If you have a new account but are having problems posting or verifying your account, please email us on [email protected] for help. Thanks :)

The Great Books Of The Western World



  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished with Calvin.

    Disappointed that there wasn't more about what he is best known for, endorsement of the doctrine of pre-destination, but I guess it was the nature of the particular selection of his writings that I picked. It was edited by a fiction writer, and I feel like the focus was more on presenting a rounded picture of Calvin as a human being than on necessarily picking out his theology or ideas in large writ.

    In fairness he does come across as a more 'likeable' and nuanced figure than the secondary school history lesson of him.

    An interesting detail that his reading of the Lord's prayer requires believers to pray for everyone, not just 'the saved', which would seem at odds, on the face of it, with the notion of pre-destination / the elect.

    The other thing that stuck out to me was a discussion he had regarding the sin of bearing false witness. It was oddly topical, he covers calumny and the generally 'evil' nature of lying and smearing people, and indeed listening to that kind of talk. Maybe Calvin was ahead of the game in this respect, and indeed I have to say I never even thought of how this commandment kind of has a new relevance in the age of social media bull****. What are Twitter witch-hunts - where people knowingly embark on them with little or no hard information, or by means of spinning the worst possible interpretation of what has been said or done - and online clickbait articles if not a violation of this commandment?

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I find myself with a few different balls in the air now...

    - Almost finished Douglas Murray's THE MADNESS OF CROWDS on audiobook. Recommend, if you are interested in a critique of intersectionality and "woke" culture. Douglas doesn't always close off his arguments in an airtight fashion, this is more opinion piece / editorial than anything else, it's like a Sunday Times article stretched into a book. But I guess I think he's right about some of the topics discussed far more than he is wrong.

    - Stalled a bit on Stephen King's THE STAND audiobook. It was a bit of escapism on my drive home but... Such a long audiobook ... Another 40 hours left. I've lost interest a little.

    - Reading Rod Dreher's THE BENEDICT OPTION and expect to blitz through it in fairly short order.

    - Just starting Michel de Montaigne's ESSAYS. Been looking forward to this immensely, can't wait.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still listening to King's THE STAND.

    King is a frustrating author. Capable of the most soaring prose and almost transcendent story arcs and high concept.... But also with a puerile fascination with, frankly, the crude. Farts, bodily fluids, and whatnot. I used to think this was just King's way of injecting 'everyday horror' into his horror, a sort of deliberate splatterpunk element, what is called in movies "body shock" or "body horror" (Think John Carpenter's work). But as I get older, I think I read some of his stuff in this vein and I just find that it's a slightly unsettling interest of his which readers over the years have just put up with, along with all the genius.

    De Montaigne is fantastic. Reading an essay now on the education of children.

    There is a saying in grappling / wrestling, that "conditioning is the best hold", and a similar one "fatigue makes cowards of us all". The notion is that whatever your mental intentions and set of mind, if you are tired enough then you will give in. And so the importance of conditioning and hardening the body so that the mind is not compromised early and the will actually has a chance to persevere. De Montaigne gets this, 100%. He warns that many people who are thought to be spiritually and morally strong are in fact mainly the beneficiaries of having 'hard skin' and 'strong bones'.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I have given in and abandoned by Audible listen of THE STAND, which some 30+ odd hours left.

    There's a pregnant character, Frannie Goldsmith, and as I was listening to the book yesterday King started going off on a tangent about how aroused she got when her partner, Stuart, was in the vicinity. I've mentioned before the slightly uncomfortable focus that King has on all matters scatological and biological, but I forgot to mention that, from time to time, he also dates really badly when it comes to the way he writes about young women and sex.

    I never read IT ... But ... ahem ...

    I thought to myself "THE STAND is a classic, but reading it once was enough, why am I ploughing all these hours into a re-listen that I'm not even enjoying that much now".

    So, goodbye THE STAND.

    And hello a BBC adaptation of Milton's PARADISE LOST.

