On the Heavens (Aristotle)

The primary difficulty with this work is we are so used to a Copernican cosmology that we almost can’t understand what he is saying. His conclusions we can dismiss outright. It might be well, however, to reflect on how he set the stage for cosmology for the next 2,000 years.

His geocentrism appears, and I say it appears because I don’t always understand what he is saying here, to hinge on the argument is that the earth can’t move. We’ll try to unpack that. The heavens cannot move because they are infinite, and an infinite body can’t move in a circle because it would have to move across an infinite range in finite time.

In language anticipating Christian theism, he says heaven is eternal. Well, true. He doesn’t mean by heaven what we mean by heaven, though. What is heaven? Imagine the boundary point between our world and the next (sky, maybe?). Heaven is the substance of the circumference.

Since heaven is eternal, and heaven always has a limit, this means the earth is eternal (283b). This also explains why the earth doesn’t move. If it moves, then it must have begun in time.

Good

He introduces numerous fascinating discussions on the concept of “infinity” that are still in play today (271b). Quite rightly, he notes that an infinite cannot be traversed.

He believes that the earth is a sphere. Sorry, flat-earthers.

Bad

He rejects the idea of a plurality of worlds (278a) since only our world contains the entirety of matter.

He says the universe is spherical. I’m not so sure, given big-bang cosmology. It’s more of a funnel-shape.

“We take it for granted that the earth is at rest” (289b).

He says imagine that there are circles within circles. The circles closest within would take longer in the revolution. You don’t need modern science to know this is false. The Greeks ran track. Any runner knows that whoever is on the outer lanes has to run longer.

He rejects the idea of the earth spinning on its axis (296a).

Augustine’s Confessions

For the most part I will try to avoid some of the more memorable scenes. You probably already know them.

Augustine begins by lamenting his learning of Virgil. Why should he weep over Dido when his teachers did not know enough for him to weep over his own soul? This might seem that Augustine is condemning classical learning, and he probably thought he was, but Augustine’s own life mirrors Aeneas’s, so there is that.

Like Aeneas, Augustine arrives in Carthage. And like Aeneas, Augustine succumbs to its pleasures. He failed to understand that true love was a calm “communion of minds” (2.2). Rather, he sought only to be in love with love.

We also get a profound meditation on the proper ordering of goods. There isn’t just one “flat” good thing in our lives. There is a gradation of goods. We sin by desiring lower goods at the expense of higher. This anticipates his later claim that evil is a lack and/or a perversion of the good.

In books three and four he meets a number of important people. He meets Cicero in a book, and Cicero teaches him to seek after higher things. Unfortunately, he also becomes a Manichee. From the Manichees he learned wrong ideas of God and evil. He thought substances must be physical, and so he could not imagine an immaterial substance (3.7).

He also met Faustus, the leader of the Manichees. Ironically, this would lead him out of Manicheanism. He was underwhelmed. Most importantly, he meets Ambrose in Italy, and in Ambrose’s rhetoric he sees that form = substance.

Although in book seven he was still struggling with Manicheanism, he found the Platonists’ books. This reoriented him to the possibility of immaterial substances. He now saw reality as a chain of being. Things are good, and the lower a good is, the more susceptible to corruption it is. This was a breakthrough. Evil couldn’t exist unless there was already a good for it to corrupt. Evil, therefore, is a lack.

Book 8 contains his famous conversion scene. It is dramatic psychology. You’ll have to read it. It also takes place in a garden. That is typology and very important.

Book 9 contains the baptisms of him, his son, Nebredius (I think), and Alypius.

Books 10-13 are extended meditations on memory, time, and creation.

In terms of reading and appreciating the Great Christian Tradition, this is the classic text with which to start.

Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.

Man

Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).

Mind

The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.

Monarchy

Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.

Opposition

Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.

