Saturday, December 27, 2014

Reflections on Year Three

For the readings of year one, I thought that the theme was 'challenge', as in the writers of the Great Books constantly challenged the way things were done.  Year two didn't have as clean a theme, I guess, though maybe it had a series of themes.  Year three?  It had quite a bit to do with power.  How power is granted, how it is seized and what the proper forms of government are.
  • Prometheus is about a god that gave power from the 'gods' and gave it to people.
  • Herodotus wrote about the Persians attempt to seize Greece.
  • Thucydides wrote about the problems of balance of power and subsequent war in Greece.
  • Plato wrote about legitimate forms of government.
  • So did Aristotle.
  • Tacitus wrote about the power struggles of 1st century Rome.  And it wasn't pretty.
  • Aquinas wrote about the law and whether it is good or not.
  • Shakespeare's Macbeth is a story about maniacal will to power.
  • Milton's Paradise Lost is, in part, a story of how Satan refused to be ruled.
  • Mill argued that representative government is the best form of all.
This is one of the themes of western thought, that through thought we can find a better way to organize and rule ourselves. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quick Thoughts on Year Three

These are some of my thumbnail thoughts on the past year's reading.  I'll have something more in depth with a shot at 'theme' next week.

1. Didn't know that Prometheus was a god. Didn't realize that he gave mankind more than fire. Per Aeschylus, was responsible for great strides of technological advancement.
2. Herodotus always enjoyable. Learned a lot about the 300 at Thermopalaye. Not hard to tell why they become such a legend.
3. Peloponessian War was a mess, mostly self inflicted wounds to Greek society/culture. Landmark book was crucial in understanding the war.
4. Interesting musings on who should hold power and why. Typical Plato in lack of clear answers but excellent questions.
5. Well thought out categories for logic. Included my favorite chart of the series. Maybe all time favorite.
6. Great read in connection with (4). Different forms of government with arguments on weaknesses and strengths of all.
7. Fun math puzzles. Enormous amount of intelligence went into they begining of geometry.
8. Roman upper society was crazy about power. Who had power meant literal life or death for followers. Repetive to a suprising amount. Very primitive justice system.
9. Great amount of admiration for Aquinas system. Easy to see his influence on how people thought about law.
10. Too much courtly love for my taste. Tragic story of love on the part of Troilus. Not sure as much about Cressida.
11. Awful, awful, Lady Macbeth. Almost crazy the lengths of awful nn to seize the throne. Also, why are witches so tricksy?
12. Hugely influential. Suprised that Satan is so sympathetic. The serpent got a raw deal.
13. Interesting thoughts on language. Very interesting that Locke makes room for muddled people, not just elite clear thinkers.
14. What's the German word for 'incomprehensible'?
15. Mill is so good. Most interesting was argument that rep. govt. is best but all countries nn what fits them best.
16. Basic groundwork for chemistry. Dull for laypeople.
17. Intriguing discussions on mercy and punishment.  Interesting church/state talks.
18. How much do repressed memories change your outlook?  How good is the science behind hysteria?

Readings for January

A busy month of Greek theater up ahead.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Origin and Development of Psychology - Freud

The 'Origin and Development of Psychology' is a series of five lectures from Sigmund Freud.  The entirety of the lectures is small and I'd encourage anyone to read them (link to them here).  His speaking is very interesting and accessible.
I wasn't sure what to expect from Freud.  My studies in formal psychology is very limited but I have the impression that Freud's thinking is now regularly classified as pseudo science.  From this, I thought that he was most likely a charlatan but that wasn't correct.  Now I think that he was well meaning but his results are most charitably thought of as an early step on the road to understanding.

In the first lecture, Freud speaks of another Viennese physician named Joseph Breuer.  Breuer found a young woman who was suffering from hysterics.  Under hypnosis he was able to find the root causes of her distress.  For example, she went through a summer almost completely unable to drink water.  Even if she was thirsty, the thought of drinking repulsed her.  He found a buried memory of her seeing an unsavory dog drinking out of a glass.  Once this memory came out, she was able to drink again.
From this, and other experiences, Freud worked on a theory that psychological conditions are caused by stresses in early life.  These stresses often become buried, or 'repressed', and work to poison the mind of normal healthy actions.  Frankly, I'm not sure what modern science has to say about this.  On the face of it, and in situations like the dog and the water, this makes sense.  The question is just how much does it explain?  Is every kink in the human psyche the result of some childhood episode?  How would you test such a thing?
When we think of scientific efforts to test theories, we look for things like control groups.  If every childhood has some trauma, then there would be no control group.  And of course, every childhood does.  It's part of the human condition that everyone, at some point, runs into some problem.  And yet if those problems echo forward to create neurosis, then most everyone should have the most common ones. 