    I'm 45 minutes in and... Well... Let's just say that I don't regret the switch. Dang, Milton knows how to conjure mental imagery. Whether it's the way he describes the enormous shield hanging on the devil's back, or the sleeping Leviathan, lying amidst foamy sees off the coast of Norway...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    De Montaigne is at his best with shorter essays, in my view.

    On Prayer was billed by the editor as dealing with De Montaigne's strict and austere approach to catholic prayer. There was a sense that DM is somehow suggesting an unreachable standard, or one which even other catholics criticised him for.

    Frankly, what he suggests doesn't seem that unreasonable to me. DM says that prayer should not be entered into casually or with a 'quantity over quality' mindset. He seems to be saying that it would be better to wait for moments when a person is capable of praying with genuine intent and (ideally) when they are not actually conscious that they are being completely hypocritical even as they begin the act of praying... For example, the person who has been horrendous all day and then glibly begins to pray while still picking over in their mind the things they have done.

    DM also advocates for the lord's prayer, saying that surely this is a prayer suitable for all occasions. He notes that he would like to see it prayed by every Christian before every meal. Again, reasonable enough, although I found myself thinking of how Martin Luther advocated the manner in which the lord's prayer was to be prayed, line by line and with meditation on each separate component, and I thought to myself that here we are uncovering a spiritual and meditative tradition which has largely been lost to modern believers.

    In another essay, he discusses the nature of character and how a man is rarely universal in his behaviour. "Young Marius is now a Son of Mars, then a Son of Venus". He talks about how the notoriously cruel emperor Nero, when asked to sign a warrant of execution, cried out "would that I had never learned to read". DM says that the rule is that man is variable, not that he is invariable, and that even ourselves are not 'one', but are diverse. He argues that there would be more truth to look at a man's life in step by step actions, and consider each one separately, than to attempt an overview.

    I think there's a relevance here for contemporary social media and cancel culture. As Barrack Obama noted recently people are not just one thing based on one behaviour, things are almost always more nuanced than that.

  • Advertisement
  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Halfway through PARADISE LOST now, a tremendous listen. The BBC version I am using is freely available on YouTube... 40 odd episodes of about 15 minutes apiece.

    The only disappointment for me of the whole thing is that in putting God onstage Milton finds himself in a situation where he ... well... how do you do God justice? I think he should have kept him off-stage. Even in the bible it seems to be more dramatic when he's a burning bush or a cloud that floats above a temple. Milton makes him a kind of curmudgeonly pissed-off CEO who sends out Michael and his armies to deal with Lucifer, and then when that doesn't really work he sends out Jesus, in a kind of action hero role.

    I gather that Milton's theology is widely acknowledged to be 'inadequate' and in fairness to him it's hard to see how he could succeed in everything, but to be honest I just don't get the depiction of God and his motivations. Even in Milton's time - maybe particularly in Milton's time, considering they were much more theologically and philosophically literate than we are now - I can't see how his God really squares with what believers consider to be Gods' characteristics. He appears oddly reactive in the face of events. For drama's sake I get it, I guess.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished a particular De Montaigne essay which is about the relationship between fathers and their children, and what provisions should be made for them.

    It's an anomaly in De Montaigne's field of essays in that he is bad-tempered and misanthropic in parts. I gather that there's a personal reason which explains this - he had difficulties with his own family and his estate. When parts of the essays descend into resentful complaints about wives, mothers and family members attempting to take advantage of the head of the household I gather that's what's going on.

    There's some poignant observations in there, however.

    De Montaigne rejects the fashion of the day for a father to be distant and stern, to be harsh on a male child so that they grow up independent and strong. He relates an anecdote about an associate who adopted this distance approach only to then see his male heir die in battle. The man laments that he never told the boy how desperately proud he was of him, or shared the truth of his 'immense love' for him. Well, yes... If you love your children then do everyone a favour and tell them every chance you get.

    It's so alien to think that anyone would believe that not telling a child they are loved would somehow make them strong rather than in fact making them brittle, insecure and emotionally damaged.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Surged through the final hour of Milton's PARADISE LOST yesterday evening. What a listen! Milton certainly has remarkable imagery in there.

