Wednesday, June 04, 2008

More on the Great Books

Not so very long ago I heard the line: "What's so great about the Great Books?" And perhaps it sounds witty, but a little phrase is easy enough to compose. Now, is there any substance behind it? If the Church, the popes, the saints, and even mere common sense have anything to say about it, the answer is no. Aquinas, for instance, found Aristotle important enough to write commentaries on.

The real question ought to be: "What's not great about the Great Books?" Some of the best thinkers, some of the most world-changing philosophies... in a sincere quest for truth, I consider the Great Books essential to an education. Otherwise we're shutting ourselves off from ideas which not only shaped society and the world, but to a certain extent shaped the Church as well. Aquinas followed in the tradition of many of the greats, and Church doctrine to a large extent follows in the tradition of Aquinas.

The college my eldest brother goes to, and which I intend to go to, uses a Great Books curriculum. Freshman read the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes... Euclid, Pascal, Archimedes, and Aquinas. By the time they finish their senior year, they will be well-acquainted with the greatest of the greats. You can view the curriculum here.

Here's a snippet from their website:

The textbooks that most colleges and universities use are soon outdated; they quickly go out of fashion and are discarded. New ways to think about things unceasingly replace the old. Yet a consensus exists among generations of thinkers and writers that certain works have enduring relevance. They never go out of style. Why is this?

Lucretius was a Roman poet and philosopher who 2,000 years ago wrote a treatise called "On the Nature of Things." This title could well describe any of the Great Books. These works - whether philosophy or science, history or drama - describe things as they really are. They reveal the reality at the core of human experience, a reality that - regardless of time or place - does not change. A person hungry for wisdom can return to these books over and over again without exhausting their meaning. These are the books that have the power to shape human events and to change lives.

And more about the Great Books here.

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