A few years ago my husband became interested in a series of lectures on tape, distributed by The Teaching Company. It is called "The Great Courses." Sometimes, on a long car trip, I put a CD in from one of these courses to fill the time.
On my way home from New York last week I listened to the final few lectures from a course in the Philosophy and Intellectual History series called "Books That Have Made History," taught by a professor from the U. of Oklahoma named J. Rufus Fears. I had not heard all 36 of the course lectures, but enough to understand some of the foundational premises of the course, and to appreciate the synthesis of the final lecture. There was much food for thought.
The course covers a vast, global array of writings that have made history - including Homer and Cicero, Confucius, India's Bhagavad Gita, the Koran and books of the Bible, books by philosophers, novelists, politicians, economists, and great thinkers throughout human history. Even more than the content of the books, however, the underlying questions of the course reached me deeply.
The bottom line was the argument that it is important to read great books - books that not only inform but elevate our thoughts towards wisdom. They make us think about how we should live, the difference between good and evil, the nature of God and fate in the world, the existence of truth and beauty, which basic values are intrinsic to or essential to human survival.
Great books offer an education that leads us to freedom, freedom to think and live and change and grow.
One of the challenges in today's society, Professor Fears points out, is that most Americans (and most people in modern society, for that matter) no longer have the time or inclination toward extensive thought. There is such a barrage of information and facts that come our way so quickly that we never take the time to transform facts and information into knowledge and then into wisdom. In order for that transformation to take place, it requires a time of pondering, mulling over, considering ideas, re-reading and thinking again. Only after that do we find our way to a broader wisdom that can elevate our way of life.
Essentially, it is a lack of meditation that is thwarting our global, societal, and individual education.
More on this tomorrow.