Monday, December 22, 2014



We are in the midst of the most popular holidays of the year. There are still some people completely unaware of what each of major holidays is actually about in the different traditions. I’ll summarize these briefly and provide some resources for those that would like more information to prepare everyone for this season.

I remember growing up as a child in a part of the country where many of my closest friends were Jewish and celebrated Hanukkah (or Chanukah). I couldn’t help but envy that many of my friends got gifts for eight days and I only got them on one. I knew little else other than that my friends had all these candles they’d light over the course of eight days and would play with these spinning tops called dreidels. There was much more involved of course, but these were the facts I had access to.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree, I decided I needed a religious education as well. Having been raised Roman Catholic, I read through my Bible and found the books of the Maccabees. It was here that I found my first exposure to the historical origin for Hanukkah in the Maccabean revolution.

In 166 B.C. Judas Maccabee (Maccabee comes from the initial letters of the Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, Who is like You, Oh God) rebelled against the Seleucids that were oppressing those in Israel and trying to get them to worship foreign gods. The King of the Seleucids, Antiochus, sent several armies to wipe out the rebels but was defeated each time by the Maccabees. Before the final battle with the Seleucid army at Mitzpah, Judah Maccabees and his brothers encouraged each other with the words: “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple!”

After these victories the Maccabees cleansed all of Jerusalem and the temple of idols that the Seleucids had placed there. The Maccabees then made a Menorah to light in the temple to dedicate it. Unfortunately they had only enough oil to last for one day. However, according to tradition, God miraculously allowed it to burn for eight days until new oil became available. This was a sign to God’s people that they were again under His protection. In memory of this, people celebrate Hanukkah for eight days to give thanks to God and to remember this miracle. For more on this read:,,

It seems difficult to justify that I’d have to explain the origin for Christmas. However, recent studies indicate that 91% of people that celebrate Christmas are NOT Christians (  I’d guess the historical basis for this may be lost on this group. A third of children ages 10-13 also don’t know that Christmas is about Jesus (  
In short, Christmas is a celebration Christians have to mark the birth of the promised messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that God the son added a human nature at the moment of conception. This conception was a result of the Holy Spirit miraculously allowing the virgin Mary to conceive (as we tell our children, God put Jesus in Mary’s belly). We also explain to our children during this season that initially shepherds visited Mary and Jesus in the stable after the angels announced his birth. At a later time (which isn’t specified), wise men appeared to Jesus to present him gifts while the family was at a house. If the star appeared to the wise men WHEN Jesus was born its probable he was two years old or under based on what Herod believed (Luke 2:16). In sum, we celebrate the birthday of Emmanuel (God with us) on Christmas. For a treatment of those that raise objections to Christmas one can find an excellent response here:

Unlike the other two holidays, Kwanzaa has only been around since the 1960s. The word ‘Kwanzaa’ means ‘first fruits’ in Swahili. I got my first Kwanzaa card less than a decade ago and decided to look into it. Although some claim that this is an extremely old holiday, you’d be hard-pressed to find ANY reference to the holiday itself before the 1960s.  Kwanzaa is gaining popularity among certain groups and so it is good to be aware of what it is. 

The founder of this religion is Dr. Maulana Karenga. Karenga was a leader of the Black Power movement in the 1960s and was a community organizer. He created Kwanzaa in 1966 upon Marxist principles that he labeled as being those of African Heritage (no wonder so many resonating with Kwanzaa have been duped in thinking the liberal policies are theirs). Although the stated purpose is to “strengthen and unite the African communities,” the liberal policies which it supports have done the complete opposite ( The central thrust of his philosophy is communistic and communitarian.

Picture of Dr. Maulana Karenga

 Marx would have been pleased with Karenga’s condemnation of belief in God (Kawaida Theory, p.27), and with Karenga denying the Hebrew and Christian belief in heaven, hell, and the resurrection. Karenga writes, “it is a simplistic and often erroneous answer to existential ignorance fear, powerlessness and alienation. An example is the Hebrew myth of the six-day creation and the tower of Babel, or Christian myths of resurrection, heaven and hell.” (Kawaida Theory, p. 23)

One has to assess all of what is taught and accept the truth any place it is found. There is some indication that Karenga has tried to moderate these early comments to make inroads with those that are Christians. However, most of what is celebrated with the principles of Kwanzaa and the teachings of Karenga are consonant with Marxism. This is why it is embraced where liberation theology is taught (,,  

As a general guideline it is good to be familiar with what our friends and family celebrate. We can discuss these holidays with candor. Unlike the historical basis for Hanukkah and Christmas, one can easily find Kwanzaa was made up to advance a political agenda. Kwanzaa and Dr. Karenga are hostile to many of the ideas advanced in Christianity and Judaism. Although I have friends that celebrate all three of these without realizing what they are, ideas have consequences. The fact God has done miracles in history is significant for all mankind. The most important peace that can be found this holiday season does not originate in the will of man, but comes to all mankind on whom God’s favor rests. (Luke 2:14) God makes a way for this peace through His son, Christ the Lord, who was born on Christmas day.

