Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Winter 2018 - Early Spring 2019 --- Great Books Reading Schedule

 Date        Reading

 4 Dec..  Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 4

11 Dec.  Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 5

18 Dec.  Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 6

25 Dec.  No Meeting

 1 Jan.    No Meeting

 8 Jan.    Melville, Moby Dick, Etymology, Extracts, Chap. 1-9

15 Jan.   Moby Dick, Chapters 10-22

22 Jan.   Moby Dick, Chapters 23-35

29 Jan.   Moby Dick, Chapters 36-44

 5 Feb.   Moby Dick, Chapters 45-54

12 Feb.  Moby Dick, Chapters 55-67

19 Feb.  Moby Dick, Chapters 68-81

26 Feb.  Moby Dick, Chapters 82-90

 5 Mar.  Moby Dick, Chapters 91-98

12 Mar. Moby Dick, Chapters 99-111

19 Mar. Moby Dick, Chapters 112-128

26 Mar. Moby Dick, Chapters 129-135, Epilogue

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fall 2018 - Great Books Reading Schedule

 Date       Reading
 4 Sept.   Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Book 1
11 Sept.   Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2
18 Sept.   Nicomachean Ethics, Book 3
25 Sept.   Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4
 2 Oct.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 5
 9 Oct.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 6
16 Oct.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 7
23 Oct.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 8
30 Oct.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 9
 6 Nov.    Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10
13 Nov.    Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 1
20 Nov.    Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 2
27 Nov.    Lucretius, On the Nature of Things - Book 3

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ron Perry Has Moved On

He started the Nashville Great Books Reading Group 32 years ago, and never in that time did he lose respect or enthusiasm for ordinary people in the pursuit of wisdom, truth and virtue.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Summer & Fall 2018 Great Books Reading Schedule

Date        Reading     

5 Jun    Aristophanes, Birds
12 Jun Schopenhauer, 3 Essays: On Style, On Some Forms of
-----        On the Comparative Place of Interest and Beauty in Works                                            of Art
19 Jun William James, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings
26 Jun Joyce, The Dead
3 Jul William James, What Makes A Life Significant?
10 Jul José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses,
              Chapters 1–5
17 Jul The Revolt of the Masses, Chapters 6–10
24 Jul The Revolt of the Masses, Chapters 11–14.4 
31 Jul The Revolt of the Masses, Chapters 14.5–15
7 Aug Bible, Esther
14 Aug Euripides, The Bacchae
21 Aug Thomas Mann, Death in Venice, Chapters 1–3
28 Aug Death in Venice, Chapters 4–5


Thursday, March 01, 2018

Reading Schedule - Spring 2018

   Dostoevsky -  Crime and Punishment

 6 March  – Crime and Punishment, Part 1, Chapters 1-3

13 March – Crime and Punishment, Part 1, Chapters 4-7

20 March – Crime and Punishment, Part 2, Chapters 1-4

27 March – Crime and Punishment, Part 2, Chapters 5-7

 3 April  –   Crime and Punishment, Part 3, Chapters 1-3

10 April –   Crime and Punishment, Part 3, Chapters 4-6

17 April –  Crime and Punishment, Part 4, Chapters 1-3

24 April –  Crime and Punishment, Part 4, Chapters 4-6

  1 May –   Crime and Punishment, Part 5, Chapters 1-3

  8 May –   Crime and Punishment, Part 5, Chapters 4-5

15 May –   Crime and Punishment, Part 6, Chapters 1-4

22 May –  Crime and Punishment, Part 6, Chapters 5-8

29 May –  Crime and Punishment, Epilogue

Friday, January 19, 2018

SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels I (A Voyage to Lilliput)

What makes a human being human?  Normally this is a question for philosophers and biologists.  But in this case Jonathan Swift uses literature to highlight qualities, both good and bad, that make us human.  He has high hopes for the human race, and high standards too.  Gulliver (Swift) expresses his disillusionment in a letter to his cousin Sympson: “I cannot learn that my Book hath produced one single Effect according to mine Intentions…”  And what were those intentions?  “When Party and Faction are extinguished; Judges learned and upright… young Nobility’s Education entirely changed; Physicians banished; Females abound in Virtue… when Wit, Merit and Learning are rewarded…”  Alas, the human race falls far short of Swift’s expectations.  He points out our human follies and shows us the path to human virtue through the travels of Lemuel Gulliver.  The book is part travelogue, part adventure story, part philosophical musing.  It’s a clever literary device but how is Swift able to convert a travelogue into a meditation on human nature?  As a young man Gulliver became a doctor but says when “my business began to fail” he “determined to go again to Sea.”  Being a doctor on a ship gave Gulliver lots of free time and he says “My hours of leisure I spent reading the best Authors, ancient and modern; being always provided with a good Number of Books.”  So far, so good.  Studying, reading and writing books, building ships and going to sea are all human activities.  The trouble begins when Gulliver’s ship sinks in a storm and he’s washed up ashore in an unknown land.  When he regains consciousness he feels something moving across his chest and he “perceived it to be a human Creature not six inches high, with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands, and a Quiver at his Back.”  Here’s a question.  Can a “Creature not six inches high” be human?  Gulliver thought so.  Why?  The “Creature” looked human.  And besides, creatures such as bugs and birds and chipmunks don’t have bows and arrows and quivers on their backs.  This particular creature looks human but happens to only be six inches tall.  As creatures go, that’s more the size of a bug or a bird or a chipmunk than the size of a human being.  How tall does someone have to be in order to be human?  Gulliver determines even at six inches this creature is human.  What if the creature was just one inch, or microscopic?  Is there a downward limit to the size of humans?  Let’s turn Swift’s proposition around and look at it from the other end.  Gulliver was over 10 times the size as these Lilliputians.  How would we feel if we encountered creatures who were 50 or 60 feet tall?  Probably much as the Lilliputians felt when they said “whether there are other Kingdoms and States in the World, inhabited by human Creatures as large as your self, our Philosophers are in much Doubt; and would rather conjecture that you dropt from the Moon…” 

