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Fundamentals: Issues and Texts

The Fundamentals program enables students to concentrate on fundamental questions by reading classic texts that articulate and speak to these questions. It seeks to foster precise and thoughtful pursuit of basic questions by means of (1) rigorous training in the interpretation of important texts, supported by (2) extensive training in at least one foreign language, and by (3) the acquisition of the knowledge, approaches, and skills of conventional disciplines: historical, religious, literary, scientific, political, and philosophical.

A richly informed question or concern formulated by students guides the reading of texts. Classic texts are also informed by such questions. For example, Socrates asks the fundamental questions: What is virtue? What is the good? What is justice? Aristotle and Cicero explore the relation of civic friendship to society. Freud asks: What is happiness? Can humans be happy? Milton investigates how poetic vocation may be related to political responsibility. Questions of this nature and others like them are often raised in not only in humanities and social sciences, but also in the physical and biological sciences. Students who are engaged by these questions, who find them both basic and urgent, may wish to continue to explore them more thoroughly and deeply within the structure of this program.

All Fundamentals students, working with their advisers, develop their own program of study. Because students come to Fundamentals with diverse questions, they naturally have diverse programs. Examples of programs completed by Fundamentals students are listed below.

One student asked the question, “How does telling a story shape a life?” She studied Homer’s Odyssey, Saint Augustine’s Confessions, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Goethe’s Autobiography, Saint Teresa’s Life, and the Bhagavad Gita.

A second student asked a question about the ethics of violence: “Is there a just war?” He read Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, Aristotle’s Ethics, the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew, the Bhagavad Gita, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation,” and studied in supporting courses World War II (History), The Military and Militarism (Sociology), Introduction to Indian Philosophical Thought (South Asian Languages and Civilizations), and Introduction to the New Testament (Early Christian Literature).

A third Fundamentals student investigated the question, “Is the family a natural or a cultural institution?” The texts studied were Genesis, Homer’s Odyssey, Aristotle’s Politics, Aristophanes’ Clouds, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Rousseau’s Emile.

These programs indicate the diversity of issues and books a major in Fundamentals represents. They are intended to suggest the cohesion of the individual program’s texts and supporting courses within the context of a broad question. Obviously, numerous other programs could be devised.