Why Bother With the Classic Great Books?

“You need not know of the doctrines and writings of the great masters of antiquity, you need not have heard of their names, none the less you are under the spell of their authority.” Theodore Gomperz, Austrian philosopher and specialist in the Greeks, quoted by Erwin Schrodinger

Do you want to be in charge of your thinking or leave it to chance? 

Gomperz names a powerful truth–that each of us in contemporary life is influenced and affected by the great writers of the past, whether we know it or not!

We can’t help it! Their ideas are everywhere in our world. Almost every dystopian science fiction film echoes ideas in Plato’s Republic.

When you tell a friend you don’t want to “catch a cold,” “refuse to budge an inch,” or “not to eat me out of house and home” you’re repeating William Shakespeare’s coinages.

Have you used a donut shaped life-saver float at the pool? Thank Leonardo DaVinci!

Reading the Great Books (the Classics) you learn the powerful and timeless ideas of the best thinkers in civilization, useful in any era or place. These works are extremely influential today. They include philosophy, economics, mathematics, literature, history, science, architecture – you name it! Simultaneously, the Great Books’ authors and their ideas serve as examples of the highest in creative thinking skills. They’re example after example of how to put facts and ideas together in new ways, examples to remember when you’re solving your own work and life problems.

You not only learn great ideas that will help you live better, you train your mind to think deeply and broadly.

Thinking deeply, you efficiently recognize patterns, trends and influences everywhere in culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries. 

One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? The ancient Greeks pondered this for some time. In the 400s BCE, “What is, is,” said Parmenides, who believed existence is timeless and change impossible, a mere illusion. “I can’t step into the same river twice,” said Heraclitus, who argued that all was continuous change. The Greeks couldn’t reconcile how states and change could co-exist. How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked.

It took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle decades later to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—how could we think about science and technology, societies or evolution?

Did you learn about such great ideas as Aristotle’s breakthrough in school? You should have! We take so much for granted in our great civilization, we’re not sufficiently aware of how much we owe to inventive, creative individuals down the ages. 

And we need to learn from them!

The Great Connections hosts a weekly reading group in which we study The Great Books. Register here!

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