Gulliver did not, in fact, drop from the moon.  But according to Lilliputian experience they had never encountered a creature like Gulliver before, so dropping from the moon is as good an explanation as any.  From our perspective, no one has ever seen a 50 or 60 foot tall creatures except in science fiction movies.  If we did encounter a creature so big and so powerful, how should we respond?  We could turn to science fiction movies to get a popular answer.  The classic case would be “King Kong” (1933).  In “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951) the earth was invaded by a powerful force.  In both cases earthlings acted aggressively to defend ourselves against hostile forces.  In the movie “Independence Day” (1996) the earth was also invaded by powerful forces.  This time we tried the opposite approach.  Earthlings celebrated and held peace parties on the tops of tall buildings.  Then they got unceremoniously obliterated by alien creatures who had come to scavenge the earth and then move on to their next conquest.  So much for peaceful intentions.  Humans, like Lilliputians, would probably be very cautious if confronted with a strong alien force.  And we would be right to do so.  In that sense, Swift was way ahead of his time and gives us a preview of his next meditation, Gulliver’s “Voyage to Brobdingnag.”

Saturday, December 30, 2017

PLATO: Phaedrus

Readers of Plato should feel right at home in this dialog.  Socrates is featured in many of Plato’s writings and this one is no different.  Usually Socrates is doing the talking and this one is no different.  He’s usually talking to a young man or a group of young men.  This one is no different either.  Phaedrus is a young man who’s just heard an impressive speech by an orator named Lysias and Phaedrus says the speech “is one of your sort, for the theme which occupied us was love.”  Of course this is exactly one of Socrates’ “sort” because talking about that kind of theme is what he does all the time.  It’s his passion to talk about love and justice and knowledge and many other topics.  But they all seem to revolve around a primary theme, and Socrates returns to this theme time and again throughout the many dialogs by Plato.  We’ll let Socrates speak for himself: “I have certainly not time for this; shall I tell you why?  I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; and I should be absurd indeed if while I am still in ignorance of myself I should be curious about that which is not my business… I want to know not about this, but about myself.”  Socrates can talk about love but his first theme is always Delphian: know thyself.  It has to be personal.  The other theme is knowledge, a certain kind of knowledge.  Now we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and talk about love.  Socrates admits that “I am a lover of knowledge, and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, not the trees, or the country.”  In Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It” the Duke is forced to retire to the Forest of Arden and says, “this our life, exempt from public haunt, Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.”  This may satisfy the Duke but it’s not for Socrates.  He likes talking to, and learning from, other men and women.  For Socrates wisdom does not come spontaneously from contemplating trees and brooks and stones.  It comes from interacting with other people.  It comes from exploring perennial human themes such as love and knowledge and justice through back-and-forth dialog.  Animals (and Dukes) may learn all they need to know from observing things like trees and brooks and stones but wisdom lovers need teachers.  Phaedrus thinks he has found a good teacher in Lysias.  Socrates says Lysias “is a master of his art, and I am an untaught man.”  But Socrates is a master of irony.  What he really means to say is, Lysias doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  This is another major theme.  According to Socrates most people don’t know what they’re talking about.   He claims that “all good counsel begins in the same way; a man should know what he is talking about.”  But it has been Socrates’ experience that the speaker usually doesn’t really know what even relatively simple things are; things like love or knowledge or justice.  It turns out that these things are not as simple as most people think.  We may think we know what love is, what knowledge is, or justice.  Until we talk to Socrates.  Then we find out we don’t know as much as we thought.  Here was Socrates’ point to Phaedrus: neither does Lysias.  Lysias may in fact be a good speaker.  That doesn’t mean he’s a good man, much less able to give good advice when it comes to a topic like love.  Socrates wants Phaedrus (and later, readers of Plato’s dialogs) to be able to think for themselves.  He poses a question: “What is good and what is bad, Phaedrus?  Do we need someone to teach us these things?”  That’s a good question.  Do we need someone to teach us what good is and what evil is?  Socrates says, in effect, maybe.  It depends on who the teacher is.  We need a teacher who believes, as Socrates does, that “the soul is immortal.”  Once we find that kind of teacher, we need to learn how to protect our souls from hostile influences (such as Lysias).  Socrates ends this dialog with a prayer: “Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one.  May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as none but the temperate can carry.”  And may we all find good teachers.