Sunday, December 21, 2014



Marquette University is making national news. This is only partially because Philosophy Instructor Cheryl Abbate told a student that opposed homosexual marriage that “Some opinions are not appropriate,” “you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments,” and “you can drop the class if you don’t like it.”  The main reason for national coverage is due to Marquette professor John McAdams being put on leave and investigated because he reported this incident on his Marquette Warrior blog (

Cheryl Abbate

John McAdams

As a graduate from Marquette (with several years in the Philosophy program) I know the leadership of the department (both Associate Dean Dr. Susanne Foster and the chair Dr. Nancy Snow) that dealt with the student’s complaint. I also remember how liberal both of these professors were. Despite this liberalism in the leadership positions, there were conservatives in the department that were unaffected. Knowing these women, it is possible more is going on here than simply liberals ignoring complaints by a conservative student (though the policy may justify them doing so).

Here are four problems with what is happening regarding the circumstances at Marquette:

1.       Marquette needs to discover how to reconcile its Catholic identity with the ‘speech codes’ that labels a statement offending any party as hate speech.

A tension for ANY professor at Marquette would be that there are serious problems with forbidding statements against homosexual marriage. One problem is that the teachings of the Catholic Church, the Pope, or even the Bible could be perceived as a personal attack or harassment and thus forbidden from being subject to classroom discussion. 

Another involves the issues with claiming that objections to gay marriage are homophobic. This commits a logical fallacy.  People can be homophobic, but arguments can’t. Even if a person does have an irrational fear of gays, it doesn’t follow that their arguments are invalid or unsound. Also, a phobia is an irrational fear you can’t control. The person with this condition is handicapped. When one person accuses another of being homophobic to ridicule their arguments, it is the equivalent of making fun of the handicapped (which is more politically incorrect than opposing gay marriage). These are distinctions any person can perceive and philosophy professors can lead the way in making them. 

Professors should encourage students to explore that there are not only theological reasons for opposing gay marriage (Rom. 1, 1 Cor. 6:9), there are also strong philosophical (, economic (see, and legal reasons for opposing it ( It remains to be seen whether Marquette’s new President Michael Lovell, its first non-Jesuit, will take up the mantle of the Jesuits (who were once known to be defenders of the Catholic Church).  One can hope he will support the right to engage ideas in the classrooms with Catholic teaching (which opposes ‘gay’ marriage).

Dr. Michael Lovell

2.       Everyone should recognize a professor’s right to control the classroom discussion.

The main fear the instructor seems to have had in bringing up the issue of gay marriage is that some in the class would be offended. As Cheryl Abbate certainly thought her students may feel harassed, she thought it best to keep this off the table for public discussion. Ms. Abbate has the right as an instructor to control her course content to stay on task. 

3.     In investigating John McAdams, Marquette is employing a bullying tactic to try to squelch conservative views.

Although they have denied officially ‘suspending’ McAdams (which consists of stopping his pay), opening an investigation into his activity will effectively suppress students and faculty from discussing areas where there is legitimate debate. This is not an atmosphere that will engender public discourse on subjects that are of moral concern. In accordance with McAdams initial blog surrounding the controversy, Marquette has taken the very action of silencing debate of which Ms. Abbate was accused. 

4.     There has been a lack of integrity on the part of some journalists in not reading Ms. Abbate’s side of the story. 

Few reports present a balanced approach in trying to figure out what actually occurred. I’m disappointed by the lack of research done on both sides. It was not entirely unreasonable for Ms. Abbate to postpone or prevent discussion on the issue of gay marriage in class as it would potentially highjack the discussion. In an interview with Ms. Abbate right after the initial report, we should admit that it is possible that there is more going on here than meets the eye (see As a conservative, I don’t have to create straw men to knock down liberal arguments for gay marriage. Some of Ms. Abbate’s most contentious statements were not in the actual recording the student provided Dr. McAdams. As these are the most damning, we should give her the benefit of the doubt. All professors have experienced students that have misunderstood what they were saying.  

