The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 23, 2019

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Higher Education and the Liberal Arts

Lesson 1: Ancient Greece

  1. Aristotle, Politics, Book VIII
    • What is meant by, “ is clear that education should be based upon three principles—the mean, the possible, the becoming, these three”?
    • Why should a citizen be molded to the “form of government under which he lives”?
    • Are music and gymnastics properly a central part of a liberal education, and if so, why?
    • Does public education presuppose that “the whole city has one end,” and if it does have such an end in America, what is our one common end? Is public education defensible without a unitary common end?
  2. Plato, The Republic, Book VII
    • Is the introduction to being, to the full light of the sun, for everyone? If not, whose chains should be released?
    • Should one come back into the cave from the light? Why or why not?
    • Is mathematics essential to philosophy?
    • Why does the philosopher-king in the “perfect State” also “bear its image”? What does this mean, and is it the same as Aristotle’s citizen molded to his city’s form of government?

Summary question: What is the purpose of an education for Plato and Aristotle, especially in relationship to the public good?

Further reading:

  1. Richard Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being
  2. David J. Levy, “Education as Recollection, Encounter, and Ascent”
  3. Elizabeth C. Shaw, “Philosophers for the City: Aristotle and the Telos of Education”
  4. Thomas Pangle, “The Socratic Critique of Sophistry”
  5. Peter Stanlis, “Plato and Aristotle”

Lesson 2: Ancient Rome

  1. Quintilian, Preface, Book 1-Chapter 2, Book 8-Introduction, and Book 12-Chapter 2 from Institutes of Oratory
    • What is characteristic of a “good man,” and why is his goodness necessary to the orator?
    • In what sense is it possible to attain education without attaining virtue?
    • Why does Quintilian give priority in education to virtue over education in the skill of oratory proper?
    • What distinguishes an orator from a philosopher, and is this a useful distinction in our day?
  2. Seneca, “On Liberal and Vocational Studies”
    • How is virtue connected to the wisdom that “gives a man his liberty”?
    • Do physical or artistic subjects like wrestling and music have a place in liberal education? If not, why do so many authors contend that they do? If so, why do we not better incorporate such subjects in contemporary American education?
    • Exactly how do the liberal arts “prepare the soul for the reception of virtue”?
    • Is academic specialization (cf. the description of Apion) antithetical to Senecan virtue and moderation?

Summary question: How do the Romans differ from the Greeks in their discussions of education? To what do they give special attention or what do they ignore that the Greeks did not?

Further reading:

  1. Tracy Lee Simmons, Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin
  2. E. Christian Kopff, “The Classics and the Traditional Liberal Arts Curriculum”
  3. J.M. Lalley, “The Roman Example”
  4. John E. Rexine, “World of Ancient Rome”

Lesson 3: Early Christian education

  1. Basil the Great, “To Young Men, on How They Might Derive Profit from Pagan Literature”
    • Consider Basil’s image of pagan learning as the foliage to the fruit growing from a Christian soul. What sort of relationship does this image evoke, and how is it to be maintained with the radical rejection of the value of “this human life of ours”?
    • What is the goal of virtue’s acquisition? Though both Christian and pagan authors write about virtue, do they mean the same thing by the word?
    • What is Basil’s ordering of the relationship between Jerusalem and Athens?
    • What does “He must have heard, it seems to me, our commandment forbidding the taking of an oath...” mean, and what sort of relationship does Basil posit between God’s Law and pagan knowledge of the Law?
  2. Jerome, “To Laeta” and “To Magnus”
    • What about pagan learning, specifically, does Jerome want to purge away in order to have a “true nation of Israel”?
    • What is the cause of Magnus’s question, according to Jerome, and what does that illuminate about the conflict between reason and revelation?
    • When and why should education begin?
    • How does Christian training in virtue differ, if it does, from Stoicism?

Summary question: Is there a tension between Athens and Jerusalem? If there is, how or should that tension be maintained in the process of education, and if not, is the tension’s resolution essential to education?