    I'm on a De Montaigne essay titled 'On repentance' and still enjoying him, but ready to move on.

    Scheduled next are the following:-

    Blaise Pascal LETTERS
    Spinoza ETHICS

    I'm going to explore whether there are some decent audiobook offerings relating to Pascal and / or Spinoza. Locke I will read after De Montaigne.

    I studied Spinoza (and the closely related Leibniz) in college and honestly I don't fancy reading them. I used secondary primary sources in University so might be no harm to read their actual work... But I do know they're not as readable / enjoyable as Descartes.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Listening to a good version of Pascal's PENSEES from Audible.

    Pascal can be summed up as believing that man is inherently a confused and suffering being who will be continually frustrated if he expects too much from life and especially if he thinks he can wield reason / science as a means of negating this state. He argues that religion is the only way we can mitigate our suffering (and, I think, there's a tacit acknowledgment of a very modern idea... That believing is a choice based on faith / hoping for the best rather than reason. In Pascal's case, of course, believing is a famous wager he makes...)

    No coincidence that Pascal is compared at times to the Stoic philosophers. He quotes Epictetus himself.

    In reading I'm still on De Montaigne. I have gone ahead and ordered a copy of Spinoza's ETHICS, however. I have read harder things so seems churlish to overlook what is, clearly, an important work of philosophy. I'll be damned if I read Leibniz, though...

    After Spinoza I'm going to do Locke, skip Leibniz and then onto Dafoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE! A proverbial holiday read at this stage...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    An interesting article on making the best of self isolation or quarantine conditions.

    My recommendation for a beginning point in quarantine reading, for anyone interested, goes right back to the beginning of this thread and how it came to be: Mortimer J Adler’s ‘How to Read a Book’ (1972 revised version).

    Adler, an educationalist and philosopher, systematised the process of reading difficult books and 'How to Read a Book' is an ode to the mental benefits of reading actively and with a focus on proven classics from the Western canon.

    While his reading list begins with Homer’s Iliad, those with a taste for reading about a notable plague in the classical world may enjoy skipping on to Thucydides’ ‘The History of the Pelponnesian War’, and focusing on his account of the plague that killed one third of the people of Athens and laid the groundwork for its defeat by Sparta and its allies. It was typhoid fever that did it for the Athenians and Thucydides captures the horror of it very well: “Men not knowing what was to become of them, became utterly careless of everything, whether sacred or profane”.

    An excellent accompaniment to this reading would be to watch the entirely of Open Yale Courses’ ‘Introduction to Ancient Greek History’ with Professor Donald Kagan which is completely free. You can stream it for free. Kagan delivered two lectures a week but if you're like me then an enjoyable way to do the course is to give over some time each day to watch and listen to one lecture.

  • Advertisement
  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I have been in self isolation since last week when family members and I developed a fever, hard cough, chills and some tiredness. Not the worst, but obviously we ticked all the boxes. I got it the worst, with a nasty Friday night... but all improving since. Fever returned 1-2 times.

    Could be a bad cold or flu but we will never know as under new testing guidelines we are not eligible according to the GP. Not vulnerable or deteriorating, or health workers.

    Been doing little reading, mainly child minding.

    Finished De Montaigne. Still listening to Pascal (Tonight: “Many of those who are well think themselves ill and many of those who are ill think themselves well ... while the fatal fever approaches and the abscess builds”)

    On page one of Spinozas ETHICS. Tedious.

    Health and strength to all my thread followers! Remember Socrates’ advice on death in the coming weeks. It is either oblivion - the extinguishing of consciousness and a sleep like we have never known - or it is a continuation on an unknowable adventure...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Abandoned Spinoza. As unreadable as I remember. I suggest everyone just watch the BBC Great Philosophers episode about he and Leibniz.

    Locke’s A LETTER CONCERNING TOLERATION. This is more like it.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I notice a distinct lack of progress in my reading...

    Despite all the free time others report during this pandemic time, I must confess I'm almost entirely tied up working and minding our children.

