This class will present an initial set of lessons that develop a deep concept around the foundations of a liberal education. In this course, we will delve into the most fundamental aspects of Western philosophy and the Western canon. Then, where this has developed into a level of understanding around the enlightenment canon and the birth of rational thought, we will extend the studies and time into alternative paths, including some aspects of Eastern philosophy.
Education has changed over time. In becoming more specialised and gaining more training, we have become less educated. Institutions are now focusing on areas outside of traditional education and the development of the human mind. While this produces more specialists, it equally produces fewer individuals who can understand the foundations of Western thought, the value of rational discourse and the need for a liberal education. Whilst it is important to gain the necessary skill sets to specialise in a trade or profession, the foundations of a democratic republic are based upon developing knowledgeable and educated people.
The prerequisite knowledge that enables people to be engaged members of society requires a preparation that develops an educational diet consumed over time in a process that allows us to understand the foundations of government and the various institutions within modern society. Therefore, education needs to be challenging. It is not merely a way to prepare for an occupation or be entertained but is the foundation of how we breed and grow individuals who will take up the mantle of freedom.
In this, we seek to educate people to be human beings. Education should help us learn to be free equally to use the most of our human ability, and through education, we should learn to be responsible members of society. We learn the value of argument and debate in democracy through education. Through this knowledge, we learn the power and value of both the individual and freedom. In seeking a liberal education, we should not follow the common term and what many people believe liberalism to be. Rather, we should look at the origins of the term and find that it is based on an education that prepares us to be free men and women. In this form of education, not only can we find a manner to pursue happiness but to be satisfied and happy with our lot. Where we are not happy, we learn how to strive to change things without destroying what we seek to improve.
Happiness consists of making the most of yourself.
Education will aid in helping people be a better part of a community, not by relinquishing their rights but rather in founding a basis of how we can grow as individuals and how the community can help us grow. In this, happiness is seen as part of not only taking but giving back.
It is only through interaction with other people that we can be fully human. In learning to be part of a community, we also learn to be individuals. In learning to communicate and exchange ideas, we learn to hone our own ideas and better interact with society. This education program is designed to aid in developing the individual to be an effective citizen of a democracy. Citizenship necessitates an understanding of the world in which you live. This includes the rights and duties of the individual and those of society. In this, we understand that we do not leave our duties to be performed by other people and that obligations come attached to the rights we receive.
In living vicariously and vacuously without addressing the people we interact with, we cannot fully understand the meaning of freedom. Without understanding the needs and requirements of interaction with multiple people and the need to develop virtue and intelligence, we cannot develop a free society composed of free individuals. For to be free, you must be educated for freedom. In this, the individuals who form society need to learn to think.
The free man or woman is one who can think for themselves. It is not merely of right to think but the necessity to act and think and develop. To be a free individual requires that we contemplate the aims of life and organised society. This series of lectures will develop and expand upon many of these questions looking at the Western liberal canon and investigating the age-old questions that have arisen from this course around these topics.
We will seek to engage you in this course and discuss communication around the community. As specialists, each of us is trained to know the jargon of our trade, profession or another specialty. In learning a specialty, even if it is science or mathematics or a legal profession, it tends to grow into a narrow specialty of understanding and discourse. We learned to know far more about less and less in becoming a specialist. The specialist lands to communicate in a special language concerning their specialty but become limited in communicating to other specialists in their field. In a discourse on the subject one knows, other members of an audience, other members of society fail to understand, and the topic becomes incomprehensible. This does a disservice to the individual specialist and society as a whole.
All members of the society hold an interest in multiple areas of common concern. The activities of a community, the government, society, and the communities we live in must not be cut off from the communications of the specialist. As we hear people say that topics are outside their field, we start to close down and diminish the level of communication we have on various topics that are of great import. When we say trust the scientists or to trust the professionals in some field, we need to learn how to do this with an understanding of the basics surrounding those fields. This is because many subjects lead to life or death decisions that concern the future of the Commonwealth.
The education of our children and ourselves, the automation of many technologies and processes, the effects of inflation and the economy and even questions around green energy or the use of nuclear energy must be discussed and debated openly throughout society and not left to the decisions of a few experts. Countries such as the United States have a formal written constitution. The United Kingdom has a common law constitution that has developed over time. In each case, there is a major premise that individuals do not need to be experts in all aspects of society but that the democratic system requires that the individuals within it are informed and interested enough to judge the various policies and proposals placed before them by those who represent them or seek to sway them.
It is only with information, diligence and intelligence that people can engage and be interested in a way that allows democracies to be successful. It is not in a world of small pithy comments on Twitter that we can engage adequately and understand the heart of a difficult concept. It is not through logical fallacies such as ad hominem where we attack the person and not their idea that we can learn to grow and present ideas rather than attacking the individual.
The incentive for reading the Western canon and the books presented in this course is not merely acquiring a formal proof of education that many people seek in a piece of paper or diploma. Still, rather it is simply in expounding the desire to become a better human. To be human requires that we interact with other people and do so for the sake of our community and our country. In doing this, we may be more successful in our careers, but we will be more successful as people. Unfortunately, the common term success is often misused and measured against money or value rather than our roles in society and building community.
It cannot be a handicap for an individual to learn to think and act and be part of a liberal discourse on the needs of society as a whole. In understanding the foundations of the Western canon, we can understand the tradition in the world and how this has developed a society that is no longer autocratic but rather that allows individuals to express themselves. Whether or not you increase your moneymaking capability is less important than the ability to become an adequate companion for yourself.