Further reading:

  1. Mordecai Roshwald, “Rome and Jerusalem: A Tale of Two Cities”
  2. Louise Cowan, “Jerusalem’s Claim on Us”
  3. Richard Sherlock, “Jerusalem and Athens”
  4. Dante Germino, “Leo Strauss versus Eric Voegelin on Faith”

Lesson 4: Renaissance and Reformation

  1. Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Institution of Children”
    • Can a liberal education be obtained without financial wealth to sustain it?
    • What is the significance of becoming one’s own guardian, e.g. here, of not taking a writer on his own authority?
    • Why is physical training essential to education?
    • How does Montaigne balance the dual necessities of the governor and a truly liberal education?
  2. Martin Luther, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools”
    • Should we distinguish between the content of the Christian education enjoined upon parents and a liberal education? Take into account the historic coincidence of Christianity and liberal education.
    • What does the primacy of the family over education mean for the content, form, and manner of education?
    • What does Luther mean by a “public school”? What sort of res publica does such a “public school” presume?
    • What does knowledge of languages, the liberal arts, and history bring, according to Luther?
  3. Milton, “On Education”
    • What view of man and his abilities does Milton’s “end then of Learning” show forth? Is such learning in any sense liberal?
    • What effect on a nation’s religious and political culture do its schools have?
    • Why does Milton rail against medieval scholasticism?
    • Why does Milton propose an almost exclusively Biblical and classical education?

Summary question: What are the similarities and dissimilarities between the three authors, specifically in their views of human nature and curricular prescriptions?

Further reading:

  1. John Carroll, The Wreck of Western Culture
  2. Charles D. Murphy, “The Vision at the Center”
  3. Ellis Sandoz, “Modernity’s Renaissance Origins”
  4. Thomas Molnar, “Renaissance and Religion”

Lesson 5: The Enlightenment

  1. George Turnbull, Chapter 1 of Observations upon Liberal Education, in All its Branches <>
  2. What place does virtue have in Turnbull’s educational theory?
  3. How are the effects of one’s education made lasting and indelible by his instructor?
  4. Is habit more important and/or useful than dialogue as a method of instruction? Is habit antithetical to a liberal education?
  5. Why does Turnbull commend natural philosophy before all other studies, and what sort of break is this with earlier authors?
  6. What theories of the origin of society does Turnbull provide, and why do they appear in an essay on education?
  7. What does the rejection of the teaching of original sin mean for education?
  8. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences
    • How is Rousseau’s account of European intellectual history related to his answer to the Academy’s question?
    • Should an education seek to reverse the ill effects of civilization on the child?
    • Is political freedom necessarily coincident with a liberally educated people?
  9. Immanuel Kant, Chapter I: Introduction and Chapter IV: The Cultivation of the Mind from Kant on Education
    • How does Kant’s idea of “natural roughness” color his educational philosophy?
    • What is the perfection to which Kant desires mankind to ascend?
    • What is the distinction between an improvable human nature and a “condition worthy of the nature of man”? Why is this distinction made?
    • In what is a given individual educated, within Kant’s historical scheme of progressive enlightenment? How does or should an education in the nineteenth century differ from one in the twenty-first?
    • How does Kant’s optimism about human nature inform his theory?
    • Are all of man’s faculties to be educated to an equal degree, and if unequally, why and how?

Summary question: What are the salient points of Enlightenment educational theory, as you find the commonalities between these three writers, and what do those points mean in each writer’s description of the practical task of educating children?

Further reading:

  1. Mark Blitz, “Basic Issues in Kant’s Moral and Political Thought”
  2. Jerry Combee and Martin Plax, “Rousseau’s Noble Savage and European Self-Consciousness”
  3. Stephen J. Tonsor, “The Father of Totalitarian Democracy: Jean-Jacques Rousseau”
  4. Gerhart Niemeyer, “Enlightenment to Ideology” Part One and “Enlightenment to Ideology” Part Two