Reasoning

The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Troilus and Criseyde (Chaucer)

Imagine a high classical version of Romeo and Juliet. The characters have a higher (although not by much) IQ. If one has read Shakespeare’s version, then this will not have the same shock value (though the ending is pretty obvious in these types of situations). Chaucer writes this in “Royal Rime:” seven line stanzas in a-b-a-bb-cc.

Troilus is the son of King Priam and brother of Hector. Criseyde is the widow of a Trojan soldier. Pandar, Criseyde’s uncle, serves as the middleman between the two.

I will not spoil too much of the story; rather, I will use this space to quote Troilus’s famous monologue on Necessity vs. Free Will. Chaucer is no doubt summarizing late medieval debates about predestination and necessity. This easily surpasses most systematic theologies in terms of sophistication and clarity.

(From Book IV, stanzas 137ff)

“For all that comes, comes by necessity,
Thus to be done for is my destiny.”

This is obviously a strong version of determinism. Troilus does not actually maintain this position.

“For if there were the slightest hesitation
Or any slip in God’s foreordering,
Foreknowledge then were not a certain thing.”

This is certainly true. What Troilus does not understand is that God’s knowing of a thing does not force one’s actions. He asks the correct question: does necessity reside in the event itself?

“Of all the human things we call events
Or does necessity in them reside.
And thus ordaining cause for them provide?”

Is the event itself the causal factor? Maybe proximately.

Troilus, unfortunately, is not able to maintain the balance between necessity and contingency. He opts for fatalism:

“And by these arguments you may well see
That all things that on the earth befall,
By plain necessity, they happen all.”

In philosophical terms, Troilus committed a modal fallacy.

P1. ☐, if Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal, then Judas would betray Christ.
P2. Christ predicted Judas’s betrayal.
C1: ☐, Judas betrayed Christ.

This fallacy confuses the necessity of the inference with the necessity of the consequent (a more absolute necessity). The inference of Q from the premises ☐ (P⊃Q) is necessary in accordance with modus ponens. But Q itself, the consequent of the conditional ☐ (P⊃Q), is not itself necessary.

Take premise Q by itself (Judas would betray Christ). It does not exist in isolation. It is not a necessarily self-generating proposition. It is only necessary as a conditional necessity within the syllogism. This is what the older Reformed writers called “the necessity of the consequence,” in distinction from the necessity of the consequent thing.

Back to the book. Although this is a poem about pagan heroes, Chaucer, for whatever reason, ends with a beautiful hymn to the Trinity:

“O Thou eternal Three and Two and One
Reigning forever in One and Two and Three,
Boundless, but binding all through Father and Son,
From Foes unseen and seen deliver me;
And blessed Jesus turn our love to thee…

The Angels and Us (Adler)

Adler, Mortimer J. The Angels and Us. New York: MacMillan, 1982.

This is not a theological-exegetical treatment of angels. That is neither a criticism or a compliment. Adler’s purpose is to give a philosophical explanation, not a theological proof for angels.  One might ask, “Why can’t we just go by what the Bible says on angels and leave it at that?”  There are several problems with that idea.  I learned the hard way that people really do not want to deal with what the ancient Near East, including the Bible, says about malakim and dark spirits.   Moreover, logical deductions from sound premises are just as binding.  Philosophy is inescapable.

Mortimer Adler limits his analysis to that which philosophy allows one to say about angels.  This means at best he can give only an explanation of x, not a proof.  This is frustrating at times, but I understand why he does it. The philosophical benefit to such an approach is that it allows him to focus on the mind-body problem, since an angel is a mind without a body. One more preparatory note: I am not necessarily convinced of the Chain of Being model. I grant Adler’s rebuttal to Lovejoy, but I am not so sure he adequately dealt with Samuel Johnson’s criticisms.

Ptolemaic societies had an easier time with philosophical approaches to “planetary intelligences.” For Aristotle, these moved bodies which in turn move others seem a lot like what we would call angels. Quite obviously, “an incorporeal agent could be nothing other than a mind or intelligence.”[1] Even though angels are minds without bodies, they can assume corporeality in their missions to earth.[2] The biblical text itself is quite clear, as Abraham’s visitors ate with him and later grabbed Lot and his family.  (We will leave aside, of course, Genesis 6:1-4.)

