Definitions

core curricula

Great Books

Great Books refers to a curriculum and a book list. Mortimer Adler lists three criteria for including a book on the list:

  • the book has contemporary significance; that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times;
  • the book is inexhaustible; it can be read again and again with benefit;
  • the book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.

--(Adler, "Second Look", pg 142)

Origin

It came about as the result of a discussion among American academics and educators, starting in the 1920s and 1930s and begun by Prof. John Erskine of Columbia University, about how to improve the higher education system by returning it to the western liberal arts tradition of broad cross-disciplinary learning. These academics and educators included Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, Stringfellow Barr, Scott Buchanan, and Alexander Meiklejohn. The view among them was that the emphasis on narrow specialization in American colleges had harmed the quality of higher education by failing to expose students to the important products of Western civilization and thought.

They were at odds both with much of the existing educational establishment and with contemporary educational theory. Educational theorists like Sidney Hook and John Dewey (see pragmatism) disagreed with the premise that there was crossover in education (e.g, that a study of philosophy, formal logic, or rhetoric could be of use in medicine or economics).

Great Books started out as a list of 100 essential primary source texts considered to constitute the Western Canon. This list was always intended to be tentative, although many critics considered it presumptuous and laughable to nominate 100 Great Books to the exclusion of all others.

Program

The Great Books Program is a curriculum that makes use of this list of texts. The undergraduate program as implemented at St. John's College involves a four-year set course of studies consisting of four classes:

As much as possible, students rely on primary sources. They are encouraged to conduct classes themselves, with guidance from a tutor.

In 1919, Professor Erskine taught the first course based on the "great books" program, titled "General Honors," at Columbia University. Erskine left for the University of Chicago in the 1920's, and helped mold its core curriculum. It initially failed, however, shortly after its introduction due to fallings-out between the instructors over the best ways to conduct classes and due to concerns about the rigor of the courses. However, to this day, both Chicago and Columbia maintain required core curricula heavily focused on the "great books" of the Western Canon. Several schools maintain a Great Books Program as an option for students, but some of the most prominent schools are the University of Notre Dame, Pepperdine University, University of San Francisco, Mercer University, University of Dallas, Furman University, St. John's College sister schools, Shimer College, Thomas Aquinas College, Gutenberg College, the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University, the Integral Liberal Arts program at Saint Mary's College of California (Moraga), the Hutchins School at Sonoma State University, and the Louisiana Scholars' College at Northwestern State University (Natchitoches).

Series

The Great Books of the Western World is a hardcover 60-volume collection (originally 54 volumes) of the books on the Great Books list. Many of the books in the collection were translated into English for the first time. A prominent feature of the collection is a two-volume "Syntopicon" that includes essays written by Mortimer Adler on 102 "great ideas." Following each essay is an extensive outline of the idea with page references to relevant passages throughout the collection. Familiar to many Americans, the collection is available from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., which owns the copyright.

Shortly after Adler retired from the Great Books Foundation in 1989, a second edition (1990) of the Great Books of the Western World was published; it included for the first time works by black, Hispanic, and women authors. During his tenure as president of the Foundation, Adler had resisted such inclusions.

Sample list

Any recommended set of great books is expected to change with the times, as reflected in the following statement by Robert Hutchins:

"In the course of history... new books have been written that have won their place in the list. Books once thought entitled to belong to it have been superseded; and this process of change will continue as long as men can think and write. It is the task of every generation to reassess the tradition in which it lives, to discard what it cannot use, and to bring into context with the distant and intermediate past the most recent contributions to the Great Conversation."

The following is an example list from How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. (1940, 1972)

