the triumph of the therapeutic

#4 – Why We Read (the Great Books)


Karl Schudt joins us again to talk about the Great Books and why we undertake this long and sometimes difficult journey to read them, ponder them, and discuss them. Karl is one of the seminar leaders at Online Great Books, and helped write some of the guidelines and materials for leading groups through the book progression. As a philosophy professor, Karl would frequently prod his students, in Socratic fashion, about why they attended his class, or university in general. While many inevitably answered “to learn,” and a brave few “because it’s on my schedule,” Karl would push them to follow the line of questioning to it’s root. Why do you need to satisfy your schedule? So you can get a degree and get a job? Why do you want a job? To make money? Why do you want money? To get a nice house and a car? Why do you want a house and a car? Etc, etc. Ultimately it boils down to some version of wanting to live a “good” life, some form of seeking happiness.


What is a good life, though? And what is happiness, exactly? These are the BIG questions, and the very same questions that the Great Books attempt to tackle. As Scott likes to say, these are the books written by the best minds to have ever grappled with these questions, and while they may not hold the answers, they are the best resources we have. More importantly, reading these books gives us a window to examine our lives, and understand WHY we believe the things we do, and WHY we do the things we do. As Socrates is recorded as saying, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”


Karl likes to point out that this quote continues: “for a man.” “The unexamined life is not worth living for a man,”which is to say, humans are unique in their necessity and desire to examine their lives. That’s at the core of why we do this: to live an examined life, as we were meant to.

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