Not surprisingly, Adler’s main guide is Thomas Aquinas, and his main guide to Thomas is Etienne Gilson.  This is as it should be. Beginning with Pseudo-Dionysius, Christian reflection saw the angels as a hierarchy. I do not think Pseudo-Dionysius is correct in his taxonomy, but the underlying principle bears reflection.  Adler notes: “The descending order of hierarchies…consists in grades of creaturely perfect…The perfection referred to is not moral, but metaphysical—a perfection in the mode of being.”[3] This is the Great Chain of Being, or one series of links in it, anyway.

This chain marks a intellectual mode of perfection. The fewer the ideas, the higher up.  This is simplicity in its classical sense.  A Seraph, for example, has fewer ideas than a malak, but he comprehends more in those fewer ideas. Is this Chain of Being really necessary?  Aquinas thinks so.  There would be a gap in reality without them. But can the Great Chain of Being survive modernity’s attacks on it, particularly in the fine book by Arthur Lovejoy?[4] Lovejoy’s actual, if not intended, target is Leibniz, not Aquinas.

When the Great Tradition speaks of a chain of being, it does not have something like arithmetical sequences in mind. Each links differs in kind, not in degree.[5] Moreover, each angel differs with the next by species, assuming, of course, that one accepts Thomas’s account of the angels.

Hell’s Angels

This is where Scripture is largely silent.  We know Satan fell.  We just do not know when. We know it was before man’s fall but after the “Everything is good” pronouncement. Angels, like Adam, were created mutable. If angels were created perfect, then some could not have fallen for obvious reasons. As best as we can tell, the angels that fell, in choosing evil instead of good, did so in the second moment of their existence. Their wills were then locked in place. The angels who obeyed were confirmed in grace.

The Substance of Angels

If a substance is a conjunction of form and matter, and angels are immaterial, then either all their forms are the same, and hence all angels are the same angel, or they must differ in some other way.  They do so by species. Each angel is its own species.[6] Each angelic species is a conjunction of form and its individual act of existence.

That angels interact with physical matter is clear.  How they do so is not as clear.  Since they are not physical, they cannot do so physically (except when they assume bodies). It does so by means of spiritual power. An angel “occupies its place intensively by surrounding it with its power.”[7] This might make more sense if we contrast it with humans.  When a man fills a place, he does so extensively, by physically occupying that place.  Not so with angels.

An angelic mind is purely intellectual.  It does not know discursively. When a man knows something, he does so by forming concepts and judgments.  Angels know with one act of intuition, but not all angels have the same knowledge. They know by virtue of infused knowledge.

Conclusion

Theologians and biblical scholars will wince at some of Adler’s conclusions. His philosophical reticence to affirm theological truths is annoying at times.  On the other hand, his analysis is on point and he avoids getting off topic. For those who read the Great Books, this is required reading.


[1] Mortimer Adler, The Angels and Us, (New York: MacMillan, 1982), 6.

[2] Adler, Ibid, 12.

[3] Ibid, 45.

[4] Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being, (Cambridge: Harvard, 1971).

[5] Adler, The Angels, 62. This also eliminates any fear of pantheism between God and man.

[6] Ibid, 126.

[7] Ibid, 130.

A Syntopicon vol 1

Adler, Mortimer. The Great Ideas: A Syntopicon vol. 1.

I didn’t consider myself educated until I started working through this book. The program is simple: one can either read straight through multiple Great Books, and/or read through the entries in the syntopicon, gain a working understanding of the issue, and then follow up the passages at the end of the chapter. (I’ll illustrate later). Syntopical reading at its basic level is reading simultaneous books/passages about a single topic. If we go deeper, syntopical reading means interacting with what an author said about previous authors on the same topic.

