and 4) link

December
James: Principles of Psychology (chapters 15 and 20) link

Friday, June 19, 2015

Links to the Past

Why the Magna Carta was signed by England's worst King link

What rights are granted by the Magna Carta? link

How you define a liberal arts education matters greatly link

Is the world starved for beauty? link

We're Losing Sight of What Art is For link

Sartre: A Show About Nothingness (Existential Comics) link

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Two New Sciences - Galileo

(This only covers the beginning of the third day.)

Two New Sciences is an interesting book, possibly more interesting for its history than for its contents.  Galileo wrote it very carefully to avoid offending a school of thought within the Catholic Church that regarded the Aristotelian model of the universe to be perfect and complete.  From my understanding, he tried very hard to simply present things without making attacks on the former reasoning.  A large part of this is showing how mathematical formulas show how things work, rather than just observing and presenting a theory to explain it.
The book takes the form of a conversation between three men, Simplicio, Sagredo, and Salviati.  These men discuss various theories and the three are sometimes thought to represent Galileo's thought process from young man to more experienced and older man.  This allows Galileo to present an idea and then attack and defend it.  It works pretty well.  To my (modern) eyes, it's very readable.

The section that comes up from the Great Books reading list is about whether objects accelerate or slow down(!) as they fall.  Galileo argues that they fall faster and has a spiffy geometric chart to show that the rate of acceleration is, well, geometric.  The whole thing makes sense to me and I was left with a sense of 'wait, did they really think things slowed down as they fell?'.  Apparently so.
There are two things that make this type of reading especially striking now.  First, this is all well established science now.  There is broad (unanimous?) agreement on gravity and acceleration.  This wasn't true then and in fact had still to be argued out.
The other thing is that with our modern equipment, we can easily show how things behave as they fall.  I kept thinking about Mythbusters and their use of slow motion cameras and replay.  How different things would have been if Galileo could have marched people into a theater and shown them proof!  (And yes, that gets several horses and carts confused.  The thought still occurred to me.)

I liked reading Galileo.  We return to his writings in year seven and I look forward to it.