There are many problematic facets of this story. Ms. Abbate will be welcomed practically anywhere due to the liberal majority in the Universities (if it is proven she actually said what Dr. McAdams has claimed, so much the better in the liberal mindset). The real question for many is whether it is possible to reform liberal Catholic Universities to keep them in line with the foundational beliefs of Christianity. Also, it is clear that the logical outworking of these speech codes is that Jesus, Paul, Aquinas, and even many Popes would be punished if they were to teach ethics at this ‘Catholic’ University.

Monday, September 15, 2014


the devil's in the details: The need for logic for a rational defense



I've been teaching logic for the last few weeks and found an article that attacks the Christian apologetics ministry for University students called Ratio Christi. The article was interesting as it committed so many of the fallacies I'd be teaching my students. I suppose there are some that wonder what need there is for an organization like Ratio Christi. After all, the local church should be equipping people to ‘give a reason for the hope that you have’ and preparing people to ‘demolish arguments and every thought that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.’[i] Why then is there a need for a campus organization that does what the church is to do? For the most part I suspect those that ask the question are those that think the ideas taught on the university campus are pretty neutral. The heart of Ratio Christi is to provide a place on a college campus that offers reasons to believe Christianity is true. This is especially important in the hostile environments which make up most university campuses. Here is the official link for those that want to read it for themselves:


To believe that most universities are neutral in relation to Christianity is a delusion. The resources provided by Ratio Christi are of incredible value for those seeking for truth. The organization can bolster the faith of people that are Christians along with providing evidence for those that want to know why Christianity is true. With such an evident need for Ratio Christi, why does the question even need to be asked?


The question has recently been raised in a pseudo-response to a chapter of Ratio Christi which asked why there is a need for this organization. The author that asked this question was upset that a chapter director, Adam Tucker, responded to an event at UNC Greensboro which was a panel discussion on Sex and Faith.  You can read his response here:


Mr. Tucker presented reasons to believe that there are objective moral norms which the panel unwittingly acknowledged even while simultaneously denying them- an evident contradiction. Mr. Tucker also presented powerful arguments- including biological and metaphysical evidence- to uphold his contention (namely, that there are objective moral norms).


The reaction to these arguments illustrates the need for Ratio Christi.  The reply- which I have called a pseudo-response- was basically a hit piece filled with bullying tactics, contradiction, and logical fallacies. You don’t just have to take my word for it as we can look at the text together. The author says that he will not address ANY of the arguments by Mr. Tucker (thus the appropriate label pseudo-response). Thus, what is written never really addresses anything Mr. Tucker has said and cannot constitute a rebuttal of his position.


What was written in the response to Mr. Tucker (titled Ir-Ratio Christi) I have thought to use in future logic classes to illustrate how material fallacies are used every day to try to persuade people.  I advise my students to learn logic to help them on many levels. There are so many examples in this reply to Mr. Tucker that it can serve as a useful tool to teach people how to spot logical fallacies. Let’s look at several of the fallacies as they appear in the blog.




Although those that deny the teachings of Scripture like to point out that Christians need to be tolerant, pay attention to how this response to Mr. Tucker is not only intolerant, but also filled with bullying tactics. These tactics do not permit civil or rational dialogue (interestingly, the title ‘Ir-ratio’ may constitute a strange foreshadowing of what we are about to read). In a schoolyard a bully does not want a reasoned debate, but simply wants to humiliate others.  The form this takes in argument is overwhelming an opponent’s position with a great number of assertions that amount to character assassination, misleading information, logical fallacies, and slanting the debate. This strategy is promoted in order to keep the opponent on the defensive and allows you to avoid addressing the actual argument. Keep this in mind as we work through the response to Mr. Tucker (we will call this the LR for liberal response going forward) to see whether these are indeed the tactics employed.

Let’s assess the second paragraph of the LR:

The selling of snake oil was a practice of using inflated claims with medical-like language to sell cure-all, first made with snake oil, to unknowing populations in cities and towns across the U.S. When these con artists presented near-magical promises of healing all woes, many were swept away by their pretty promises. Those who were educated knew better than to be duped by the hucksters’ claims, but some were less familiar with medical knowledge of the time.

