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Why Should We Read the Classics?

Well, because they're classics?

Jonathan Tepperman, The Octavian Report, February 3, 2022, Roosevelt Montás,Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation

Roosevelt Montás did not grow up in an elite, educated home. Quite by accident, when he was ten years old, he discovered Plato and Socrates, and thus set him on a course of liberal reading which changed his life. Montás teaches the classics at Columbia University, and he is convinced that a liberal education is essential to human freedom and dignity: “The premise of a liberal education is the human condition of freedom, in which every individual experiences him or herself as a self-determining agent, possesses a notion of the good, and organizes their lives in pursuit of that notion. To liberally educate is to take that condition seriously, and to look into yourself in order to understand the inner working and deliberative processes that go into enacting that freedom. So self-knowledge, in my view, is central and fundamental.”

He explains that he wrote Rescuing Socrates to encourage people to rediscover liberal education as an exercise in self-awareness and self-improvement: “This is not a book for the English Department, or for scholars. This is a book for people interested in exploring the founding questions of liberal education, which in some ways means the fundamental questions of human existence.” Studying the classics helps us come to grips with the great, perennial questions of human existence and culture, and puts us in a better position to answer those questions for the betterment of all.

Young people are especially drawn to the classics, in Montás’ experience: “I find that young people are especially hungry for this kind of vision of a life worth living, of what really matters. Which is why I think Socrates hit me so hard, and why he hits so many young people so hard.” A liberal education contributes to making life about more than getting and spending. It stretches out the horizons of learning to provide insights and investigations to questions of existence, beauty, goodness, and truth that are part of every person’s journey in life.

And this makes the role of teaching institutions supremely important: “I will say that the post-truth world, and the presentation of power and winning as the only value that matters, begins in the academy, not in the political world.”

The self-development of a Christian, and even aspects of the disciple-making process, could benefit from more exposure to the great works of the classic and liberal tradition.

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