  1. Homer: The Iliad, The Odyssey
  2. The Old Testament
  3. Aeschylus: Tragedies
  4. Sophocles: Tragedies
  5. Herodotus: Histories
  6. Euripides: Tragedies
  7. Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War
  8. Hippocrates: Medical Writings
  9. Aristophanes: Comedies
  10. Plato: Dialogues
  11. Aristotle: Works
  12. Epicurus: "Letter to Herodotus", "Letter to Menoecus"
  13. Euclid: The Elements
  14. Archimedes: Works
  15. Apollonius: The Conic Sections
  16. Cicero: Works
  17. Lucretius: On the Nature of Things
  18. Virgil: Works
  19. Horace: Works
  20. Livy: The History of Rome
  21. Ovid: Works
  22. Plutarch: Parallel Lives; Moralia
  23. Tacitus: Histories; Annals; Agricola; Germania
  24. Nicomachus of Gerasa: Introduction to Arithmetic
  25. Epictetus: Discourses; Enchiridion
  26. Ptolemy: Almagest
  27. Lucian: Works
  28. Marcus Aurelius: Meditations
  29. Galen: On the Natural Faculties
  30. The New Testament
  31. Plotinus: The Enneads
  32. St. Augustine: "On the Teacher"; Confessions; City of God; "On Christian Doctrine"
  33. The Song of Roland
  34. The Nibelungenlied
  35. The Saga of Burnt Njál
  36. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica
  37. Dante Alighieri: The New Life (La Vita Nuova); "On Monarchy"; The Divine Comedy
  38. Geoffrey Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde; The Canterbury Tales
  39. Leonardo da Vinci: Notebooks
  40. Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince; Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy
  41. Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly
  42. Nicolaus Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres
  43. Thomas More: Utopia
  44. Martin Luther: Table Talk; Three Treatises
  45. Francois Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
  46. John Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion
  47. Michel de Montaigne: Essays
  48. William Gilbert: On the Lodestone and Magnetic Bodies
  49. Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
  50. Edmund Spenser: "Prothalamion"; The Faerie Queene
  51. Francis Bacon: Essays; The Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; The New Atlantis
  52. William Shakespeare: Poetry and Plays
  53. Galileo Galilei: Starry Messenger; Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences
  54. Johannes Kepler: The Epitome of Copernican Astronomy; Concerning the Harmonies of the World
  55. William Harvey: On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals; On the Circulation of the Blood; On the Generation of Animals
  56. Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan
  57. René Descartes: Rules for the Direction of the Mind; Discourse on Method; Geometry; Meditations on First Philosophy
  58. John Milton: Works
  59. Molière: Comedies
  60. Blaise Pascal: The Provincial Letters; Pensées; Scientific Treatises
  61. Christiaan Huygens: Treatise on Light
  62. Benedict de Spinoza: Ethics
  63. John Locke: Letter Concerning Toleration; Of Civil Government; Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Thoughts Concerning Education
  64. Jean Baptiste Racine: Tragedies
  65. Isaac Newton: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy; Opticks
  66. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics; New Essays Concerning Human Understanding; "Monadology"
  67. Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
  68. Jonathan Swift: "A Tale of a Tub"; Journal to Stella; Gulliver's Travels; "A Modest Proposal"
  69. William Congreve: The Way of the World
  70. George Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge
  71. Alexander Pope: "Essay on Criticism"; "The Rape of the Lock"; "Essay on Man"
  72. Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu: Persian Letters, Spirit of the Laws
  73. Voltaire: Letters on the English Nation, Candide, Philosophical Dictionary
  74. Henry Fielding: Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones
  75. Samuel Johnson: "The Vanity of Human Wishes", Dictionary, Rasselas, Lives of the Poets
  76. David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, Essays Moral and Political, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding
  77. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, Emile, The Social Contract
  78. Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy, A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
  79. Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments, The Wealth of Nations
  80. Immanuel Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason; The Science of Right; Critique of Judgment, Perpetual Peace
  81. Edward Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Autobiography
  82. James Boswell: Journal; The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
  83. Antoine Laurent Lavoisier: Elements of Chemistry
  84. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison: The Federalist Papers
  85. Jeremy Bentham: Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation; Theory of Fictions
  86. Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France
  87. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust; Poetry and Truth
  88. Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier: Analytical Theory of Heat
  89. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: The Phenomenology of Spirit; The Philosophy of Right; Lectures on the Philosophy of History
  90. William Wordsworth: Poems
  91. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Poems; Biographia Literaria
  92. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice; Emma
  93. Carl von Clausewitz: On War
  94. Stendhal: The Red and the Black; The Charterhouse of Parma; Stendhal
  95. Lord Byron: Don Juan
  96. Arthur Schopenhauer: Studies in Pessimism
  97. Michael Faraday: Chemical History of a Candle; Experimental Researches in Electricity
  98. Charles Lyell: Principles of Geology
  99. Auguste Comte: The Positive Philosophy
  100. Honoré de Balzac: Le Père Goriot; Eugenie Grandet
  101. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Representative Men, Essays, Journal
  102. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter
  103. Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America
  104. John Stuart Mill: A System of Logic; On Liberty; Representative Government; "Utilitarianism"; The Subjection of Women; Autobiography
  105. Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species; The Descent of Man; Autobiography
  106. Charles Dickens: The Pickwick Papers; David Copperfield; Hard Times
  107. Claude Bernard: Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine
  108. Henry David Thoreau: "Civil Disobedience"; Walden
  109. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Capital; The Communist Manifesto
  110. George Eliot: Adam Bede; Middlemarch
  111. Herman Melville: Moby-Dick; Billy Budd
  112. Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov
  113. Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary; Three Stories
  114. Henrik Ibsen: Plays
  115. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace; Anna Karenina; What is Art?; Twenty-Three Tales
  116. Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Mysterious Stranger
  117. William James: The Principles of Psychology; The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays in Radical Empiricism
  118. Henry James: The American (novel); The Ambassadors
  119. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra; Beyond Good and Evil; The Genealogy of Morals; The Will to Power
  120. Jules Henri Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis; Science and Method
  121. Sigmund Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis; Civilization and Its Discontents; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  122. George Bernard Shaw: Plays and Prefaces
  123. Max Planck: Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory; Where Is Science Going?; Scientific Autobiography
  124. Henri Bergson: Time and Free Will; Matter and Memory; Creative Evolution; The Two Sources of Morality and Religion
  125. John Dewey: How We Think; Democracy and Education; Experience and Nature; Logic; The Theory of Inquiry
  126. Alfred North Whitehead: An Introduction to Mathematics; Science and the Modern World; The Aims of Education and Other Essays; Adventures of Ideas
  127. George Santayana: The Life of Reason; Skepticism and Animal Faith; Persons and Places
  128. Lenin: The State and Revolution
  129. Marcel Proust: Remembrance of Things Past (the revised translation is In Search of Lost Time; the original French title is À la recherche du temps perdu)
  130. Bertrand Russell: The Problems of Philosophy; The Analysis of Mind; An Inquiry into Meaning and Truth; Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits
  131. Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers
  132. Albert Einstein: The Meaning of Relativity; On the Method of Theoretical Physics; The Evolution of Physics
  133. James Joyce: "The Dead" in Dubliners; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses
  134. Jacques Maritain: Art and Scholasticism; The Degrees of Knowledge; The Rights of Man and Natural Law; True Humanism
  135. Franz Kafka: The Trial; The Castle
  136. Arnold J. Toynbee: A Study of History; Civilization on Trial
  137. Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea; No Exit; Being and Nothingness
  138. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The First Circle; Cancer Ward

Television

In 1993 and 1994, the Learning Channel did a series of one hour shows discussing many of the great books of history and their impact on the world. It was narrated by Donald Sutherland.

References

See also

External links

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