The syntopical approach is what separates this volume from other anthologies. (Anthologies are about as valuable as school textbooks.)

Being, an example

Let’s take the most important philosophical concept in Western history: being. I’ll provide some brief highlights from the text and then post pictures of the reference system.

  1. With the exception of few other terms, only being is common to all kinds of things (127).
  2. A contingent being is one whose essence can be divorced from existence; a necessary being is one whose essence is identical to existence (129).
  3. Since being itself is that whereby a thing is, being belongs primarily to God and to all other things according to modes of derivation or participation.

Das Kapital (Karl Marx)

If Marx had decided to end this volume after chapter 2, he would have given us a relatively interesting philosophical analysis of labour.  It would have been completely wrong, of course. Part of the book is his labour theory of value and several theorems deduced from it.  The rest of the book is a scare tactic on how bad industry is. Whenever argument is lacking, in come the sob stories.

We should perhaps cut off one argument at the pass. You will hear some say that Marx anticipated problems in today’s marketplace.  He did no such thing.  When Marx uses terms like alienation, he means something entirely different than why the minimum wage advocate means today.

This review will focus mainly on the first part of the book.  The reason is simple: it is the heart of his argument and if it is wrong, it really doesn’t matter what he gets right.

Chapter 1: Commodities

A commodity is a thing outside of us that satisfies our wants.

“The utility of a thing is its use-value,” and this is independent of the labor that goes into it.  Consumption of a product actualizes the use-value.

A thing’s exchange-value must be equal to another commodity.  (Marx also says that exchange value is a mode of a thing’s existence.  It is a “phenomenal” form, “contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.” For someone who hated metaphysics, Marx uses many metaphysical concepts).

Marx then moves to the heart of his system, and indeed, the most fatal problem to it.  Since a thing’s exchange-value is equal to another thing’s exchange-value, how do we make this work? In other words, how do I really know that x weight of corn = y weight of iron?  Marx sees this problem, so he introduces a third term: each entity must be reducible to this third term.

What is this “something?”  Marx tries really hard to find it.  He notes that “exchange-value” is just an abstraction, and since any abstraction is as good as any other, we can do away with that.  What seems to be left is “labor.”  In language reminiscent of Renaissance alchemy, Marx notes that the “material thing is put out of sight.”

Let’s summarize the problem: there is a common substance (metaphysics-language again!) but it keeps manifesting itself as “exchange-value.”

Let’s go back to use-value.  Marx says a thing is valuable “only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it.” The only way we can measure this value is by the quantity of labor. I don’t think Marx is saying that the hours spent making a watch determine how much we can sell it for.  He says “the total labor power of society,” the sum total of the values, “counts here as one homogenous mass of human labor.”

That does nothing to help me find out how much to sell my watch.  Marx’s answer isn’t much different from the earlier one: we take the average sample.

Conclusion: “The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labor time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other.”  As Sir Roger Scruton remarked in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands, Marx isn’t dealing with empirical data but with some occult entity embedded in the exchange. There is always a hidden essence in the exchange.  Whereas real economists would focus on how supply and demand influence pricing, Marx thought that irrelevant since it said nothing about the hidden essence.

In earlier metaphysics, either Christian or Neo Platonist, there was a cycle of exitus and redditus, of exit and return.  Imagine a circle with God (or Being or Good) at the top and a movement downwards along the circle.  That is the exitus.  There is then a return movement to the top, the redditus.  Marx does the same thing with currency and commodity.  We begin with C, Commodity.  It is exchanged for Money, M, and that money is then used to purchase another Commodity, giving us:

C → M → C

Marx takes it a step further: there are antagonisms within these oppositions.  Even more so, the commodity actually changes into the form of money.  This is alchemy. This transformation is itself an alienation (chapter 3, sect. 2).  

