Responses to Guestbook Entry #1 by M.mm
Thanks to M.mm for leaving the first guest book entry for this site!
Some thoughts to the questions you posed.
1. "What does European mean, exactly? "
> Every label for the name for a tradition is just that - a label. It does not necessarily refer to a reality out there with sharp definitional boundary. It may not necessarily have a unity that justifies the label. The way I see this is that while traditions themselves are not fixed, the labels are justified because there is some sociological reality to these labels in that these are the categories many subsequent narratives of intellectual histories use. Some people label a tradition like "Western" (as in Harold Bloom). I happen to use the label European, alongside Greco-Roman and Christian. By the context, I hope it is clear that I take it to mean European as a label for a tradition that is both limited in space ("Europe") and time (roughly, early modern period onwards).
2. " What made you come to the conclusion that there is a European civilization who's best representatives are Kant, Marx and Shakespeare? I seems so random: You could replace Kant with Descartes, Marx with Mill and Shakespeare with Flaubert."
> Different people could have different opinions - my reasons to select Kant instead of Descartes, Marx instead of Mill and Shakespeare instead of Flaubert is driven by what I see taught and
discussed and published about these authors. In US universities - there are often a chair in the philosophy department for Kant, but not so often for Descartes. Same for dedicated courses -
Descartes is usually lumped with Leibniz and Spinoza in a class, but Kant usually has its own (or multiple courses). Same for Marx vs. Mill - Marx has the advantage of also being taught in
Sociology departments; plus there are still many activists / economists / historians out there who admit the influence of Marx. Not so frequest for J.S. Mill.
3."Also i think i know why you have a problem seeing a foundational book for European civilisation. Such a book would be philosophical like Bacon's Organum and Aquinas's Summa Theologica or a shared mythological past like those found in Arthurian romances."
> By Foundational texts, I take it to mean that it is foundational enough that a) such book is the required reading for almost everyone who are considered learned within a tradition and b) it
should stand at the foutainhead of what inaugurates a tradtiion. Organum fits the latter criteria but not the forma. Aquinas the vice versa.
4."Personally i would make this list:
Foundational: Chrétien de Troyes - Five Arthurian romances.
Edward Gibbon - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Thomas Aquinas - Summa Theologica
René Descartes - Meditations
William Shakespear - King Lear"
> This is a good list indeed. Based on my definition of the Foundational texts - I would tend to classify romances as literature. Gibbon is clearly a canonical texts - I would have included it as the History work for "European" tradition if I included one work. Aquinas is before the European tradition as I implicitly define. Descartes is paradigmatic - clearly a classic. Shakespeare too - personally I like King Lear more than Hamlet; though based on what I have read, in terms of popularity and critical responses - it still feels like Hamlet has the top slot.
5.> Thank you for the comments - and discussions are part of the text canonization process!