What to read to prepare for 2009 conference

It is time to get serious about this summer’s conference. The more I study and prepare the more I realize what an earth-moving idea nature is and what an earth-trembling change we have gone through.

In 1990 O.B. Hardison published a rather extraordinary analysis of this change in a book he called Disappearing Through the Twilight. He titles Part I, A Tree, A Streamlined Fish, and a Self-squared Dragon; or, The Disappearance of Nature.  (emph. mine). In the preface, he says, “Nature, history, language, and art are parts of a wonderfully intricate mobile: touch one and the rest tremble and change position in sympathy.”

The book is somewhat dated now, but the changes he discusses have only continued. I hope to scan it (I read it in 1994) for a review over the next few weeks and will report on what I find when it is significant. But it raised to my mind a useful question, which is, what books can people read to prepare for this summer’s conference. And there are a few:

  • CS Lewis: The Abolition of Man (crucial), (Also a series of essays in his Christian Reflections is a good introduction to this idea, especially The Poison of Subjectivism)
  • Wendell Berry: Life is a Miracle
  • Mortimer Adler: Ten Philosophical Mistakes (especially chapter five on moral values and part three on human nature)
  • William Shakespeare: MacBeth, Hamlet, and almost anything else, with an eye to the idea of nature
  • Heinrich Rommen: The Natural Law; A study in legal and social history and philosophy
  • Vigen Guroian: Rallying the Really Human Things

Some more primary documents, for those who can afford the time:

  • Aristotle: Metaphysics
  • Plato: anything, but maybe especially Theaetetus
  • Cicero: De Republica
  • St. Paul: Romans
  • St. Augustine: City of God, De Magistro
  • St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, but read the TOC for what you want to read about

To read the path of error, you can try to wrestle through these (or read about them):

  • Descartes: Discourse on Method
  • Machiavelli: The Prince
  • Thomas Hobbes: Leviathon
  • John Locke: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  • George Berkeley: The Principles of Human Knowledge
  • David Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Social Contract
  • Immanuel Kant (but Genghis Khan!): Anything you can stand reading.

I recommend Copplestone’s History of Philosophy as a very sound and highly regarded introduction to all of the foregoing.

If you are not so philosophically inclined and prefer to read narrative versions of these ideas or to focus on how they relate to your discipline, then I’ll try to come up with some more ideas. Here are some that come to mind:

  • CS Lewis: That Hideous Strength
  • Jonathon Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
  • Wendell Berry: Anything
  • Shakespeare: Anything
  • Dante: Divine Comedy, especially Paradiso

Needlesss to say, this is suggested reading. Read one or two of these books and you’ll be ready for the conference. Please don’t imagine reading them all!

And please register soon for the conference. It’s too important to miss.

And if you can’t make it, be sure to get the recordings. We’re planning on having DVD’s this year as well!

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