Thursday, April 22, 2021

Do Academics Know Their Own History?

'Why academics need to know more about the history of higher education.'

Steven Mintz, professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, in Inside Higher Ed

"When it comes to knowledge about higher education’s history, most academics are aware of a few historical landmarks: Harvard’s founding in 1636; the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, establishing land-grant colleges; the establishment of the AAUP in 1915; and the 1944 GI Bill of Rights.

"But most know remarkably little about key historical themes involving academic freedom, coeducation, racial integration and the development of tenure. Few, I suspect, realize that tenure only became near-universal at four-year institutions in the 1960s."

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A Smith For All Seasons

Michael Novak reviews Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society, by Jerry Z. Muller, at First Things.

"...the ideal intellectual history is judged not only by the accuracy of its hold on its subject, but also by the judiciousness and wisdom with which it places that subject in history. Muller’s skill in this respect is especially impressive, since in the past Smith’s work, while having been supremely important to practical men and women of affairs and, of course, economists, has been much less carefully studied by philosophers and moralists."

See Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 39 and (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 36.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Denmark's Challenge and Hamlet's Task

Ian Lindquist at St. John's Review.

"Shakespeare goes out of his way to draw the viewer's attention to the public aspect of Hamlet's tragedy, starting with the title of the play, which is named not only after a character but also after a public role. But what is that role? What is Hamlet's task as prince? And how well suited is he for the execution of it? This paper is an attempt to understand the public aspect of Shakespeare's play."

See Shakespeare, Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volumes 26-27, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volumes 24-25.

Monday, April 19, 2021

A Tale of Two Curricula:

'General Education at St. John’s College and the University of Chicago'

Brandon Shin at The Chicago Maroon.

" may come as a surprise that, following a reorganization in 1937, St. John’s [College, Annapolis] was once called 'the college where the ideals of this University [UChicago] come closest to being realized in actual practice' by The Maroon (then The Daily Maroon). In fact, the general education curriculum at St. John’s has its roots firmly planted in the Great Books movement cultivated at UChicago in the 1930s, and the ethos of its curriculum, unlike at UChicago, remains largely unchanged to this day."
(via Heather Salonga at Great Conversations Reading Group)

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Homer’s Humor: Laughter in 'The Iliad'

Robert H. Bell at The Imaginative Conservative.

"Four sequences in the Iliad illustrate the range and complexity of Homeric humor: the Olympian squabble at the end of Book I, Thersites’ intervention at the Greek war council in Book II, Hera’s seduction of Zeus in Book XIV, and the battle of the gods in Book XXI. Why characters in the Iliad laugh, and why readers are invited and entitled to laugh, are complicated issues. Quite distinct kinds of humor emerge from and contribute to the epic’s predominantly tragic, painfully serious project. In Homer’s myriad-minded narrative, it is often but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous—and the reverse."

See Homer in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 4, and (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 3.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

'The Jewish Intellectual Tradition'

'Two Touro-Teaneck intellectuals write about the Jewish approach to thought through history'

Joanne Palmer profiled Alan Kadish and Michael Shmidman of Teaneck and Touro College, authors with Simcha Fishbane of The Jewish Intellectual Tradition: A History of Learning and Achievement, in the Jewish Standard.

"'The backstory for me actually starts more years ago than I care to count,' Dr. Kadish said. 'When I started my undergraduate education at Columbia, with what is not really called the Great Books program but everyone thinks that it’s called that' — actually it’s Columbia College’s core curriculum, a set of foundational books that all its students read and is at the heart of the school’s education — 'I found that there was no real context. We read Plato, and Socrates, and Machiavelli, but there was no historical context.'


"That was a problem that he later found with the study of Jewish intellectual history. People read the classics from that tradition, but did not know how they connected to each other or the world around them.

"'There really never has been a real intellectual history of Jewish thought,' Dr. Kadish said. 'There obviously have been a ton of Jewish histories, and histories of different components of Jewish thought, but we thought that there was room for an intellectual history.'

"We not only wanted to do a survey of the Jewish intellectual tradition, but also to put it in context, to extract the major characteristics, and beyond that to try to illustrate how it could be of practical application, universally, today.' Its core values could help thinking people navigate modern life."

Friday, April 16, 2021

Dostoevsky and the Fiery Word

Review by Father Richard J. Neuhaus of Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet, 1871-1881, by Joseph Frank, at First Things.

"He started out to write a modest book on the novels, but then, as he rather understates the matter, 'my initial intention would grow in size and scope.' Decades later, we have the fifth, final, and very big volume of a biography that will be a standard reference for as long as there are people interested in Dostoevsky, which I like to think will be until Our Lord returns in glory."

See Dostoevsky, "White Nights" in Gateway to the Great Books (10 Vol., 1963) volume 3, and The Brothers Karamazov in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 52, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 52.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The best books on Virgil recommended by Sarah Ruden

'Virgil is one of the most influential poets in the history of Western literature. Here, another poet, Sarah Ruden, talks about the challenges of translating the Aeneid and why, although we know little about Virgil as a man, his great poem’s take on the violence and power struggles it depicts is deeply ambivalent.'

