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The Quillen School is a place for those who strive to be good people, who believe that reading great books can improve both our hearts and our minds, and who believe that works written in Ancient Greek merit special consideration and study. And while people of diverse persuasions can benefit from the Quillen School–anyone of goodwill who wishes to become learned–its offerings and design are also a reflection of my own efforts to be a better person, the character of which I’d like to share with you.
To be a good person–to live well–is intrinsically worthwhile, but, if wisdom, intentionality, and good judgment are part of a complete human life, he who wants to live well must be able to articulate what living well entails. Yet as soon as a reflective person, at least, posits a preliminary answer to the question, he realizes that his answer is more or less a reflection of his upbringing–an expression of the values of his community in some mode or other– and that, if it’s impossible to do better, a real answer to the question of how to live couldn’t be possible.1 But behind every decision a human being makes are implicit opinions about how to live, the ubiquity of which at least suggests that, as far as one taking his bearings strictly from his own experience can tell, there must be an answer.2 Moreover, because all communities care about moral seriousness (notwithstanding the variety in their understanding of its requirements), philosophic inquisitiveness, while necessarily in some tension with the community, would nonetheless seem to be a countenanced by the community’s own implicit concerns, as a requisite part of complete devotion to it.
So how are the study of Greek and the Greeks relevant to this? What have authors who wrote 2500 years ago, with vastly different priorities and living conditions than our own, to say about the choices of contemporary people?
- Human nature is perennial, as are, by extension, the broadest contours of an answer to the question of how ideally humans should live.
- The biases of our upbringing so thoroughly yet inconspicuously shape our initial answers to the question that it’s precisely the massive differences between both the prejudices of the Greek world or the conclusions of the Greek philosophers that put our own biases into sharper relief.
- Because Plato and other Socratic philosophers saw clearly that human beings as such are beset with this problem, and offers a compelling account of how to live in light of this reality.
- Because Christianity also offers a most compelling account of how to live, both on account of the power of its account of human beings and on account of its historical impact.
The Quillen School is my way of sharing some of the fruit of my own thinking about how the most interesting and compelling thinkers have thought about the most important, perennial questions for human beings. The Quillen School is about mutual self-improvement; it’s about harnessing the combination of modern technology and common purpose to help both me and you to become the best we can be. I’m reminded of my favorite passage of Greek literature, from Xenophon’s Memorabilia:
[Xenophon quoting Socrates] “Just as someone else is pleased by a good horse or dog or bird, I am pleased even more by good friends. And if ever I have something good, I teach it, and I introduce my friends to others by whom I believe they will be helped toward virtue. And, reading in common with my friends, I go through the treasures of the wise men of old, which they left behind in their books. If ever we see something good, we pluck it out. And we believe it to be a great benefit, if we will become friends with one another.”Xen., Mem. 1.6.14
He seemed to me hearing him to be blessedly happy and to be leading those hearing him into gentlemanliness.
I believe that, by reading the right books with the right people, we can help each other to become better and happier people. If you agree, you’ve found the right place.
1. It’s not even that the answer would be radically relative to the individual, for to default to egalitarianism and individualism would itself betray an undefended liberal democratic bias; not relativism, but a most pernicious, thorough-going nihilism would follow.
2. Plato, Phaedo 98b7-99d2.