Until recently, classical education served as the foundation of the wider liberal arts curriculum, which in turn defined the mission of the traditional university. Classical learning dedicated itself to turning out literate citizens who could read and write well, express themselves, and make sense of the confusion of the present by drawing on the wisdom of the past. Students grounded in the classics appreciated the history of their civilization and understood the rights and responsibilities of their unique citizenship. Universities, then, acted as cultural custodians, helping students understand our present values in the context of a 2,500-year tradition that began with the ancient Greeks..
But in recent decades, classical and traditional liberal arts education has begun to erode, and a variety of unexpected consequences have followed. The academic battle has now gone beyond the in-house "culture wars" of the 1980s. Though the argument over politically correct curricula, controversial faculty appointments, and the traditional mission of the university is ongoing, the university now finds itself being bypassed technologically, conceptually, and culturally, in ways both welcome and disturbing.
December 04, 2008
November 14, 2008
Why do modern humanities professors hate the Western canon, the so-called Great Books that once defined a liberal arts education? Ralph McInerny, a professor of philosophy and medieval studies at Notre Dame University—and also the author of the popular Father Dowling mystery series—has an answer.It isn't just relativism (or, in McInerny's words, the idea that it's as important to teach Tarzan as Hamlet) or the claim that classical scholars push the works of "dead white males" in order to control society. The reason, says McInerny, is that most of the Great Books are "were written under Christian auspices." Their religious underpinning is obvious in the works of authors such as Dante, but also "inescapable" in those of Chaucer and Shakespeare. Furthermore, the non-Christian parts of the canon, such as those by Plato and Aristotle, were written under the assumption that providence, or a divine mind, governs human life.This is an idea that many modern academics cannot stand, said McInerny.McInerny shared his thoughts about Great Books at an evening lecture in Charlotte on November 6. His talk before an audience of about 100 people was sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Pope Center.
November 07, 2008
August 28, 2008
August 20, 2008
The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of The Great Books
August 15, 2008
July 30, 2008
by Wilfred M. McClay
The Wilson Quarterly
. . .What does it mean to speak of the "burden" of the humanities? The phrase can be taken several ways. First, it can refer to the weight the humanities themselves have to bear, the things that they are supposed to accomplish on behalf of us, our nation, or our civilization. But it can also refer to the near opposite: the ways in which the humanities are a source of responsibility for us, and their recovery and cultivation and preservation our job, even our duty.
Both of these senses of burden—the humanities as preceptor, and the humanities as task—need to be included in our sense of the problem. The humanities, rightly pursued and rightly ordered, can do things, and teach things, and preserve things, and illuminate things, which can be accomplished in no other way. It is the humanities that instruct us in the range and depth of human possibility, including our immense capacity for both goodness and depravity. It is the humanities that nourish and sustain our shared memories, and connect us with our civilization's past and with those who have come before us. It is the humanities that teach us how to ask what the good life is for us humans, and guide us in the search for civic ideals and institutions that will make the good life possible.
July 29, 2008
"In 2004, Roger Martin, former Harvard dean and then President of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, enrolled as a college freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis Maryland. When this undertaking captured the headlines of the national media, Dr. Martin appeared on NBC's Today Show and was interviewed by NPR's Scott Simon. His book, Racing Odysseus: A College President becomes a Freshman Again (UC Press, July 2008) now tells the whole story in a way that will be enjoyed by young and old alike."
July 02, 2008
"Thanks to a recent partnership between Middle Tennessee State University, the Tennessee Department of Correction and the Great Books Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, prisoners at three Nashville-area prisons recently had a chance to explore [what Longfellow called] 'the sweet serenity of books' by participating in a nine-week program titled Great Books in Middle Tennessee Prisons."
June 04, 2008
'So the seventeen-year-old kid [Alec Niedenthal] who wrote a letter to the New York Times about making way for the new generation of authors, whom he described as "the young, challenging, Facebook-and-MySpace-addled minds that you have so hastily jettisoned as literary jetsam," has not only been interviewed by The New York Observer but contacted by Grove/Atlantic and HarperCollins requesting manuscripts. If only it was that easy for the rest of us to avoid the slush pile. Then again, I'm not a wunderkid who had read William Vollmann, William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Scott Snyder, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and David Foster Wallace before graduating high school.'
