Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Hippocrates Says That We Should Both Put Our Hats On

Another week, another 110 pages or so of classic literature. I can scarcely believe how quickly this feature comes around each week and how much I look forward to Tuesdays and our little conversations.

I really missed my dose of Homer this week, if just because it was normally the first thing I read so finishing it and other other thing felt like significant progress was made early on, whereas this week I lagged behind and only just squeaked in with the requisite readings.


Points to anyone that guesses the inevitable pun for this week before reading further. For what it's worth, I'm sorry, but it was always going to happen.

This Week:


Elements by Euclid
Book IV

Favourite proposition: 15

Still on board, more or less, although I struggle to see why I might want to use some of this stuff, which is a bit of a departure from the familiar old geometry lessons of last week. Drawing circles inside things just doesn't seem that useful to me. I'm still really worried that this is the easy stuff and that once the great man really starts stretching I'm going to be left completely in the dark. Maybe I should make some kind of poster to try and keep it all straight. That'd probably be the sort of thing the #MTBoS guys would think was a good idea if they still taught Euclid.

Of Love by Francis Bacon

Bacon knocks it out of the park! I guess it's one advantage of not having to support your statements with any evidence that you can just make them and then move right on to the next one, but he really crams some good stuff into just two pages, doesn't he? Love isn't really like they say in the movies. No-one obsessed with love ever did anything great. Mooning over someone makes you look and feel like a idiot. It's better to show a little love to everyone than to concentrate it on one or a few people...

I'm not sure that I should take a man who famously mooned after a girl who married someone else and who disowned his wife for her romantic liaisons with another man as my prime authority on love, but Bacon makes some compelling points. I'm pretty sure that his rule doesn't work for everyone, but I think there's a grain of truth there that worrying overmuch about our romantic interests (or anything else, for that matter) doesn't contribute to the sum total of good in the world when there are plenty of things that we could do that would. I guess that's easy for someone in a committed relationship to say, but that idea resonates with me.

Some good quotes to add to the collection in here too. I think the most important are the closing lines "Nuptial love maketh mankind; friendly love perfecteth it; but wanton love corrupteth, and embaseth it", but there's a few other corkers in there as well. The bit where he takes a poke at military men for their propensity to drink came completely out of left-field and had me giggling on the bus. Take that, Marcus Antonius!

A note on Bacon's gratuitous Latin. I took a punt on guessing the meaning of "Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus" before I looked it up, and my attempt of "The great enact change that actors merely emulate" wasn't even close! Who would have thought that someone with no Latin could get it so wrong?



We open on a nice argument between man and wife in which the word slut comes up within the first few lines, so you know it's going to be a good one. Poor Sganarelle had no idea what he had coming to him when he proudly declared that "five or six strokes of a cudgel between people who love each other, only brighten the affections"

It all feels very comedia dell'arte. Seriously, guys, this is comedy Gold. Pretend to be a doctor, natter in Latin, seduce the nurse, save the day, have a great monologue. If you didn't get the chance to read this last week do yourself a favour and check it out. 


This is a perfectly serviceable constitutional document, methinks. I like how the authors put some much efforts into ensuring the separation of powers, but really I think it's the idea of a country governed by a constitution that's more exciting and historically important than the document itself.

The Wing Wing in me was tickled when I got to the Mr. Willis of Ohio bit, though. You know the one. I'd link you on YouTube but amazingly that particular scene does't seem to feature except in really dodgy versions of the whole episode.

Discourse on Method by René Descartes

It's weird, coming at this one, something that I really have no grounding in. I can read Descartes fine, but actually translating what he's saying into the context of his time and the relevance to modern philosophy is hard for me because I have neither a grounding in modern philosophy nor in 17th-century French culture.

Basically, Descartes realised that many of the things that he'd learnt in school were not true, and that the only way of thinking that really made sense to him wasn't that of the philosophers or mystics of his time but the logical steps of the mathematicians, so he threw away everything that he knew and started building up his knowledge again using only logical reasoning and the one thing he felt that he knew for sure, that he could think and therefore had some being, even if his senses deceived him. 

This is a pretty exciting moment, as this is basically the birth of the scientific method, or at least something that begins to look a little bit like it. Descartes hasn't quite stumbled upon proposing and testing hypotheses, but he's getting there. There's some steps missing, and I know enough history to know that he never made them and instead veered off track, but it's still nice to see.

