The Eternal Argument {Book Review}

I want my daughters to use critical thinking when evaluating history and literature and current events. I want them to have a framework to examine the world around them so we gladly accepted the chance to review The Eternal Argument from Analytical Grammar.  The cover states that The Eternal Argument is “a framework for understanding Western Literature and Culture.”

About The Eternal Argument:

The Eternal Argument Book Review from Circling Through This Life

This softcover book has nearly 300 pages. In addition to the 15 chapters, the book includes an introduction, an afterword, and an index. In each chapter Robin Finley discusses a book.  She might choose one aspect to illustrate a particular point and she does give warnings for spoilers. It isn’t necessary to have read the books mentioned but being familiar with them does add a layer of depth and for my family a layer of fun we go to that deeper level.  The book is designed to be read by a family so that “meaningful discussion can take place.” The chapters end with questions that facilitate that meaningful discussion. 

Some chapters that I think are of key importance:

  • “The Little Stinker” (Chapter 3)~ in this chapter Ms. Finley explains what she means by “innate sin” and labels this the little stinker.  A belief in innate sin or the tendency to sin because of something in our nature, is part of the theistic view.  We are Orthodox Christians and we took the time to define original sin and sin nature from the ancestral sin point of view. Clarifying these points helped my daughters to see that we could use the humanist/theist framework.
  •  “What is the Western Literature ‘Platform’” (Chapter 6)~ In this chapter Ms. Finley uses an image of stool to explain her concept of Western Literature platform.  She states that all of Western Literature is balanced on top of three legs or pillars.  The girls and had a long discussion and decided that we think another leg needs to be acknowledged: Shakespeare.  We also decided that we agreed that the KJV Bible is significant to English Language but that the leg could be called “Bible” instead of King James Version.
  • “Should We Quarantine Our Kids?” (Chapter 7) ~  This chapter speaks to my heart.  She talks about inoculating our children by exposing them to other view points. Yes! That is exactly why my husband and I chose the literature based curriculum that we did.  We wanted to be able to introduce ideas, cultures, and points of view to our daughters in a setting that was safe and a pace that matched their development.  I think this is a very important chapter! I especially want to highlight this quote:

When I suggest you inoculate your children with books presenting ideas that are contrary to the beliefs and assumptions of your family, I am putting forward the idea that I believe  will help your children combat these ideas when presented with them in the real world.  I do not, however, believe that can occur by simply saying, “Go ahead.  Read whatever you want.” On the contrary, these books should be presented to and discussed with your kids in the context of the Eternal Argument.” (p.86)

  • NOTE: Chapters 8 through 12 each cover a different time period from “The really old guys” to the “Modernists.”
  • “Stuff You Need to Know to Teach This Stuff” (Chapter 13) ~  In this chapter, Ms. Finley defines some important literary analysis terms such as “point of view”,  “The Five Conflicts”,  “Elements of a Plot”, and she also has sections for how to teach a book and how to read a book.
  • “Now Let’s Apply All This to the Books We’ve Discussed” (Chapter 14) ~ We have not yet reached this chapter. I am so looking forward to this one and I anticipate lots of lively discussion over the dinner table!
  • “Because It’s All About Me . . . What Do I Think?” (Chapter 15) ~ In this final chapter, the author shares her thoughts and opinions.  She goes through it chapter by chapter from chapter 1 through chapter 12. 

The Eternal Argument in My Home:

Rather than have each participating family member read the book independently and then try to discuss what we’ve read, I read aloud the chapters.  We spend an average of an hour to an hour and 15 minutes 3 times a week sipping tea, reading from the book, and discussing what we read as we go along.  Most of the chapters have taken us at least two sessions but one took as at least four sessions!

This book influenced our conversations and discussions outside of our school time as well.  The other night we were watching an episode of a science fiction television.  I asked Turtlegirl what she thought of the title song.  Her response “do you mean in terms of the Eternal Argument – humanist versus theist or just my regular opinion.” I was asking her for opinion of whether she liked it or not but we did end up discussing the song lyrics and deciding that they were coming from a more humanist point of view.

Another evening of watching that same science fiction show found me grabbing for the remote to pause Netflix and start a discussion about how each character presented one side of the argument.

Dinner time is when we often have the most fascinating discussions as a family.  We’ll discuss current events, history, literature, and everything in between so naturally we had to have discussions involving The Eternal Argument.  We discussed books and series of books. Did this series present a more humanist view or more theist? Did this character represent more of a humanistic quality or could we see elements of the theistic world view? Dinner took a little longer to finish on those nights.

My Thoughts ~

Though I don’t agree with every point she makes, I must say that I am enjoying the book and enjoying the discussions I am having with my daughters. I would not recommend handing this book to your student, not even to your high school students, and just let them read it. The book requires discussion. I think this would be perfect to include in a 9th grade (or perhaps even 8th grade) course reading about a chapter a week.  I think it would lay a great foundation to build on for all other high school course work. Analytical Grammar


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