Bookfox via, in turn, The Elegant Variation
June 02, 2008
May 09, 2008
"These are the kinds of authors I wish I were, and strive to be. All three books are entirely approachable to laymen, yet all are advanced, cutting-edge works, and will be required reading for experts in their respective subjects for decades to come."
May 08, 2008
May 07, 2008
May 02, 2008
April 29, 2008
An Exhibition in the
Department of Special Collections
The University of Chicago Library
May 1, 2002 - September 6, 2002
April 26, 2008
The Mike Wallace Interview
Mortimer Adler, president of the Institute for Philosophical Research, former professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Chicago, and author of The Idea of Freedom, talks to Wallace about conceptions of freedom, capitalism, socialism, and the American worker.
April 25, 2008
April 16, 2008
Volume 1, No. 1
Sextus Empiricus, OUTLINES OF PYRRHONISM
David Hume, AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDER-
Lucian, DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD
Rabelais, GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL
John Stuart Mill, UTILITARIANISM
Marcus Aurelius, MEDITATIONS
Calvin, INSTITUTES OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION 93
Virgil, THE AENEID
MEET THE PARTICIPANTS:
LYMAN BRYSON, permanent chairman of Invitation To Learning, is a Professor of Education, at Teacher's College, Columbia University.
STRINGFELLOW BARR, former President of St. John's College, author of the recent pamphlet, Let's Join The Human Race, and chairman of the original Invitation To Learning program, eleven years ago.
GEORGE BOAS, Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University, and author of Wingless Pegasus.
PALMER BOVIE, Instructor in English, Columbia University.
JOHN MASON BROWN, Associate Editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, author of Still Seeing Things and other works
JOHN CARRADINE, Actor.
IRWIN ED MAN, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, author of Philosopher s Quest and other works.
BERGEN EVANS, Professor of English Literature, Northwestern University, and author of The Natural History of Nonsense.
CLIFTON FADIMAN, Noted critic, editor, radio and television personality; member of the board of judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Great Books Foundation.
HIRAM HAYDN, editor for the Bobbs-Merrill Co., editor of The American Scholar, and author of The Counter-Renaissance.
ROLPHE HUMPHRIES, poetry critic for The Nation, and author of a newly published translation of Virgil's Aeneid.
LOUIS KRONENBERGER, Drama critic, Time Magazine.
MAX LERNER, economist for the New York Post, Professor of American Civilization, Brandeis University, and author of Actions
ANDRE MICHALOPOULOS, Counsellor to the Greek Embassy, noted lecturer and critic.
WHITNEY J. GATES, Professor of Classics, Princeton University, and editor of The Basic Writings of St. Augustine.
HOUSTON PETERSON, Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University, editor of Great Teachers, and a forthcoming Treasury of Great Speeches.
JOHN E. SMITH, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University.
CARL HERMAN VOSS, Lecturer, New School for Social Research.
WILLIAM LINN WESTERMANN, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Columbia University.
Vol. 5, No.1
Dickens, OLIVER TWIST
Twain, HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Proust, REMEMBRANCES OF THINGS PAST
Conrad, LORD JIM
Dostoevsky, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Whitman, LEAVES OF GRASS
Meredith, THE ORDEAL OF RJCHARD FEVEREL
Schopenhauer, THE WORLD AS WILL AND Idea
Masters, THE SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY
James, WHAT MAlSIE KNEW
Edwards, FREEDOM OF WILL
MEET THE PARTICIPANTS:
LYMAN BRYSON, Permanent Chairman of Invitation to Learning; Professor Emeritus of Education, Teachers' College, Columbia University; Counsellor on Public Affairs programming to the Columbia Broadcasting System.
GAY WILSON ALLEN, Professor of American Literature at New York University; author of The Solitary Singer, a biography of Walt Whitman.
DAVID DAICHES, Lecturer in English at Cambridge University. EDWARD DAVISON, Poet, critic, and Director of the School of General Studies at Hunter College.