    I'm reading a page of Locke here and there, but very little. Likewise on my 'casual' reading, the Eric Flint alternate history novel. I'm thinking of binning it, frankly.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I'm going to have to build in a 20-30 minute per day reading slot into my day and force myself to observe it. No progress - maybe 2-3 pages - since last time. Childminding, working, washing, cooking, cleaning, repeat...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Minor progress. Finished Locke's A LETTER CONCERNING TOLERATION.

    I think I'm going to read his bit on the constitution of Carolina, because I think it'll be interesting, and it's very readable... But I don't know that I'm going to read some of his other political writings as, to be honest, the key takeaway seems to be the liberality and notion of religious tolerance best expressed in the LETTER. There is an essay on the same subject but it seems very similar.

    Separately, I'll be done listening to Pascal's PENSEES sometime at the end of next week. I remain impressed with him, a heavyweight in terms of making the argument for religious belief, I believe.


    "There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous"

    I think, in fairness, the second half of this argument from Pascal is patently false. There are other categories of sinners.. Sinners who know they are sinners (I don't believe in the Socratic notion that no man knowingly does evil i.e that every wrongdoer believes he is, at heart, excused or not a wrongdoer) and sinners who are so nihilistic that they don't believe the concept of sin or righteousness are even real.

    Should also say I'm not big into the sinner / righteous concepts but I'm working with his language here :)

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Technically speaking I am due to begin ROBINSON CRUSOE now, which I'm actually looking forward to, but I am inclined to wait until I'm finished with the PENSEES on audiobook.

    I feel not so much that I've hit a wall as my focus has slightly waned. I want to possibly get back to one classic at a time for a while to see if that helps.

    I blame Spinoza.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I've consolidated by reading list and have a clearer picture of where I'm going now.

    Going to finish the PENSEES and then on to Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE.

    I've ordered the next four texts, George Berkley's PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE, Voltaire's CANDIDE, Henry Fielding's TOM JONES and Samuel Johnson's THE LIVES OF THE POETS.

    Going to also try to squeeze in some Alexander Pope and Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu before the books arrive. Online reading.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Started ROBINSON CRUSOE last night. Kind of have stalled with Zelazny's AMBER books.

    They are a little more dated than I remember... I think 20 year old me was a simpler beast. May tip away at them when I want some light nightstand reading but last night I just felt like starting with CRUSOE (Itself a light read, I feel!).

    The funny thing about CRUSOE is that this is probably the third time I've read it, the first two times being in my teens, and the experience is both nostalgic and somewhat different.

    At the beginning of the book, Crusoe aka Kreutznauer (A great name, by the way) wants to go to sea and his father, who has "made him for the law" wants him to go to school, make a fortune and live a comfortable life of ease. His father's lesson is that the happiest station in life is what their family has, the 'upper' part of low station. Wealthy enough to live well, but poor enough to sail under the radar of the tribulations of nobility and the truly great. And certainly far about the 'mechanistic' class who labour and toil. His father warns him that ordinarily it is only those above and below him in station who chance going to sea... The poor to seek their fortune and improve their lot, and the scions of nobility to make a great name for themselves and prepare the way for a doubling or trebling of their already considerable assets and wealth.

    It's a great little paragraph, evoking both the class and society of the day and the extreme danger and potential of a life lived on the trade winds. And it must have completely sailed over my head as a teenager, because I remember none of it.

    The other thing that struck me was how bald the attitude to life and death is. Crusoe tells us he had two brothers. The one a military officer. The other, he says, he does not know what happened to. He simply vanished in the course of some similar adventure as ultimately befell Crusoe...

    Different times.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Reading a little bio of Alexander Pope as a precursor to THE RAPE OF THE LOCK and his ESSAY ON CRITICISM.

    I had no idea he was such an unfortunate. Born with a form of tuberculosis and also a hunchback only 4'6". Throughout this life he was assailed by critics talking about how his outward form was "downright ape", and similar. Constant physical pain and respiratory difficulties. It's difficult to be disabled these days, I can only imagine the lot of a man born in the 17th century. Not to mention to be a catholic, banned from schools and universities, and restricted from coming within ten miles of London!