Anyways, this whole idea of breaking down your worldview and rebuilding it logially seems pretty admirable to me, but unfortunately he's trapped in a little bubble of still not trusting his senses, and decides that if his senses deceive him of the reality of things, this must be because his senses are flawed, and thus that perfect senses must exist. That since he realised he wasn't perfect there must be perfection to know the difference, and therefore posits the existence of a perfect God. I see the need for some kind of surety in the senses in order to further the method, but I'm not convinced that this is the best way to go about it, but I can see why this might be the first recourse of a Catholic in the17th century. At least his leaps make more sense to me than Platos, but it all feels a little like putting Descartes before the horse. Yes, it had to happen. #punachieved

The rest of the book after book IV isn't that exciting. Descartes gives a big list of things he's 'proved' but doesn't feel like giving the rationale for, which smacks of saying "Would I lie to you? I've got great logic, everyone says I've got the best logic." He then gives a detailed description of how the circulatory system works, and claims that he knows it because of his method but I have to wonder if he didn't just read William Harvey and get a little excited. Then he apologises for not writing in Latin and asks for funding for his research. Classic philosophy.

I think this one is important and have added it to my personal canon, on the proviso that when we get around to reading Principles of Philosophy I don't decide that it does a better job of explaining this important step in human thought. I doubt that we'll need both.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

I sure Hugo is saying some interesting things about the nature of fate or the importance of communication or how following the honourable path is the right thing to do regardless of the consequences here, but I'm a bit distracted by the shots that have been fired. BAM! 

Monsieur le Maire stretches his judicial muscles and inspector Javert is not a happy boy about it, is he? It could get really awkward if this little disagreement somehow spun out of control into a long-running epic vendetta with many lives and the fate of a nation in the balance, wouldn't it? I wouldn't know where to put my face if something like that were to go down. 

The Stats

This week we reached 100 pages of 'Natural Sciences' texts, which is made up almost exclusively of the Elements, but includes a little Eva Curie as well. Sometimes it's hard to categorise works, but I think it's fair to say that of the 4 categories we're using here, the mathsy/sciencey ones are going to be the hardest work from a reading point of view, so it's probably worth celebrating the small milestones anyway.

Pages last week: 115
Pages so far: 1462

Week XXIV:

It's a relatively light week of prescribed reading this time around, as good old Doctor J's syllabus is covering a bunch of GBB stuff that I'm not feeling particularly interested in, so that gives us plenty of room to play with as far as our ongoing non-listed readings go. We also pick up another long-term reading project in the form of the Confessions of St. Augustine, which I am totally pumped for, if only because Blaugust and Augustine just seem to go so nicely hand-in-hand.

Elements by Euclid
#gbww  #mathematics #greek
Book V (18 pages)

Another relatively short reading from Euclid this week, but as last week showed us, shorter doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to take any less time to read. Let us hope that whatever the theme for this week is (I haven't skipped ahead to check yet) the secrets of the Elements are a little more obviously useful this time around.

Of the Education of Children by Michel de Montaigne
#new #gbww #philosophy #french #short
(17 pages)

We continue flip-flopping between Bacon and Montaigne, and this week it's time to return to the Frenchman. I kind of wish that we were dealing with the musings of each on the same topic in consectutive weeks, as the approach seems a little random, but since I assume there's a plan and I'd hate to try to keep track of which ones we've already read myself, I guess we'll keep at it. This is a longer reading from Montaigne than we've managed before, but I'm feeling good about him so far and am confident that we can cope.


Confessions of Augustine of Hippo
#new #gbww #autobiography #latin
Books I-III (24 pages)

This one's notable because it's probably the first autobiography ever written in the West, coming to us as it does from about 400 AD. I'm not quite sure what to expect from the good Doctor, except to say that it'll probably get a little preachy in parts, as theologians are want to do, but I've heard that the Confessions is actually a pretty good read, so I guess we'll put that to the test. 

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Book Six (18 pages) 

The gauntlet was thrown down in the last reading, let's see if the sparks continue to fly in book six. I'm hopeful, as it's entitled 'Javert', which seems like a promising portent indeed. I don't know if I've mentioned yet, but the man is my favourite.


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
#new #not_gbww #fiction #english
Chapters 6-10 (30 pages)

After leaving him to stew in the back of our brains (or in my case, the bottom of my bag) for a week, it's time to get through a big wodge of Huxley this time around. I think the world-building is pretty much done, so let's hope that we're onto the story proper this time.

Pick something and read along, I dare you. It might even be fun!

Blaugust writing prompts:
1) What have you always meant to read, but never gotten around to?
2) Do you have a favourite pop-science text, something that makes a hard subject come alive for you? 
3) Don't have time to read? How have you been filling your downtime?

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