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Common Intellectual Experience

The Common Intellectual Experience takes its bearings from a statement as startling today as it was twenty-five hundred years ago: "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being". Socrates’ dictum seeks to awaken us to our situation. He wants, specifically, to rouse us to see that each of us confronts an array of possibilities concerning how we might live and that whether we live a worthwhile life depends on the specific path we choose to take. With so much at stake, Socrates urges us to examine those choices before us with the greatest possible care. Equipped, as we are, with the capacity for rational deliberation, to do otherwise is hardly a human life at all.

No one is more likely to heed Socrates’ challenge than the first-year college student. Wondering intensely about the future course of his or her life, not yet unshakably fixed to a single point of view, this student especially hears Socrates’ call. The Common Intellectual Experience seeks to provide the conditions in which such a student can begin the examination essential to a life worth living.

In The Common Intellectual Experience we confront students with a variety of texts diverse in form and content. We enable them not only to learn about these texts but to learn from them. We urge the students to take the texts seriously because they should take themselves seriously, and these books might have something of the utmost importance to teach. We thus approach each text with the possibility that it sees more deeply than we do, that it might in fact be true.

One might ask, as students often do, how can we learn from these texts? What do the books or paintings, many of them hundreds or even thousands of years old, have to do with our lives here and now? Our response is that there are questions that endure as long as there are humans. We have tried to express these in the three leading questions of the course: What does it mean to be human? How should we live our lives? What is the universe and how do we fit into it? More>
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