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    A slow day here, and I have finished Alexander Pope's THE RAPE OF THE LOCK.

    Well, I can see the structural beauty of it. I don't know very much about poetry at all, but even I can see that Pope crafted it very well. Even a 'lay person' like me can read it and find the form pleasing.

    In terms of meaning, I think I probably got more than half of it, but ... Interestingly... I suspect the interpretation of the poem has shifted over time, to the point where I'm not sure these days the central conceit of it still stands.

    Pope recounts an incident that was related to him by friends. A woman had a lock of hair cut from her head without permission, and this caused a rift between the two society families concerned. The 'rape' referred to is just this, and he's not using the cutting of hair as a euphemism for any real rape, as far as I know.

    Pope's idea, and this idea held for centuries, was that the poem would satirise a ridiculous non-incident by writing it as if it were a mock heroic epic with gods (Pope's sylphs) warring.

    The thing is, once I read this debrief, I thought about our times today, and to be honest I don't think it really works anymore in the sense intended. Because cutting a lock of a woman's hair, and then refusing to return it, isn't a "storm in a teacup" anymore by any measure. It's assault in the first instance, and creepy as ****.

    But honestly, I'm also not sure why it's this, of all the things I've read, that make me go "oh, that might have flown back in the 17 / 19 C but not anymore, pal...".

  • Advertisement
  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep


    I forgot how accessible Hume is. His ideas of empiricism and scepticism are laid out in English that is not in any way inaccessible to contemporary people.

    Stalled a bit on Robinson Crusoe, just been busy with work.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    ROBINSON CRUSOE laments, prior to taking the fateful ship journey that will see him shipwrecked, that he was ‘born to be [his] own destroyer’.

    I forgot how clear the first 10% of the book is in setting out that he is a prodigal, consistently making decisions at odds with his father’s advice, acting impulsively, and each time he slides down in social position. He pops up again, but just as he has effectively only matched - with his Brazilian plantation - the level of wealth and potential he began with, in his fathers house, he casts it all away on a gamble he needn’t have taken. And this time he definitely loses it ALL. He washes ashore with a knife, a pipe and some tobacco. That’s it.

    Was this meant to be a morality tale as well as an adventure story?

    The slavery is also obviously glaring to a contemporary reader and I would be interested to know more about Dafoe’s personal views. Was the fact that it was a slaving expedition which ruined Crusoe significant? Ironically, himself a former slave who apparently learned nothing from the experience.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still listening to Hume's AN ENQUIRY INTO HUMAN UNDERSTANDING.

    Hume is bringing me back to my undergraduate college days, but I think I have less frustration with the sceptics now than I did then. Back then I was concerned that Hume was 'shutting down' metaphysics and closing the door on questions that I was really enjoying considering. Now I look at what he was trying to do and admire the honesty and simplicity of his thought.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Still reading ROBINSON CRUSOE.

    From the point of view of a contemporary reader, the earnestness with which Crusoe considers his relationship to God feels like a distant artefact of the past.

    Nowadays, the equivalent would be the protagonist pondering 'who he is', 'finding his identity' and so on. He might look for meaning in his work, his family, his worth as a man and so on. But the likelihood of it turning upon his relationship to God... Pretty slim I would think.

    But there is something contemporary feeling in the way Crusoe notes how his eagerness to believe ebbs and flows. Amidst the storms he has experienced, he cries out to God. When shipwrecked, he by turns thanks God, curses God and then, when his fears have receded and he is in a dull monotony, his very belief itself recedes to the background again, until the next crisis.

    He also notes the particular effect of the persistent illness he has, which he journals. It strikes him down for a full week - a returning fever - and notes that it is so miserable that he reacts quite unlikely how he did to the storm aboard ship... That is, he never considers seeking help from God, because the day to day misery leaves him no sense that there is a higher power there to call out to.

    I suppose I can identify with some of this.