Which isn't to say that I mean to kick Freud around.  The questions of why we do what we do are fundamental.  If a scientific approach can help us tackle them, the world will be a better place for it.  Freud deserves some credit for those early steps, even if they aren't certainly in the right direction.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Classic Links

The Non-Fiction books that everyone should read (graphic) link

Plato and Aristotle and modern politics link

Of Course Shakespeare was Catholic link

Democracy and Art link

What College Students could Learn from the Bacchae link 

Philosophers and Candyland (Existintial Comics) link

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Readings for Year Four

I think it's time to get prepared for the next year of Great Books.  As I did last year, I'll include links to online versions when I can find them.  I'll use Project Gutenberg when I can, otherwise I'll go with what looks best on a cursory basis. 

Plato: Republic (books 6-8) link
Plato: Theaetetus link

Aristotle: Physics (book 4, chapters 1-5, 10-14) link
Aristotle: Metaphysics (book 1, chapter 1-2, book 4, book 6 chapter 1, book 11 chapter 1-4) link

St Augustine: Confessions (books 9-13) link
St Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica (part 1, QQ 16-17 and 84-88) link

Montaigne: Apology for Raimond de Sebonde link

Galileo: Two New Sciences (third day through Scholium of Theorem II) link
Bacon: Novum Organum (Preface, Book 1) link

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

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

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

Melville: Moby Dick link

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Author Timeline

Aeschylus  525-456
Herodotus  484-425
Thucydides  460-395
Plato  428-348
Aristotle  384-322
Euclid  Unknown (300 BC?)
Tacitus  56-117
St Thomas Aquinas  1225-1274
Chaucer  1343-1400
Shakespeare  1564-1616
Milton  1608-1674
Locke  1632-1704
Kant  1724-1804
Mill  1806-1873
Lavoisier  1743-1794
Dostoevsky  1821-1881
Freud  1856-1939

Note that Freud is the last, most recent author in the Great Books.  IIRC, he is the only writer to have lived in the 20th century.  In related news, his  status as a 'great' author is probably the most disputed.  Still worth reading though. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Books Read in November

For various reasons, November is the busiest month of the year for me.  Its got elections, all family holidays and some big birthdays.  For some time I was doing NaNoWriMo (where people write 50,000 word novels in the month of November) but I didn't even try this year.  In fact, the only time saving for me was discovering that I can read my Kindle while I walk on a treadmill at the gym. 
  • I'm continuing to read 'Brothers Karamazov'.  The second half of it is due for next November.  
  • In October, I read 'Will in the World' by Stephen Greenblatt.  The book is a biographical look at Shakespeare.  It attempts to reconcile what little is known of his life with things that appear in his plays.  It's interesting but not convincing.  In fact, for nearly every theory, Greenblatt points out counter evidence.  A good read for general info and interesting, but I wouldn't take it to the bank.
  • Friends of mine convinced me to give the Game of Thrones books a read.  I'm part way through the third book now.  The story is something of a retelling of the War of the Roses set in a lightly fantasy world.  The writing follows several characters and virtually no one is safe.  It's compelling and very readable.  The series has five books so far with (at least) a sixth one due at some point in the future.  After the third one, I plan on setting it aside for a while.
On one more book related note, right now Amazon is selling one of my all time favorite, stuck on an island books, Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose' for only $2.99.  The book is a murder mystery set in a medieval Italian monastery.  The mystery is tied up in some distant arguments about theology and an enormous library shaped like a labyrinth.  Great stuff!

I'll post the reading list for year four in a couple of weeks. 

Reading for December

Just one and it's a brief one.


Freud: The Origin and Development of Psycho-Analysis link