What Can Plato Teach Me That I Can't Find on Wikipedia?
In his Floating University lecture Jeffrey Brenzel, Philosopher, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, argues the classics will not only enhance your education, but help you live better.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHonan
What's the Big Idea?
Do we really need to read the classics in the age of Wikipedia? Aren't these books just historical artifacts or a bunch of pretentious fodder for cocktail party conversation? According to Jeffrey Brenzel, Philosopher and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale University, the classics will not only enhance your education, but help you live better.
So how do we decide which books qualify? This is, after all, one of the most controversial subjects in academia. In his Floating University lecture Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: The Essential Value of a Classic Education, Brenzel presents five "rough and ready criteria" for identifying a classic of literature or philosophy or politics. While Brenzel notes that no one or two of these criteria are going to be decisive, he presents them all together as a useful tool. He lists the criteria as follows:
1. A classic addresses permanent concerns about the human condition.
"From a philosophical perspective it has something to say about the way we should live. From a literary perspective, it has something to say about imagining the possibilities for how we could live and from a historical perspective it tells us how we have lived."
2. A classic has been a game-changer.
"It has created profound shifts in perspective and not only for its earliest readers, but for all the readers who came later as well."
3. A classic has stimulated or influenced many other important works.
The work has impacted other important works, either directly or indirectly.
4. A classic has received critical acclaim.
Even if they violently disagreed with the work, "many generations of the best readers and the most expert critics have rated the work highly" and one of the best or most important of its kind.
5. A classic requires strenuous intellectual engagement.
Beach reading doesn't qualify. Brenzel says a classic usually requires "a strenuous effort to engage and understand, but it also rewards the hard work strongly and in multiple fashions."
Having established the criteria for judging whether a work is a classic, Brenzel points to the development of Christian thinking over many centuries to illustrate how various game-changers have impacted each other. fundamental value in our world today.
According to Brenzel, what you know of Christianity today arises from what historians have termed "The Marriage of Jerusalem and Athens." In the selection below, Brenzel fast-forwards through the centuries to show how "the very concepts and ideas that form the basis for Christianity actually turn out to owe a great deal to Plato and Aristotle."
Take the journey from Plato to Aristotle to St. Augustine to St. Aquinas to St. Paul to Dante to Luther and Milton here:
What's the Significance?
So why is the canon important? Brenzel demonstrates that if you are a Christian, your views result from the "speculations and collisions" of ideas that occurred over centuries and came to form what church dogma is today.
This blog is meant to keep you updated on the latest Floating University developments. Stay tuned for more on The Floating University, its lecturers, courses, and offerings. To subscribe to The Floating University visit: www.floatinguniversity.com.
The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?
- History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
- In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
- Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.
Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you.
Orangutans join humans and bees in a very exclusive club
- Orangutan mothers wait to sound a danger alarm to avoid tipping off predators to their location
- It took a couple of researchers crawling around the Sumatran jungle to discover the phenomenon
- This ability may come from a common ancestor
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.