What does it mean to have a degree in the Integral Program? One would guess that it doesn’t mean much more than a philosophy major or a theology and religious studies major since it isn’t actually a “real” major. And besides, you can’t actually get a “real” job unless you study something more practical, such as a major in business, accounting, or engineering. So why even bother studying the liberal arts to begin with? These are the very questions that I encounter on numerous occasions and from various different people, my friends and family included. It always comes down to, “So what are you going to do with that anyway?” I’ve responded, “I’m seeking to understand the truth, and figuring out the meaning of what is ‘real’.”
One of the main reasons I decided to attend Saint Mary’s College is because it was a liberal arts college. I took some personality test and it told me that I was best fit for studying the liberal arts. I had no idea what that meant until about half way through my first year in the program. The seven liberal arts of classical studies from the medieval period are broken up into two groups: Trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and Quadrivium, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. These seven studies make the basis of a classical liberal arts education, one that sharpens the mind to think critically and make strong arguments. I’ve learned that the Integral Program is pretty much that of a classics education in its entirety. Its name suggests that it is the integrated liberal arts program.
To my surprise, just about every single class in the program connects with each other in some way. What I learn in math class relates to the same discussions in music class. My close studies of the ancient Greek language bring up questions that my class debates about during seminar. The structure of the program is so intertwined with the content of the books that I am reminded that these same discussions have been around for thousands of years. There is a reason why the seminar is called The Great Conversation and why the curriculum is based from the Great Books.
What I have learned about this Great Conversation is that just about every single human being takes part in it, whether they realize it or not. It is one of the most basic questions that all humans ask themselves, “Why am I here? And what is my purpose?” Philosophers and scholars throughout history attempt to answer this very question by engaging in conversations and writing down their thoughts and ideas so that they may be tested and debated. Socrates, for sure, never lets anyone settle on an argument. This Great Conversation continues through the lengths of thousands of years, the same questions arise now as they did back when Socrates or Jesus was living. That astonishes me. Yet, all scholars have the same approach to tackling and understanding the questions. They do it by means of the liberal arts and by testing their knowledge through observation and reason of the Great Book texts. Therefore, one cannot arrive at “truth” simply by taking philosophy classes. There are many more areas of study to consider. For instance, truth through a scientific approach is much different from truth through a artistic approach. Mathematical truth shares commonalities with musical and astronomical truth, but they are not entirely the same either. The liberal arts takes the approach of questioning what is true and applies it in many different areas of study.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed about the way the Great Books are selected in the Integral Program, many people question why we read Lucretius right after the Old Testament, or why there is such a heavy emphasis on Catholic texts, as opposed to other text. Some think that the reading list is made to express and advocate certain ideas; this is may seem like a tricky spot since Saint Mary’s is a Catholic institution. From what I have observed about the text is that The Great Books and the order of the reading list is put in chronological order. The ideas that come from the books come about because the authors themselves were influenced by what they read, the authors preceding them. Each book contributes the same Great Conversation just as it is today. Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things because he was influenced in part by the Euclid and the Old Testament. Saint Augustine’s Confessions was written with influence from the Bible, Plotinus, and Aristotle. And if this progression continues, the more people study and read the Great Books and participate in this Great Conversation, the closer humanity will arrive at discovering this “truth.” According to Plato’s theory of recollection, should not humanity come to discover truth if we keep on building to this conversation? It makes me wonder if even though the library at Alexandria was destroyed, along with all its books and writings, the ideas will eventually come back by scholars reading and debating.
Additionally, there seems to be some kind of system of operation that is necessary for humans to seek truth. There are principles that guide our understanding. The first three liberal arts, grammar, logic, and rhetoric are essential before one even begins to consider seeking truth. Its seems that the very action of communication is crucial, for if one cannot communication and if there is no understanding between two people, there cannot sensibly be any “objective truth.” We walk away saying, “what’s true for you is true for you, and what’s true for me is true for me.” But because we can have discussions and have common understandings there seems to be a way for us to talk about “truth.” I think Euclid describes these principles the best in his Elements. In order to get any kind of understanding and attempt at any kind of truth, one needs to create a system of rules, operations, and definitions. These basic guidelines are the make up to how people can participate in conversation and understanding. In Book 1 of the Elements, Euclid begins without any introduction and states the definitions of things within his system of mathematics. Next, he gives us common notions, or things that we must agree upon before beginning by use of logic. These common notions must be held apart from the definitions because they must be applicable and hold true beyond the boundaries of the definitions. Finally, Euclid states the postulates, things that must be taken as true, though not defined, nor a common notion. (Perhaps postulates are an act of faith?) [More on this in another Wordpress on Faith and Reason] All of these things considered, Euclid builds a system with rules and from them they create perfect Euclidian geometry. This also implies that truth can only be discovered within a boundary of a system. (Something I’ll also try to talk about in another Wordpress)
This formula for seeking truth is repeated in many of The Great Books read in seminar. (or at least the ones we’ve read so far) Lucretius for example, creates his own account on how the world operates. He begins with his description and definition of atoms and says that all things are made from atoms. He builds his argument from this definition and subsequent propositions, such as how the earth was formed, what are dreams and visions, etc. Saint Augustine, too, follows a similar formula. Much of Saint Augustine’s work built from the Bible and from Aristotle. So his definitions are those from the Bible. Given that the Bible is true, then Augustine’s argument may also be true. Which brings back to the point of the postulates, they work like an act of faith. The system cannot work on definitions and common notions alone; postulates are necessary. This is where finding the truth needs faith along with reason.
Leadership is responsibility.
There comes a point when one must make a decision. Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain?
Here’s where the true responsibility of being a leader lies. Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived.
The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort.
It’s pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I’d rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate.
I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that’s just not reality.
I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success.
Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
This is my way. It might not be right for YOU but all I can do is share my thoughts.
It’s on YOU to figure out which leadership style suits you best.
Will check back in with you soon.. Till then
And there are more important things in life to seek than the bounds of society. I do not want to be labeled or confined to a box. I am seeking my own identity and I will not settle for less.