The reason for this inclusion is to provide more than just historical information.  The paragraph is to provide an interpretive lens through which to view the claims (which will not be addressed admittedly) of Mr. Tucker. This is a classic example of the fallacy known as poisoning the well. The purpose here is to taint anything that the opponent says and falsely label it. The LR asks that you identify Mr. Tucker as a snake-oil salesman and huckster. This is also an ad hominem which essentially just calls the person names instead of addressing his argument. The ad hominem goes hand-in-hand with the bullying tactics previously mentioned. None are surprised that a bully calls a person names especially when being unable to answer arguments.  




The next three fallacies we will examine are so common in major media outlets that perhaps the author is unaware that they are fallacious. Poisoning the well is a type of slanting, so let’s see if you can spot the slant in the LR:

This campus has incredible opportunities to learn real philosophy and be exposed to natural law theory, natural rights theory and dozens of other moral theories. Our religious studies department is staffed by incredible academics, versed in multiple areas of faith and theology, charged with present unbiased views of faiths and constructions of God. From Heather Gert to Eugene Rogers, we have some of the most talented philosophy and religious studies academics in the Southeast, teaching day in and day out on our campus. Two of our philosophy professors are in fact contributors to the Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics.

Did you pick up the slant in the first sentence? If you want to learn ‘real’ philosophy you can with the incredible number of opportunities on campus. What the author is trying to imply, of course, is that what Ratio Christi presents is NOT real philosophy.  This not only slants what constitutes real philosophy, it commits the error of begging the question.  To the question, “What constitutes real philosophy?” You get the LR, “Real philosophy is that which is taught at UNC-Greensboro.” However, this is the very point of contention that is under consideration.  I highly doubt there is anyone in the philosophy or religious studies department that would say that either they or even other professional philosophers believe that UNC-Greensboro professors have a corner on truth inaccessible to all other people.


In addition, a person must ignore the fact that what is taught at Ratio Christi provides another opportunity for its students to learn real philosophy (and theology) from some of the leading academics from all over the world to make this argument.


The red herring is simply an irrelevant point to divert attention from the substance of what is being addressed. Although this entire pseudo-response may be a giant red herring, there is little benefit to the argument in pointing out the publishing merits of some of those in the university. The reason for this is that authorities (those with Ph.D.’s in philosophy and theology) who disagree on fundamental metaphysical questions have all published in major journals. The relevance of the fact THAT they published is less significant than the arguments they offer in WHAT (i.e., the arguments) they have written. To emphasize the former rather than the latter is a red-herring. I urge you to read Mr. Tucker to explore his emphasis on the latter.  




The more you learn about logical fallacies the easier it becomes to spot them and see how they are related. For this section I’ll explain what the fallacies are first to help you spot them in the text.

 First, the ad populum fallacy says something is true because it is popular and the consensus gentium (or appeal to majority) says something is true because the majority believe it. If the majority of people believe something it is also the most popular, but just because something is the most popular it doesn’t mean that the majority believe it. For example, if 40% vote for Norris, 30% for Cruz, and 30% for Clinton then Norris has the popular vote (but the majority- 60%- do not vote for him).

The ab annis says that because an idea is new or old it must be true. It appeals to age as indicative of truth irrespective of the arguments.

The ad verecundiam is also known as the illegitimate appeal to authority. It basically says to believe a claim because an authority has said something is true. This is an illegitimate way to argue in two primary ways. First, if the claim is contested (meaning experts disagree about the subject), then you actually have to look at the competing arguments. This is how almost all philosophical claims operate. Second, if the person is not qualified to speak in the area they are affirming (e.g., Lebron James weighing in on medical claims), then you should not believe it.

The faulty analogy (or false analogy) simply presents an analogy that is irrelevant to the argument in any significant way. It uses this analogy AS IF it is significant to demonstrate a point it wants to make as part of the argument.

Here is the next paragraph in the LR:

One might ask, why then does Ratio Christi exist in such an environment where real religious studies education, sound biblical history courses, wonderful classes in ethics, metaphysics and moral theory class are taught by PhD-holding experts in their area? I believe it is because they use philosophic-like language and arguments claiming rationality to sell the snake oil of evangelical fundamentalism. Paradigmatic Natural Law has not held wide sway in Philosophy for hundreds of years, and it is irresponsible to present it as though it does. And it is alarming to me that some cannot track the similarities between natural law arguments made in defense of slavery and Jim Crow, and today’s amazingly similar arguments brought to focus largely on gays, lesbians, intersexed, transgendered and women.


Here we see the bullying tactic on full display in addition to the aforementioned fallacies. While bullies have historically tried to beat people into submission by force, the author of the LR desires the annihilation of the existence Ratio Christi. If you can’t argue with a position, the game plan here is to take them out. 


