Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

GREAT BOOKS PREVIEW: Adult First Series, Volume One (Society)

Does a fish know it’s wet? How could it know? In order to know if it’s wet it would have to also know what “not-wet” (or dry) is. The fish has never known anything but water. The same goes for human beings. We live in society. We’ve never known anything else. Even hermits once had family and friends. So how can we properly evaluate what it would be like to live outside of society? We’d be like a fish trying to determine what it would be like to live on dry land. The Great Books series begins with the simple theme that human beings are social creatures. All Great Books authors agree on that point. But it comes as no surprise that there’s very little else they agree on. They all have a unique perspective about what it means to be a social creature. That’s why they’re in the Great Books set. The first volume contains nine different readings with nine different opinions about society. Here they are, in order: CHEKHOV views society as an economic system that affects all our human relationships. Why are people generally such a nuisance to each other? It’s such a terrible waste of money. Without the hate and malice folks could get a lot of profit out of each other. ARISTOTLE believes human society is the best arrangement for living the good life. The end of politics (society) is the good for man... good seems to be self-sufficient. However, we define self-sufficient not by reference to the “self” alone. We do not mean a man who lives his life in isolation, but a man who also lives with parents, children, a wife, and friends and fellow citizens generally, since man is by nature a social and political being. PLATO (SOCRATES) uses society to explore human wisdom. Perhaps someone may say, “Would it not be possible for you to live in exile, Socrates, if you were silent and kept quiet?”… To do so would be to disobey God… I examine myself and others, the unexamined life is not worth living. CONRAD shows what life would be like if we didn’t live in civilized societies. And (England) also, said Marlow suddenly, has been one of the dark places of the earth… I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago… We live in the flicker… but darkness was here yesterday… Sand-banks, marshes, forests, savages; precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in the wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay. Cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death… they must have been dying like flies here… They were men enough to face the darkness. KANT says society helps develop our conscience. Vices bring their own punishments. MARX tries to prove that society is man-made from natural materials and therefore we have complete control over the kind of society we build. The object of labor is the objectification of man’s species-life; for he no longer reproduces himself merely intellectually, as in consciousness, but actively and in a real sense, and he sees his own reflection in a world which he has constructed. GENESIS traces society back to its origins beginning with one family in Adam and Eve and developing further into distinct tribes and nations. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. FREUD examines the impact of civilized society on human psychology. The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization… The development of civilization imposes restrictions on it and justice demands that no one shall escape those restrictions… The urge for freedom, therefore, is directed against particular forms and demands of civilization or against civilization altogether. ROUSSEAU thinks society is the problem, not the solution. Man was/is born free and everywhere is in chains. Which one is right? Who knows? That’s why we have Great Books discussions; we have to decide for ourselves.


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