This course will be a combination of discussion and reading. Through this course, we will work together to learn and understand and create the necessary obligations needed to comprehend the traditions within the Western world and the development of enlightened liberal thought. This is not designed to be done by yourself but rather as a process where you talk with others. While we can learn individually, we all develop deeper thoughts when challenged and forced to communicate. In this process, you should learn to overcome the lack of confidence in a topic you may have and understand a set of historical works that form the foundation of our society and that you will see in everyday literature and visual communications.
This course will run continuously through the complete series of the major Western canon. This will span nearly 3000 years. The temptation to be overwhelmed will always remain with anyone facing such a challenge. However, it is not infeasible and not impossible and given enough time; you will be able to read and learn and understand each of these works. Moreover, the language presented is not as difficult as many people have been told, and it becomes simpler to understand over time.
For anyone living in the Western world, these ideas are not as abstract or isolated as you may think. They are the foundation of society, the foundation of democratic government in the foundation of liberal thought. Whilst these ideas are critically important, they are not ideas that are unheard of in many cases. The books presented are not designed merely for specialists. Rather, these are books on philosophy, political science and literature that have formed the foundation of modern society. These works were created not for the literati but the ordinary person.
It may not be fashion or fashionable to admit that you are learning the foundations of freedom and liberal thought, but in doing so, you will learn why it is so critical that you do so. The books we will read are themselves, teachers. These works span time and distance to deliver the thoughts of a long lost generation and the wisdom of ages to us. They demand attention. As this course progresses, as you read more, you will find it simpler, and through this process, you will find the sequence of books leads one to another and makes learning easier over time.
In learning this, the foundation of the Western Enlightenment concept of liberal thought and freedom, you will learn to understand and embrace some of the most spectacular creations of human thought and the human mind as it is crystallised on paper. Unfortunately, modern society and our education system have largely disregarded and abandoned many of these books. The names of some authors were never mentioned. The works are forgotten. Yet, in learning this, we will learn how to understand the world better, and once you have learnt them, you will understand the positions taken by many in government and politics today.
My purpose is to guide you through a reading of the best books of the Western canon and to aid you in understanding them and gaining your perspective and understanding over time. For, as much as I can sell you my opinion, it is for you to understand and learn the meaning of each of these works and embrace and extend in your mind. This course will not orientate around a single subject or theme. It will be diverse, interesting and rewarding. Yet, it will be equally challenging for all who engage, even the expert, if the student engages properly.
There is a unifying theme in all of these courses. The diversity of the course comes back to the foundation of liberty and the need to create an open and free society. In the series of books that we will be presenting, we will help you understand a wide and varied set of topics that will have a basis that all can enjoy and a depth and range of information that will cover all tastes. This course will cover prose, fiction, satire, tragedy and autobiography and biography, essays and other works of literature, including poetry. In addition, we will delve into the foundations of science, economics, politics and ethics as we explore and investigate the foundations of philosophy and learn through an analysis of both social science and history.
The variety of topics being covered will not only give you this introduction. Still, it will present some alternatives that you can follow up with, and this has been done in a way that will allow those who are not wealthy and may even be in some of the poorest societies to gain access to knowledge. As the course continues, we will delve into topics in more detail and over the weeks, months, and years will give you the foundation to learn and understand the basics and philosophy and depth. Whether on politics or philosophy, each topic will be covered both in summary and depth. The inventory of terms and outlines of topics will provide you with a means of understanding and engaging with your interest and coming to terms with some of the specialist ideas and nomenclatures.
This is not based on an academic year but a continuous learning process. The length of each presented reading is such that most people will find time to finish it within a week, if not at worst-case two weeks. The sections will give you an introduction to the whole work. Those who find the area particularly interesting may wish to delve into the work in detail, going beyond the sections given each week in a reading exercise. We will aid you in giving you topics to think about and through our discourse, helping you form attention to detail that drives you to an in-depth analysis of the work.
Each section will incorporate many questions, and we hope individuals and groups will form together to have discussions and answer each of these questions in their own way. So again, there will be groups to form to discuss this and, in doing so, hopefully, will grow in knowledge and understanding and enable people to write on these topics and potentially blog or publish further in aiding not only your understanding but to tell others what you have learnt. For it is through sharing that we truly learn.
In this course, many biographical materials will be provided detailing the authors and the relevance to their writings. In addition, people will discuss and find interesting historical circumstances around the time of the writing of the books. This will help you understand the author’s works in a context that grows your understanding of both the historical time and the author’s reasoning.
This course will focus and shine attention on critical issues that you should think about and try and understand on your own. In asking questions, these are not merely problems but rather areas for you to illuminate in your own mind. In some cases, you may merely want to read these problems and give cursory thought to what the writing meant. In others, you may wish to write out the answers in full and expound on why you believe the author wrote them and what the question around the text means. In doing this, you may write a simple answer such as a one or two paragraph reply or even a full essay.
There is no right answer to any of the questions. The purpose of this course is to stimulate your thought and not to judge what you remember merely.
Each week, you will be left with several questions that you can go over on your own that will aid you in developing knowledge and enhancing what you have learnt and read. Some of these will be factual questions and can be simply answered definitively. Others will be more challenging and require that you think through the problem, expand your knowledge of what you’ve read, and use other text.
The first set of lessons is included week by week below. The text will be free or only moderately priced for many of these as they are primarily out of copyright. Where this is not the case, it will be possible to find low-cost secondhand works or even sections of the book online.