In the next chapter, Marx explains how this transformation completes the cycle.  We now move to M → C → M.  After further transmutations, Marx concludes that this is the general formula of capital.  All of this is very interesting, but the reader might be asking: what does this have to do with how much something should cost?  That’s the problem with Marxist economics: facts are subservient to theory.  Marx is always considering the matter in the abstract.  That’s completely backwards.

We’ll refute this in detail at the end.  It is worthwhile, in the meantime, to explain some of his other concepts:

Labour power: the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities in a human being when he produces value.  Its value is specifically determined by labour time.  If the owner sells the product at a profit, the surplus doesn’t go back to the labourer.  He is thus alienated from his labour.

The rest of the book is a collection of sob stories.  Now to the refutation:

First, as Bohm-Bawerk notes, Marx rests upon Aristotle’s theory of equality in exchange.  Aristotle said that goods of equal value are traded in an exchange.  Marx agrees but puts labor as one of the terms.  But if that’s true, then there is no reason to even exchange anything.  Nothing would disturb the equilibrium (Bohm-Bawerk 2007:70).

Further, Bohm-Bawerk continues, some goods that are exchanged do not involve any labor time: such as the soil, wood in trees, water power, coal beds, stone quarries, petroleum reserves, mineral waters, gold mines, etc.” 

There are even more damaging criticisms of the labour theory.  Labor isn’t homogenous, so how can it serve as a uniform medium of exchange?  Furthermore, Marx thinks that the businesses that are labour-intensive are the most profitable (which he has to say, since there has to be an active agent putting his labour into the product).  This means that the more machinery one employs, the less profit there will be.  Experience tells us the complete opposite.

Moreover, Marx sees all credit systems as the fat cat capitalist oppressing the poor borrower.  He never imagines a situation where the creditor lends to the government.

Marx has no concept of time-preference, where he sees production only as the gratification of immediate selfish needs.

Throughout his writings Marx says that the worker is on the side of society, and the interests of capitalists is against the interests of society, yet it is undeniable that capitalists produce technology (medicine, scientific advancements, etc) that benefit society.

It is true that there were many abuses in the Industrial Revolution.  We can be grateful for child-labour laws and the like.  None of that, however, requires a Marxist outlook on life.

Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen v. 2007. Karl Marx and the Close of His System. Auburn: Mises Institute.

Reading Plan for 2022

I don’t do New Years Resolutions. I simply pick up where I left off the day before. Some of these books, however, have been on my shelf for a while, or I have been slowly working through them.

Adler, Mortimer. The Great Ideas. This is the syntopical intro to his Great Books Series. Working through these volumes will make you educated in the traditional sense. Debates over whether homeschooling or classical education are really meaningless if you aren’t familiar with these issues.

Fielding, Henry. Tom Jones.

Wodehouse, PG. The Best of Wodehouse.

Orwell, George. Essays.

Waugh, Evelyn. Decline and Fall.

Kline, Meredith. Kingdom Prologue.

The following are from the Great Books.

Volume 2 of Aristotle.

Chaucer

Plutarch

Mill

On the Nature of Things (Lucretius)

Lucretius. On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura). trans. Anthony Esolen. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. 

Modern atheism has fallen on hard times.  No atheist today can probably play on the level of Lucretius, either in intellect or literary skill (tips fedora).  Lucretius’s power of communication and imagination is sheer genius.  His science is laughably bad, though to be fair he couldn’t have known any better.

Esolen’s translation is a delight.  He is aware of the pacing and rhythm and keeps the English close to the original.  He also provides outlines of each book. 

Book 1.

Nature is matter + the void.  

He holds to the eternality of matter or at least of time: “For infinite time has gone and the lapse of days must have eaten up all things which are of mortal body.”  His point is that nature dissolves everything.  His reasoning for it is atrocious.  If infinite time has indeed gone by, then there must have been an infinite number of days before today, in which case we would never get to today.

He links his doctrine of motion with an ever-present void in all things.  Nature, therefore, is a combination of bodies and void. While he believes matter is dissolved, he doesn’t believe it is annihilated.  It returns to a “first-beginning” of solid singleness.

