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Humanities Curriculum

Why study it?

Goethe answers the why simply: “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.” There are a few more detailed answers that have resonated with me: (1) The School of Life describes the role of the humanities as to help us live and die well and that this is achieved by studying towards specific ends like self-knowledge or improving one’s relationships – so the material you select is done according to that specific end; (2) Leonard Peikoff describing a program of education heavily involving the humanities as training a mind to make connections and generalize for any topic. The purpose of pursuing this is to see how much my thinking improves, how much my communication (writing) improves, and if I go about my day or life any differently than I otherwise would’ve had I not studied.

The first question is how does any of it work in practice? There are infinite historical facts and near infinite books. In practice it has to mean that the curriculum is very selective according to a specific standard, it is time-delimited and heavily relies on tutors for guidance. 

Here’s the curriculum so far:

History:

History is described as a fundamental building block required to properly understand and integrate the study of philosophy, politics and economics, i.e., have the historical facts about man on hand to evaluate the truth of abstract theories. Scott Powell provides a unique and reasonable method for selecting what out of the plethora of facts to study by using the standard of selecting the historical facts according to their explanatory power for today’s world (politically, economically, culturally). That’s the base. From there further, deeper study (not in this curriculum) would be engaged with another specific purpose and standard in mind, e.g., seeking out historical knowledge that might shed light and insight on current problems or situations.

Literature:

Literature can always be studied anyway, but this curriculum would cover (some) of the great works from representative eras and cultures, e.g., from Greece to present, to give a sweep of history and allow me to become aware of any differences and similarities across cultures. The motivation is to provide me with a much larger equivalent of a restaurant menu for all the kinds of personalities that once and still exist. Everyone is unique, but probably not as unique as they think. I haven’t read as much fiction as non-fiction and I think doing it more intensely would potentially train my mind to better empathize and understand what drives others. I think it’ll also help me keep the more abstract study of philosophy grounded by being the equivalent of a playground where one can visually and emotionally see how certain ideas might play out in reality. 

Philosophy:

Philosophy curriculum as yet to be determined, but the key is to improve reasoning, recognition of common thinking errors or patterns, and have spent time thinking about what concepts are, how one verifies them, and then examining those concepts that underlie so much of our thought: reason, logic, good, bad, justice, fair, principle, love, etc. The purpose is to simply be more precise with what I actually know and what I don’t. 

Writing:

Curriculum will be online workshops, writing essays, answering questions about the study material which’ll be reviewed by tutors.

I’m currently dabbling in history through one of Scott Powell’s courses. I’m reading books without any particular order, too. Assuming I see some net benefit from the dabbling then I’d consider eventually taking time off work to turn it into a one-year full-time program mixed in with travel.