The Great Conversation

A few weeks ago I made the mistake of picking up the first volume of the set of Great Books of the Western World that is sitting in our dining room. This is a slim volume, considering that it serves as an introduction to 51 bulky, erudite tomes, representative works of classic thinkers of the “Western World”. This set has been in our house for some 25 years, and another set resided in my parents’ house while I grew up. Nevertheless, I never paid much attention to the first three volumes, the introductory material. When I paid attention to the set at all it was to pull out a particular volume by some major author, a particular work that I wanted to read.

As I said, the first volume is slim, some 106 pages of actual text, and easily overlooked. It’s by Robert M. Hutchins, and bears the title The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education. I haven’t quite worked myself up to reading it, short as it is, but the title has sent my mind off on a track of its own.

I like the idea of a “Great Conversation”. Here are no required readings, no graded essays, no examinations, just a conversation. But if it is to be truly great, the conversation cannot be limited to the great, dead minds of the Western World. It must also involve the great minds, living and dead, of all the world. A conversation that, perhaps, anyone can join. Even if it is a “Great Conversation”, perhaps it should not be just a conversation among the great, or a conversation between the great and a silent student. Perhaps even the non-great should speak up and be heard from time to time.

I have been an auditor to this conversation for many years, as attested to some extent by the readings and viewings lists attached to this blog. But it has been rare that I have been an open participant. Perhaps participation is what a blog is really for.

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