Side note:  matter comes from materia, which comes from mater, mother.  Of course, etymological arguments are usually worse than useless, but this is fascinating. It sees matter as the unformed potential of all things.  Matter in his ontology functions like a mother, who gives birth.

Book 2

Lucretius summarizes his previous metaphysical musings. His problem is in finding a way that matter can produce movement without some supervening cause (lines 62ff). As atoms travel through the void, they bump into each other and these bumps move into the opposition direction.  That appears to be true, but it doesn’t explain why they started to move.

He defines velocity as the particles’ slowing down in the void as a result of “getting entangled” with air waves.  Again, Lucretius comes very close to anticipating modern science, but he almost always gets it wrong.  Imagine, he almost discovered quantum entanglement!

While Lucretius doesn’t explicitly attack the concept of aether, the idea is there.  He says the sun (or light) is slowed down as it moves by the “atoms.”  The important point is that it doesn’t move in a vacuum (lines 151ff).

In a famous passage Lucretius says there is an infinite number of atoms which exist in a number of finite shapes or molds (525-529).  

Book 3

Book 3 deals with the soul.  The soul is mortal. It is conjoined with physical particles and when the particles die, the soul dies.  Lucretius is not a strict materialist on this point, though, as he emphatically asserts the existence of the mind.  He is what later writers would call a “property dualist.” Mind isn’t the same thing as matter, yet it supervenes and depends on matter.

Unfortunately, Lucretius’s target is Plato’s doctrine of reincarnation.  He ridicules it and rightly so, but as he seemed to be unaware of biblical revelation, he doesn’t deal with stronger arguments for the immateriality of the soul.  That’s a shame, too, because he seemed to anticipate the same criticisms made of Descartes. The “tight conjoining” of body and soul is very close to Hebraic thought.  

By the time we get to books five and six, Lucretius’s argument had come upon hard times.  Whenever a perplexing issue arises, he responds with “the atoms did it.”  That’s the danger in reductionist philosophies. After you have reduced everything, you don’t have much left to talk about.

Conclusion

It’s easy to make fun of Lucretius’s argument.  From a scientific point of view it is complete nonsense.  We have to give him some credit, though.  Unlike some Greek thinkers, Lucretius took nature seriously.  He investigated the particulars of nature rather than forcing science into some deductive grid.

And while Lucretius was an atheist, his atheism was preferable to Mediterranean polytheism. Pagan mythologies often came close to magic sex religions.  Lucretius was wise to choose reason instead.  For example, “Their ignorance of causes makes them yield/All power and rule to those divinities./These rational causes they cannot discern/So they suppose it’s all the will of the gods” (VI: 55ff).

The non-uniqueness of classical education

I am not attacking classical education. I just don’t think it is all that special. Let’s do a thought experiment. What is it about reading Ovid that makes classical education superior? And don’t say Latin. You can learn that anywhere.

I am going to take a topic from the Great Books Series. I am then going to follow the references. The point that Mortimer Adler makes is that the Great Books (which are far from perfect) routinely generate questions about the great topics (e.g., justice, education, God, etc). My point is that such an independent education can do just as much or more as a Classical education.

Step one: read the section on education. It’s a summary of the Great Tradition.
Step 2: Read Adler’s Outline.
This is an analytical reference sheet. The sub topic is “The Ideal of an education man.” The following are the passages from the authors Adler mentions. Not all authors are good. These are just the ones I had nearby.
John Stuart Mill: general idea: the educated man reflects upon his own experiences in light of the tradition and customs.
Boswell on Johnson. Key point: the desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind (echoing Aristotle).

To be fair, there isn’t anything profound about these, but if you spend a week working through the references, it starts to add up. And you have a curriculum of sorts ready. This isn’t to attack Classical Greece and Rome. I just don’t see the immediate cash value of reading about incest in Ovid.