Interview by Benedict King at Five Books.

See Virgil, Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 13, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 12.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Taking Heisenberg’s Potentia Seriously

R. E. Kastner, Stuart Kauffman, and Michael Epperson at arXiv.
"It is argued that quantum theory is best understood as requiring an ontological dualism of res extensa and res potentia, where the latter is understood per Heisenberg’s original proposal, and the former is roughly equivalent to Descartes’ 'extended substance.' However, this is not a dualism of mutually exclusive substances in the classical Cartesian sense, and therefore does not inherit the infamous ‘mind-body’ problem. Rather, res potentia and res extensa are understood as mutually implicative ontological extants that serve to explain the key conceptual challenges of quantum theory; in particular, nonlocality, entanglement, null measurements, and wave function collapse. It is shown that a natural account of these quantum perplexities emerges, along with a need to reassess our usual ontological commitments involving the nature of space and time."

See Heisenberg, Great Books of the Western World (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 56

See Descartes, Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 31, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 28

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

'Antigone' and the Necessity of Political Prudence

L. Joseph Hebert, Jr. at The Imaginative Conservative.

"How are we to respond to the ever more frequent collision of our seemingly incompatible belief systems? Mr. Klavan [Spencer Klavan, 'Idolatry in Lockdown,' Law and Liberty, January 28, 2021] is right to conclude that, when reconciliation fails, believers 'must worship as we are called to, no matter how imperiously today’s would-be Creons' threaten us. Further consideration of Antigone's plot demonstrates, however, that even theological conflicts are resolvable if approached in the right spirit. Indeed, a key lesson of the play is that fanaticism results when public actors fail to practice the one virtue capable of moderating the excesses of human nature: political prudence."

See Sophocles, Plays, Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 5, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 4.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Offshore Core

James Hankins at Law and Liberty.

"The unmet demand for a traditional humanities education in elite universities is increasingly being supplied by offshore institutions that set up shop near universities but are not officially part of them. Indeed, the last decade has seen an extraordinary blossoming of private humanities institutes that offer what progressive academe no longer offers: a space to escape the suffocating taboos of contemporary university life, a place to explore the deep questions of human existence and form friendships in the pursuit of meaningful lives and (dare one say it) truth."

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Pope Francis celebrates Dante: Prophet of hope and poet of mercy

'Pope Francis releases an Apostolic Letter entitled Candor lucis aeternae marking the 700th anniversary of the death of the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, and highlights the relevance, timelessness and depth of faith in Dante’s masterpiece: The Divine Comedy.'

Isabella Piro reported at Vatican News.

"There are two main pillars in the Divine Comedy – the Pope explains - namely 'an innate desire in the human heart' and 'fulfilment in the happiness bestowed by the vision of the Love who is God.' This is why Dante is a 'prophet of hope': because with his work he urges humanity to free itself from the 'dark forest' of sin to find 'the right path' and thus reach 'the fullness of life and time in history' and 'eternal beatitude in God'. The path indicated by Dante, a true 'pilgrimage' - the Pope points out - is 'realistic and within the reach of all, because 'God’s mercy always offers the possibility of change and conversion'."

See Dante, "On World Government" from De Monarchia in Gateway to the Great Books (10 Vol., 1963) volume 7, and The Divine Comedy in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 21, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 19.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Harder They Fall - Galileo and the Renaissance

'Did Galileo’s scientific discoveries grow out of the culture of the Italian Renaissance?'

Episode 369 at the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.

See Galileo, The Starry Messenger, in Gateway to the Great Books (10 Vol., 1963) volume 8, and Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences, in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 28, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 26.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Orwell, Atheism, and Totalitarianism

Carson Holloway on 1984 by George Orwell, at The Public Discourse.

"The Party insists on teaching its members that there is no external, objective reality apart from subjective human consciousness. This is the lesson Winston has to learn the hard way (under torture) after trying to think for himself. Trying to think for yourself implies that there is something 'out there' for you to think about, some 'truth' that you might be able to find, on the basis of which you might be able to critique approved opinion."

See Orwell, Animal Farm, in Great Books of the Western World (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 60.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

'The Battle of the Classics'

'Author discusses his book on a 19th-century scholarly battle and its lessons for debates on the humanities today.'

Scott Jaschik interviews Eric Adler, author of The Battle of the Classics: How a 19th-Century Debate Can Save the Humanities Today, at Inside Higher Ed.

"Q: What is wrong with the Great Books as a prism through which to promote liberal education?

"A: Promoters of the Great Books approach to general education were understandably disturbed by the antihumanistic curricular anarchy ushered in the U.S. colleges after the fall of the old prescribed classical course. But, like the Renaissance humanists before them, they settled on a curricular foundation that was too narrow to fit the intellectual and moral needs of the present. By grounding general education in the study of Western works alone, they were ignoring major elements of contemporary humanistic study. The Analects of Confucius, African art, Japanese Noh drama -- these and so much more are part of the modern humanities. Why should they be left out of our general education?"