One unfortunate absence in the recommendations of the philosophy classes people should take in the LR is a logic class. I'd encourage all people to do so.  Perhaps after doing so return to the LR propaganda (am I slanting my sentence if it really is propaganda you may ask) against Ratio Christi and assess its true value.


The false analogy between defenses of slavery and the arguments Mr. Tucker makes fails at the most relevant point.  Part of Mr. Tucker’s argument is that some things are really objectively wrong (like slavery). However, the underlying assumption of much of the initial discussion is that all views are really equal (excepting the one that says all views are not equal). Another problem with arguments for slavery is that they incorrectly make significant accidental features of humans (whether they be their skin color, lineage, intelligence, or abilities), whereas Mr. Tucker says the arguments about what is good in sexual morality are rooted in human nature. If this distinction is correct (which I think it is), then we have the false analogy illustrated perfectly with the comparison of slavery to that of sexual behavior.  Everyone recognizes that people cannot control their race.  The real question is whether and how people ought to control their own behavior. The dismissal of natural law as old (ab annis), not holding wide sway (ad populum and consensus gentium), and evangelical fundamentalism snake-oil dispenser (misnomer, ad hominem) smacks of ignorance at many levels. You’ll see from Mr. Tucker’s writing his reasoning from metaphysics and philosophy of human nature (and a surprising lack of arguments from the Bible), along with references to some contemporary scholars that promote the natural law (most of whom are Roman Catholic).  I’d suggest that labeling these as Evangelical Fundamentalism is meant to be a slur, but one can question whether what is written is different from the Roman Catholic teaching on these matters.

Admittedly the classical Christian position has been to ground morality in the natural law that Paul writes about in Romans 2. Due to such a prominent position in Romans, it should come as no surprise that many of the different Christian traditions have built their moral theory upon a natural law basis. Contrary to what is insinuated in the LR, you’ll find great natural law thinkers in the Roman Catholic tradition and in some of the different Protestant traditions. Also, people should realize that natural law as an ethical theory is by no means only Christian (as stoics such as Cicero and even atheists like Philippa Foot have argued for natural law).



As we near the end of the LR we won’t be surprised to find a straw man. In this fallacy if you cannot actually answer the opponents argument you set up a misrepresentation of his argument that is easy to knock down.  Here it takes the form of likening Ratio Christi with Answers in Genesis. The LR says:


This is not a new trick. The Creation Museum and its director Ken Ham have for years been selling pseudo-science in place of actual science to those who do not know any better. Extreme fundamentalism has learned how to adapt language to be a cover for this broken world view that leaves so much damage in its wake.


Rational arguments that have been offered throughout history are summarily dismissed as ‘extreme fundamentalism’ and likened to ‘pseudo-science’ entering the academy. Regardless of whether Answers in Genesis promotes pseudoscience, the thrust of Mr. Tucker’s article is primarily philosophical, not scientific. It is pretty clear that by shifting the foundation for debate the LR tries to create a straw man that can be easy to knock down. The article in question says nothing at all about the age of the earth (a point essential to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis).  




One need not point out the obvious ad hominem in the next section, but allow me to introduce the psychoanalysis fallacy. This fallacy essentially says that you can get into the mind of the author without actually listening to or reading anything the author has said. It essentially judges the motives without any corresponding text (either written or verbal) to justify its assertions. From the LR:


Mr. Tucker and his organization have no true interest in learning or having honest dialog or entering into an actual philosophic conversation any more than the street preacher in the library circle will be swayed by the arguments of students who stop to watch him as he screams. I will not dignify the snake oil claims with philosophic arguments because to do so is to give validation to smoke and mirrors as real philosophy.


Here the LR judges Mr. Tucker and Ratio Christi independently of providing any evidence. The author seems to ‘know’ the motives without needing any reason to believe as he does. The LR has seen into the minds of all those associated with Ratio Christi and (without feeling responsible to share a single shred of documentation) pronounces judgment about the motives of the organization. In reality, the heart of Ratio Christi involves teaching, learning, and dialogue.


I suggest allowing Mr. Tucker a seat at the table. This will allow for an honest dialogue of competing worldviews that allows for a genuine clarification as to what each position entails.  Taking this action will also prove that Mr. Tucker is interested in dialogue while he represents the traditional position held by most Christians in the history of the church.