    I put myself in something like the position of Blaise Pascal, where I believe that it would be good for me to believe, and at times I entertain the belief that if I were to make myself think and live as a Christian then that might be almost enough.

    A few times in the past at particular low points in my life I have experienced what Crusoe did - that immediate and convenient belief that God is real, enabling me to ask him for help.

    But what this type of reflexive, almost knee-jerk faith, means, is open to debate.


    In AN EQUIRY INTO HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, Hume makes an interesting point that when it comes to the value we place in human experience and witness accounts, there are various ways in which our belief is undermined in the account. He notes that the presence of any opposition to the supposed truth of the account is one way, and this is made more potent by being very vehement or insistent. Another way, he says, is that the more marvellous or remarkable the thing that the account is of the more sceptical we are of it. Such a simple observation, and yet so true. We instinctively disbelief accounts of miracles, for the post part, but don't we also raise an eyebrow when an acquaintance in a pub tells us a story that is just so perfectly timed, so funny, so witty, that you think to yourself 'This is so perfect a little anecdote, it just didn't happen'...

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep


    Technically next in line was Rosseau but I am taking a slightly side-step because I want to listen to the BBC productions of the Samuel Pepys dairies. I am surprised that Mortimer Adler didn't include Pepys' diaries in his list, to be honest.

    They came to my attention partly as a result of having caught a few episodes on Radio 4 years ago, but also because Pepys' callous attitudes to public and gruesome executions have been referenced in other books I've read about being indicative of how the attitude to violence and suffering has gradually changed over time. The argument is that Pepys was a 'normal bloke' for the era, perhaps even a comparatively enlightened one, and yet by our standards today he comes across as oddly deaf to pain and suffering. Ergo, public attitudes have shifted, goes the argument.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I'm dragging my feet a bit with ROBINSON CRUSOE, still only about 1/3 done. I don't think I realised the original is so much longer than the Puffin versions that I guess I must have been reading as a kid.

    I also never realised (Perhaps because... Puffin is a kids imprint) that there was such a strong horror / suspense element to the book once Crusoe realises that his island is being visited regularly by cannibals, who devour people over fire pits on the beach.

    He's been on the island for years, shooting the place up, burning greenwood and sending smoke up into the air... And it is only through blind luck, to some extent, that the cannibals were never on the beach to hear or see. If they were, he would have been doing his woodworking or corn-growing and suddenly found himself face to face with them.

    Eventually he realises their arrival is predictable and contingent on the tides, so he knows when to desist from things that might give him away, but that doesn't make his prior behaviour any less risky.

    Suddenly the multiple-month project where he built his stake-wall and bower seems eminently sensible, instead of amusing paranoia.

    - - -

    Separately, interesting to note that even in Dafoe's time there was an awareness that morality had changed and that the actions of the Spaniards in cleansing the Americas of the native civilisations were objectively wrong. He talks about the Spaniards' reputation being one of cruelty and shame.

    You'd question whether Dafoe (Or Crusoe) is being very consistent there considering Crusoe held slaves earlier in the book. The two things don't seem to fit well.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Friends, I have not abandoned ye.

    ROBINSON CRUSOE was finished the day before yesterday.

    I couldn't understand why my kindle edition was only showing me approximately 50% of the way through when Crusoe had left the island and was conveying his fortune from Brazil and so on. Realised I had an edition that, although it didn't stipulate it clearly, also comprised THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE. Long version short, I went some way into this (His return to the island, principally) before realising what was going on and finishing my reading. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES have been of significantly lesser literary impact, probably for good reason, they seem to lack the compelling plot of the original book, and are more likely a series of vignettes.

    I have mixed feelings about ROBINSON CRUSOE. It obviously is one of the most published and influential adventure stories in history. But is it dreadful to say that probably some of the later iterations and adaptations of it are actually more enjoyable to read than the original?