Lesson 6: The 19th Century

  1. John Henry Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University, Discourse V
    • What should a university that does not publicly commit itself to any religious dogma teach, in light of Newman’s summation of all knowledge in God?
    • May a “philosophical habit” be formed by the study of any handful of subjects? Must a particular curriculum be prescribed?
    • What does Newman’s use of the word “gentleman” mean? What sort of gentility is at stake?
    • What is Newman’s meaning for “perfection,” and how is it like or unlike other perfections already discussed?
  2. William Graham Sumner, “Integrity in Education”
    • Is it proper to speak of educational “theory,” and if so, why is it needed?
    • To what does Sumner attribute superficiality in education, and are its cause and form peculiarly modern?
    • What is Sumner’s apologia for public or “common” education? Could the same argument be made by others thinkers encountered in this course?
    • Is “sensationalism” inescapably part of democratic education?
  3. John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of Saint Andrews, 1867
    • What is Mill’s definition of perfection?
    • Why would Mill have both the classics and the sciences taught, and does he assign a greater weight in the curriculum to either one or the other?
    • What, if anything, does Mill’s philosophical utilitarianism have to do with his educational theories?
    • Does the eclipse of Newtonian physics by general relativity and quantum mechanics invalidate Mill’s argument about the uses of science?
    • What do larger notions of “progress” or “perfection” have to do with Mill’s recommended course of study?

Summary question: How do the nineteenth-century writers inherit, revise, and reject the traditions of the classical world, Christianity, and humanism?

Further reading:

  1. John Angus Campbell, “John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, and the Culture Wars: Resolving a Crisis in Education”
  2. Henry T. Edmondson III, John Dewey and the Decline of American Education
  3. Charles Leslie Glenn, Jr., The Myth of the Common School
  4. William L. Burton, “The Conservatism of William Graham Sumner”
  5. John Chamberlain, “William Graham Sumner and the Old Republic”

Lesson 7: The 20th Century

  1. Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”
    • What is the relationship between the tools of learning and its object, the traditio handed down from teacher to student?
    • Distinguish Sayers’ theory of “child development” from modern theories. What does she assume about a child that, say, John Dewey does or does not?
    • What is the importance of form to education? Of content?
  2. Albert Jay Nock, The Theory of Education in the United States, VI-VII & XIV
    • Do the three constituent parts (equality, democracy, universal literacy) of what Nock calls the American theory of education ineluctably breed a lack of education?
    • Is Nock’s “formative knowledge” an end in itself?
    • Are Greek, Latin, and mathematics the proper subjects of a liberal course of study?
  3. Eric Voegelin, “On Classical Studies”
    • What is the proper study of man, and why is it so?
    • Is metalepsis essential to education? Explain why or why not.
    • What is it about the disciplines Voegelin enumerates that force their practitioners to the “question of truth”?

Summary question: Is the classical curriculum centered on Greek and Latin the sole hope for liberal education in the (post)modern age?

Further reading:

  1. Richard Weaver, “Education and the Individual”
  2. E. Christian Kopff, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition
  3. Robert M. Thornton, “A Stroll with Albert Jay Nock”
  4. Gerhart Niemeyer, “The Glory and Misery of Education”
  5. Hugh Mercer Curtler, Recalling Education

Lesson 8: Modern American higher education

  1. Russell Kirk, “Decadence in the American University”
    • What are the responsibilities of the citizen of the “republic of letters” (in Nock’s phrase) or the “republic of Academe” (in Kirk’s)?
    • For what life should a college graduate be prepared?
    • Is education, rather than training, possible on the scale of the state university?
  2. R.V. Young, “The University Possessed”
    • To whom should a Great Books curriculum be taught?
    • What is the difference between an “Enlightenment university” and the colleges that Young identifies as keeping liberal education going? Does this difference matter for the future of education?
    • Is the battle for liberal education futile in view of societal forces such as widespread divorce and, for Bloom, rock music?
  3. Irving Babbitt, Chapter IV, “Literature and the College” from Literature and the American College
    • Are the arts to blame for the sciences’ dominance in higher education?
    • Do the liberal arts need to be taught and learned hierarchically?
    • What is the telos of the liberal arts college—what Babbitt calls the “small college”?

Summary question: Can the liberal arts be taught at a large state university today, or is their teaching possible only in a small liberal-arts college?

Further reading:

  1. Hugh Mercer Curtler, “A Plea for Humanistic Education”
  2. Stephen J. Tonsor, “Redefining Liberal Education”
  3. George Panichas, The Critical Legacy of Irving Babbitt
  4. George Panichas, “Education for All Time”
  5. Barry Bercier, The Skies of Babylon: Diversity, Nihilism, and the American University
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