Another week, another, uh… 25 pages.
Oy this book goes slow!
I’ve been reading A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, slowly, a couple of pages every morning. It’s kind of relaxing but I wish I could read faster and I don’t know how much of it will stick. I’m taking notes and I’m planning to go back through them and type them up at the end (and probably post them here as a kind of very informal, personal Cliff’s Notes).
Anyway, I got 25 pages into the Modern Philosophy section, though the chapters on “The Italian Renaissance”, “Machiavelli”, “Erasmus and More” (Thomas More), and “The Reformation and Counter-Reformation”. In these chapters, Russell points that the corruption of the Church in Renaissance Italy and the strife over religion during the Reformation pushed people towards secular modes of thought.
I thought the section on Machiavelli’s philosophy was pretty obvious – politicians should not be too honest if they want to be successful and they should have the ability to seem as though they are acting morally even when they aren’t. Russell noted that Ancient Greek City-States corresponded well to Renaissance Italian states, and Machiavelli helped revive the concepts of “liberty” and checks and balances. Russell doesn’t go too deep into Machiavelli’s work, but he gives a decent historical grounding for the forces that shaped Machiavelli’s worldview.
Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly looks pretty funny! It’s a book narrated by Folly, about her own merits and it parodies all the professions (especially the Church though).
More’s Utopia, on the other hand, looks fairly boring. It’s about More’s conversations with a fictional traveler named Raphael Hythloday who went to a place called Utopia, where everyone dresses the same, all the houses look the same, there are no luxuries, and all property is held in common. Because the society only produces what it needs, no one has to work more than six hours a day. Every morning, people go and listen to lectures (Although the lectures are not mandatory. This part reminds me of Ayn Rand’s utopia in Atlas Shrugged) Some people are exempt from doing work so that they can spend their time learning, but I wonder what someone would be studying in a perfect world?
Anyway, that’s all I have for this week. More next time!