CLIFTON FADIMAN, Critic, literary essayist for Holiday, and author of Party of One.
CLARENCE FAUST, President of the Fund for the Advancement of Education.
CHARLES FRANKEL, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.
MASON GROSS, Provost of Rutgers University.
LEO GURKO, Chairman of the Department of English at Hunter College; author of Heroes, Highbrows and the Popular Mind.
STUART HAMPSHIRE, Fellow of New College, Oxford University; author of Spinoza in the Pelican Philosophers series.
GILBERT HIGHET, Anthon Professor of Latin at Columbia University; author of People, Places and Books and Juvenal the Satirist.
MILTON HINDUS, Associate Professor of English at Brandeis University; author of The Proustian Vision.
EDGAR JOHNSON, Chairman of the English Department of the College of the City of New York; author of Charles Dickens, His Tragedy and Triumph.
THOMAS H. JOHNSON, Chairman of the English Department at Lawrenceville School.
ALFRED KAZIN, Nielsen Professor of Literature at Smith College; author of On Native Grounds and A Walker in the City.
HELEN MAcINNES, Author of Above Suspicion and Pray for a Brave Heart.
ANDRE MICHALOPOULOS, Critic and lecturer.
MARY MOTHERSILL, Instructor in Philosophy at the University of Connecticut.
JUSTIN O'BRIEN, Professor of French at Columbia University; translator of The Journals of Andre Gide and author of Portrait of Andre Gide.
FRANK O'CONNOR, Author of The Short Stories of Frank O'Connor.
VIRGILIA PETERSON, Author, lecturer and critic.
GEORGE N. SHUSTER, President of Hunter College; author of Religion Behind the Iron Curtain.
ERNEST J. SIMMONS, Professor of Russian Literature at Columbia University; author of Dostoevsky, the Making of a Novelist.
JAMES THURBER, Humorist, cartoonist, and author of Thurber Country.
LIONEL TRILLING, Professor of English at Columbia University.
RAY B. WEST, JR., Professor of English at the University of Iowa; editor of The Western Revievj and author of The Short Story in America.
DAN WICKENDEN, Author of The Running of the Deer.
April 14, 2008
By Sarah Garland
Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 14, 2008
April 08, 2008
April 02, 2008
By Brendan Carroll
Contributing Columnist, The Daily Princetonian
Published: Monday, March 10th, 2008
"My roommate will hate me for writing this, but it really should be said. Every student on this campus ought to take the four-course Humanities Sequence (HUM 216-219), Princeton's best method of introducing its undergraduates to 26 centuries of the Western canon..."
On learning and the liberal education
By Michael Medeiros
Columnist, The Daily Princetonian
Published: Tuesday, April 1st, 2008
"Though I think it's wonderful that Princeton offers the HUM sequence, I must respectfully disagree with Carroll's argument that every student ought to pursue it..."
From Princeton course infomation regarding the above: Message to students (pdf) interested in Humanistic Studies 216-219: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Western Culture, from Antiquity to the Modern Period: History, Philosophy, Religion, Literature and the Arts
March 28, 2008
Wherever I go in my mind,
I meet Plato coming back.
This Greek epigram is the perfect introduction to Plato's
Republic. It expresses the affection and skepticism that the
reader will forever after feel for Plato the person; it expresses
the love and irony that he will make any reader feel for the
world; it will also tell him how to read this book, confidently
expecting that Plato will be helping him to remember what he
already knows not well enough. It also suggests that some
roads that his mind habitually follows are false roads, and
that the better part of wisdom consists in knowing what one
does not know.
These two lines arc the best introduction to Plato at any
time in history, but they arc also right for any stage of one's
own intellectual biography. Reprinting Plato's Republic at
this point in history and at our own stage of intellectual con-
fusion could, with much good reading and discussion, make
the next generation a great period in history. Plato was writing
at the uncertain end of the Peloponnesian War, the World
War which decided the fate of the ancient world. Thucydides'
account shows it as a war between democracy and oligarchy,
between empire and allied nations, and therefore a war in
which internal revolution was as important as external hos-
tility. Plato's city, Athens, was on the losing side, but in a
deeper sense there was no winning city. War aims were never
clear; the only aim that was effective was the determination
that one city should not be allowed to rule the world by
conquest. A world federation was proposed as a permanent
principle of peace, but it was laughed off as a woman's idea.
