Western Civilization and Intellectual History I and II

Great Thinkers and Writers in the Western Tradition

Students survey the great conversation among history’s most eminent thinkers and writers, from Moses and Plato to Nietzsche and the rise of post-modernism. Unlike many similar classes, the heart of this survey is the Incarnation and the immediate cultural and intellectual effects of Christianity as it both confronted and integrated pre-Christian culture. In the first year, the course surveys the Jewish and Greek roots of European thought, then traces the conversation forward through the high-medieval synthesis of Christianity with the requirements of worldly rule. In the second year, students consider the transformative controversies of the Renaissance and Reformation, and finally the multiple revolutions of the modern period.

Most of the reading is in primary sources, written by many of the most eminent and admired (or hated) thinkers of all time. The goal is first to understand each thinker on his own terms, as he would have understood himself, second to understand his thinking as an element in the centuries-long controversy and dialogue of great ideas, and third to let that Great Conversation illuminate the student’s own world view in the present day. The course takes this respectful approach even in cases where the thinker in question is an enemy of our Christian faith, in part for moral reasons, but also because we wish to test and refine our own stand by a candid examination of our philosophical opponents.

The course is paired with the Western Literature two-year course, and the two courses function together in informing the conversation around ideas and historical contexts. As such, readings from both courses may be referred to in the conversation of each course.

Primary Textbooks Used:

Readings in the first year include work by the following authors: Homer, Plato, Plutarch, Justin Martyr, Marcus Aurelius, the Apostolic fathers, Augustine, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Benedict, Boethius, Anselm, Dante, and Aquinas.

Readings in the second year include work by the following authors: Calvin, Pascal, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hamilton, Bastiat, Marx, and Nietzsche, and Lewis.