    What I mainly took from it was the insight into the mentality of the time. Both the spiritual plot which underpins Crusoe's experiences, and the questions the book raises about race and imperialism. For his time there's no doubt Dafoe is an enlightened man, and Crusoe says things about Friday which must have been remarkable for the time... About how he is a Christian like any other and so on. Also interesting is the point where Crusoe questions whether he is justified in killing the cannibals, if their culture does not mean what they are doing is 'wrong'. And yet at the same time Crusoe takes what he wants and the island is definitively 'his' in every respect, including the loyalty of any visitors or occupants, who either row in with him or are killed.

    I have 2 hours left in the audiobook version of THE DIARIES OF SAMUEL PEPYS. Still enjoying it, but happy to be on to something new in due course.

    In reading terms I have gone on from ROBINSON CRUSOE to George Berkley's PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. I will also read his THREE DIALOGUES, which is closely related.

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    I should say in passing that Pepys is a remarkable diarist in that he was fortunate in capturing so many events that have truly endured in historical memory -

    - The great fire of London
    - An outbreak of the bubonic plague

    But for me it's the tells about the attitudes and lives of ordinary people back then that are probably most interesting.

    Although I began with a comment about how hardened they were in their attitudes to violence compared to ourselves today, now I'm no longer so sure. I think they were blasé about sickness and the suffering of pain (Because of course they have little to no effective medicine or understanding of it) but I don't think they were as different to ourselves in other respects as I thought. Pepys is uncomfortable and regretful about executions, contrary to some of what I'd read elsewhere.

    Much of what Pepys does and thinks in terms of his relationships with his wife and others are timeless, there are dynamics that have not changed in the intervening period.

    Pepys is a hell of a cheater though. I think these days he might be diagnosed as a sexaholic, or at least would be considered a serial philanderer. He carries on with at least half a dozen women over the course of the diaries, probably more, including the young maid of his wife. And yet he is embarrassed to buy a book of pornographic literature (He burns it after reading), and considers it a stain on his family's reputation if his deceased brother were thought to have died from the pox (He strongarms the doctor into changing his diagnosis by bringing in a doctor of his own to contradict him).

  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Finished the DIARIES OF SAMUEL PEPYS and now onto Rosseau's THE SOCIAL CONTRACT.

    "Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains."

    This might be one of the best opening lines since THE ILIAD.

    I am a reasonable amount of the way into Berkley's THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE and I am not going to say it is impenetrable, but I can see why it was considered eccentric in its arguments even in its day.

    Berkley is an 'Idealist', a philosophical term I had forgotten. He argues that 'to be' is indistinguishable from 'to be perceived' and it's more or less his position that there is no reality absent the mind and world of ideas and perceptions. To be honest I've never really understood how philosophical Idealism differs from solipsism.... I don't understand how it isn't quite an arrogant point of view.

  • Advertisement
  • Moderators, Sports Moderators Posts: 2,633 Mod ✭✭✭✭ Black Sheep

    Enjoying Rosseau. He had a talent for sound bites and catchy lines.

    In some respects I think his analysis of how states operate is insightful. He warns that it is dangerous to have great inequality, with too many very rich people and too many beggars. From the one comes a tyrant, from the other the will to install a tyrant. Isn't that populism 101? Surely he was not the first to say it, but it's true.

    In terms of equality in general he talked about the need that, in signing up to the social contract, the wealthy agree not to allow their personal wills to shape the activities of the State, because of the disproportionate power they can wield in that respect, and meanwhile the poor are not to behave with avarice / covetousness and so destabilise the State.

    Struggling moreso with Berkley. I still think philosophical Idealism is just funny. Once he begins with the proposition that there is nothing but mind and ideas, then it's an easy move to the rest of his philosophy of spirit and god. But I still can't get past the fact that there's a fundamental arrogance in believing that nothing exists other than in the sense that a human mind has a perception of it existing. He argues that although we can only conceive of a thing which we would perceive existing independently in the sense that we imagine that we are perceiving it and yet simultaneously imagine we are not perceiving it, I think surely this only goes to the limitations of our mental faculties than to suggest that indeed, there is only human mental perception as a bedrock for the reality of things.

    I am only holidays for a number of weeks now and plan on just reading trash. I mean serious trash, I have a bunch of bad SF novels downloaded to my Kindle.