There was a terrible defeat of the best army and navy, and
this battle shook the world in the deepest foundation of its
Athens, a city of normally brilliant and active minds, had
developed a war mind, ideas that would justify fear and
hatred of the enemy, and also an imagination that would
justify suspicion of dangerous subversive plots in its colonies
and allies, as well as treachery and treason at home. Men of
high character turned out to be tricky politicians. There was
deep concern about the distribution of wealth and the
validity of democratic forms of government. There was evi-
dence that religion and money were being used for political
This root of insanity drove the better minds to two typical
postwar patterns of thought: the collecting and comparison
of other forms of government, and the construction of pat-
terns of reform, Utopian constitutions. The Republic registers
and reflects all this turmoil, and puts it all together to make
sense. Wherever Athens had wandered in its mind, it met
Plato coming back. It is remarkable that anything written
in those circumstances could make sense; it is all the more
remarkable that it made sense of the immediate nonsense.
But most remarkable of all, it is nearly true that the Republic
is the book above all others that makes sense of any govern-
ment anywhere any time. If sense could be made of Athens
then, sense can be made of our time, thanks to Plato.
If this claim is true, and not merely the enthusiasm of a
devotee, this must be a remarkable book indeed, too re-
markable to explain or simplify, as recent new editions have
done, but fortunately not too remarkable to read well. The
fact is that it is not being well read at present. It is being
identified with our war-mindedness. Learned readers say that
Plato was a Fascist because he proposes a totalitarian state, or
that he was Communist because he talks about common prop-
erty. It is easy to invent other such sad wise-cracks. Perhaps it
would be better for a many-times reader, whose first reading
was done in the middle of World War I when there were other
epithets and shibboleths, to call attention to two formal
characteristics of the book, attention to which will save the
first reader from some of the bad reading habits we all share.
This book is a dialogue written by a very superior dramatic
artist. The playwright Plato created Socrates, who is the hero
of this piece, a character who steps out of this and other
dialogues and dominates the world intellectually. Further-
more these dialogues are in the great comic tradition, and
Socrates is one of three of the greatest comic characters of
all time; the others, that I am thinking of, are Don Quixote
and FalstafL Still further Socrates is the deliberate comedian,
the person who knows how much funnier he is than his
audience will ever know. It is Socrates who meets the
Athenian plutocrats, reactionaries, and reformers in the first
book, teasing and angering them to do their worst for our
enlightenment. And then Socrates is the person who takes
on two bright naive youngsters while he gives them the ride
of their lives into the many-dimensioned labyrinths of his
reasoned imagination. There is great dramatic distance pro-
vided in these circumstances, and there are deep love and
irony in their author.
One further formal dramatic point helps the reading. The
dialogue is of the stuff that morality or miracle plays are
made. The name Cephalus means 'head' with the connota-
tion of dull honesty that goes with banking or coupon-cutting;
he is the typed character whom Plato can lampoon as the
perennial oligarch. Polemarchus is the 'battle-chief represent-
ing the conservative military class. Thrasymachus is the 'rash
fighter' who would have liked to know about armored divisions
and Blitzkriegs. Glaucon has a 'clear' and perhaps empty
mind, and Adeimantis is an adolescent 'poet-soothsayer'.
Socrates is the magical 'master of life'. These names, all
historic by the way, would have made it impossible for an
intelligent Athenian to read the dialogue without both high
and low laughs. The modern reader should recall the talking
plays of Bernard Shaw.