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Against Unconscious Motivations, Urges, and Instincts in Human Beings

Zbigniew PaƄpuch in Studia Gilsoniana.


"The aim of this paper is to discuss the problem of the human body as to whether it is wholly and directly influenced by the rational forces of the soul, or it contains something instinctive or unconscious that can exert a determinative influence on human actions and behavior. Drawing on Thomistic anthropology, the author gives his interpretation of organic factors in the human body and their place in the free and rational actions of the human being through the case study of sensual appetitive powers. The latter, he concludes, are what simplify the execution of desires of the soul."

See Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volumes 19-20, and Great Books of the Western World (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volumes 17-18.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Timeless relevance of great works of literature

From the Star (Kenya).
"Professor of literature and stylistics Henry Indangasi has, when occasion demands, expressed reservations about curriculum changes in the Literature department after a conference on the Teaching of Literature held at Nairobi School in 1974.


"African novel writing is a fairly recent phenomenon. European writing—be it in the novel, poetry and drama—spans centuries. Students of literature improve their appreciation of life in all its facets, when they are exposed to world literature. Literature is the best medium for instilling intercultural competence. The concept denotes the ability to function effectively across cultures, to think and act appropriately, and to communicate and work with people from different cultural backgrounds.


"Tragically, the change in the English curriculum appears to have led to the loosening or weakening of standards in the choice of books for study at university. ..."

Monday, April 5, 2021

Multidisciplinary ecosystem for 21st century education

Piyush Kamal at The Pioneer (India).

"The history of liberal education has so far made us believe that the purpose of education should be to give people the knowledge and skills to be independent thinkers. However, the idea that education should increase intellectual independence is a very narrow view of learning. It ignores the fact that knowledge depends a lot on others as well.


"Learning your place in a community of knowledge requires becoming aware of all the knowledge outside of yourself. And that’s where the interdisciplinary approach of acquiring liberal education becomes more relevant, where skills like empathy and the ability to listen become more valuable to work well with others. This also means teaching critical thinking skills, not focusing just on facts, facilitating communication, and exchanging ideas."

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Why Civil Discourse Should Be the Fruit of a Liberal Arts Education

Commentary by Jude Schwalbach and Leah Schnyders at The Heritage Foundation.

"An essential component of liberal education is to build communities where students can engage in spirited debates and discussions about the ideas over which humanity has engaged for centuries. Yet, if this dialogue 'is to be fertile, [it] requires intellectual humility, the recognition of the dignity of all participants, and a passion for truth,' Pano Kanelos, the president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, notes."

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Higher Ed's 7 Deadly Sins: And how we might atone.

Steven Mintz at Inside Higher Ed.

"Decrying higher ed’s flaws and failings is, of course, like shooting fish in a barrel -- our shortcomings are everywhere. But what should we do if we wish to atone for the academy’s sins? Here are my suggestions. [which include]
"Design and deliver courses that go beyond subject mastery. Among the most distinctive features of American higher education is its embrace of liberal education, an education that seeks to foster the qualities we expect of an adult, including the ability to manage time, collaborate, communicate effectively and extract, evaluate, interpret and convey information. Of equal importance is cultural development, instilling historical and cross-cultural awareness, numeracy, and a familiarity with all the liberal arts. What does that mean? Integrate writing, ethics, critical thinking, close reading and reflection into all of your classes" ...

Friday, April 2, 2021

How Einstein Became a Celebrity

'His theory of general relativity was well known in the U.S., but his 1921 visit caused a sensation.'

Livia Gershon at JStor Daily.

"Asked to think of a genius, almost anyone in the United States will immediately form a mental picture of a certain wild-haired, gently smiling Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. But how did Albert Einstein earn this place in our mental maps of extraordinary humans? As philosopher Marshall Missner writes, it all goes back 100 years, to Einstein’s arrival in New York on April 2, 1921."


"Media accounts referred to the new theory [if general relativity] as a 'revolution,' overturning the reign of Newton and Euclid—though Einstein himself noted that this wasn’t really accurate. ...

"Einstein’s reception in the media also got a boost from the throngs who, apparently, showed up to greet him. But, Missner argues, this was a bit of an illusion. Einstein arrived as part of a delegation of Zionists, and it’s likely the largely Jewish crowds were mainly enthusiastic about the cause. The major newspapers had little interest in Zionism but a lot in the intriguing idea of general relativity, so they focused on Einstein. ..."

See Albert Einstin, "The Rise and Fall of Classical Physics", from The Evolution of Physics (with Leopold Infeld), in Gateway to the Great Books (10 Vol., 1963) volume 8; Relativity: The Special and the General Theory, in Great Books of the Western World (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 56.

See Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, and Optics, in Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 34, and (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 32.

See Euclid, Great Books of the Western World (first edition, 52 Vol., 1952) volume 11, (second edition, 60 Vol., 1990) volume 10.