The second warning is already suggested. The republic or
polity that Socrates magically or mythically presents is a
Utopia most emphatically. There is evidence for this in the
text when Socrates offers to write man large, as a state in
whose parts and functions justice-by-itself can be found, and
also near the end when it is said most eloquently that this
nolitv is laid no in heaven, never has existed and never will
exist, but can be seen by those who wish to put their house
in order. But there is sharper evidence than this if one throws
off the hypnotic charm of the argument and sees the im-
possible possibility of the construction. There is no provision
made for elections, law-making, courts, tax-collecting, execu-
tive functions, or policing; this should make one hesitate to
suppose that rules for setting up a government are being
made, and made badly. Literally, one must suppose that
nothing takes place in the community but education; even
the philosopher-king must do his lessons. The state is made
up of craftsmen, tradesmen, soldiers, and philosophers, but
no men. When human difficulties arise because of this, they
are solved by numerology. The censorship of art including
the banning of tragic poets, the community of wives, and the
training of guardians and philosophers, these and many other
pieces of machinery arc the stuff of comic drama and the
right treatment for the stew that was boiling in the Athenian
But let not the serious mind despair. Comedy of this
kind carries a precious burden of light. The old story on
comedy is that its tropes and jests are taken from primitive
formulae for the exorcism of evil spirits, and therefore that
the purging of such evils in laughter is in behalf of sanity and
virtue. It is dangerous to try to explain the comic poet and to
assume that one can reveal his secret Utopia, but it is dif-
ferent with Plato since his comic art runs high and delivers
his secret in dialectical statement and counter-statement and
finally in luminous myths. Plato first uses his Utopia to
launch his satirical purge of Athenian folly, and then he turns
it around to expound a metaphysics of ethics. The republic
is the principle of justice in motion, a highly formalized
theatrical imaginative presentation or imitation of the thin-
nest and most comprehensive of abstiactions, "everything
performing its function", as it is unobtrusively defined in the
fourth book. This is obviously an important principle in
law and politics, the principle that tells us that the common
good of the state are peace, freedom, and order. But it is
just as obviously much more; it is the principle by which
each man sets his own inner state in order, if he is wise
enough to know himself. In this last Socratic turn of phrase
there is the final jest. Where is such wisdom to be found?
The Delphic oracle had once told Socrates that he was the
wisest man in Greece. In good skeptical faith Socrates spent
his life, as he put it, in testing the veracity of the oracle. He
outdid the oracle in the wit and depth of his discovery: his
wisdom consisted in knowing that he did not know. Human
wisdom consists in knowing what to do with one's ignorance,
and that is knowing a great deal. It is very important to keep
it well in mind that Socrates is the comic hero who proposes
that: Until philosophers are kings, or the princes of this world
have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political great-
ness and wisdom meet in one, cities will never have rest from
their evils. It is also Socrates who talks longest and most
knowingly about the philosopher's being the most corruptible
Let no reader be gullible enough to conclude from this
book concerning Plato's political opinions, what is the best
form of government, how equality of opportunity or security
by police power are to be attained. Let him stretch his
imagination to the fantasy and the fun so that he may catch
some glimpse of the principle of the liberal state which is
founded on law and universal education and dedicated to the
achievement of knowledge and virtue by its citizens. This is
no mere tract for the time:;, no program of reform. It is
rather the preamble to all law, or better the preamble to
enable the citizen to understand the preambles to all laws.
Aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny these
and other governments must come and go; the republic sheds
its varied measures of light through all of them. To the
individual it is the light that matters, and it is in terms of
this light that he will vote, legislate, and obey the laws well
In a profounder sense this book is not a book of politics.
The republic is the country of the human mind, and it is
on its highways that you and I meet Plato coming back.
March 26, 2008
EDITED BY HARRIS WOFFORD, JR.
THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
When I invited Scott Buchanan to join the
staff of the Fund for the Republic, he asked
what I wanted him to do.
I said, "Teach us."
This he proceeded, unobtrusively, to do.
He was one of the great teachers of our time. If
any member of the Center were asked who the
important influences in his life had been he
would include Scott Buchanan in the list.
He was an unusual combination of wisdom and
imagination. He was the first person ever to
mention the significance of developing countries
in my hearing. He was the first to talk about
what technology had done and would do to
civilization. He was the first to propose a positive
interpretation of the Bill of Rights and to put
forward the idea that the First Amendment
imposed obligations on the government to
support and advance the enlightenment of the
people. We are all glad that we were able to get
his discussion of the Constitution into print
before his death.
He symbolized for us what we were trying to be
and do. He personified the
Civilization of the Dialogue.
- ROBERT M. HUTCHINS