[i] 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Cor. 10:5

Wednesday, May 7, 2014



“All men by nature desire to know.” – Aristotle (Metaphysics Book I)

               Aristotle’s remark points to the fact that it is in the nature of mankind that we desire knowledge. Our culture struggles with education due to the postmodern influence of relativism. On the one hand, the ‘enlightened’ say that there is nothing true or good and thus every immoral behavior is justified under the banner of tolerance. On the other hand, many in this same group increasingly recognize the importance of education. One problem they have yet to confront within their own worldview is that if there is no truth than education is meaningless (as opposite positions are equal). Even so, all people say education is important. Ancient slogans revolving around the subject of knowledge and education are known to many. We can find the truth in each one of these: “Knowledge is power.” “Only the educated are free.” “If you think education is expensive try ignorance.” 

               Some people disagree with Aristotle. My recollection is vivid about a conversation I had with a co-worker about this subject. She insisted that she really didn’t desire to know, had no real interest in learning, and disputed my contention. The question I asked was if there was anything that really fascinated her. She said she really enjoyed watching surgeries and how physicians did them. This person showed that even if she didn’t recognize it, her desire to learn came about in other ways outside of what may be considered to be ‘formal’ means of learning. For some, they may feed this desire by simply wanting to know the latest gossip. For others, they feel addicted to the news feed or what is happening on Facebook.

               So given that our desire to know is irrepressible, what is the best approach to satiate this appetite? The popular approach exemplified in most schools is failing in many ways. It is easy to make some generalizations simply because of the way the system is set up even if there are individual instances to the contrary. There will still be great teachers and great students no matter what system they are in (so the individual cases to the contrary don’t disprove the general criticisms). Here are some of the pitfalls that people on all sides recognize:

1.      It has a tendency to suppress the questioning inherent in human nature that should be part of the learning process due to a lack of flexibility about the questions students may ask. If students ask too many question there will be no time to cover the material required to do well on the standardized tests. Not only this, but many times questions are seen as threatening and disrespectful. Thus, questioning is suppressed and student must simply assimilate the required material. Education crosses over into indoctrination in this context pretty easily. 

2.      More advanced students are bored as the material provided caters to only the most elementary learners. 

3.      Most students never know in an educational context genuine greatness and achievement because of the lowering of the bar.  

4.      The students that can quickly memorize and regurgitate information are those that ‘succeed’ in this environment while others fail. 

5.      There is little emphasis given to comprehension of the material. 

6.      More time is devoted to ‘socialization’ than education.

7.      Great teachers and students are punished. Teachers in this setting are often not rewarded for finding creative ways for students to grasp the material. Students are not set free to fully develop and explore quality resources.

8.      Each subject is artificially divided. This keeps the student unaware of the relationships and influences that exist in reality between each subject.

Although more can be said, there is another approach that has reemerged in order to try to reverse these deficiencies. 

The rewards that are found in the classical, the great texts, and the great books approaches are innumerable. In this different pedagogy, students are trained how to think, ask questions, comprehend the material, parse out what is true and false in each reading and discussion, explore the implications of and relationships between different views, and synthesize what is learned with other areas. This approach also has the advantage of making students into life-long learners and they delve into research outside the classroom unlike their counterparts. Stronger students can deeply explore the greatest works ever written, and weaker students can elevate their minds with material far beyond the substandard texts that are commonly used. This is a tremendously valuable approach for everyone involved (parents, teachers, and students).

There are two common questions about this method of education. Who is it that gets to say which texts are great and which are not? Why assume that a ‘Eurocentric’ or ‘Western’ list of readings is superior to any other?  

The characteristic of a text that allows it to earn the designation of being called ‘great’ may seem ephemeral at first glance. Notwithstanding what seems to be the case, great texts are those that have come to lend mankind insight into the nature of reality and how to answer the most important existential questions with which we grapple. The main questions that plague mankind are: Who are we? What is our destiny? What is the meaning of life? What is our origin? What is good? Is anything transcendent? Consider the veritable words of the Church Father Lactantius: “There is no body of philosophers however wrong, no individual however stupid, who has not had at least a glimpse of the truth.” Sifting through the great works together and gleaning whatever truths about our questions we can find lends coherence to our search- revealing what is really real in the answers.  

With this in mind, an individual need not worry that there is an extremely biased small committee that sits down and votes which texts are great and which are not. It is simply the case that those texts that are not so great have not stood the test of time. People can recognize that by reading different works one can judge which are good and which are not. But, inevitably, those that are superior come to be recognized as such due to stylistic elements (perhaps they are very clear in how the truth is expressed) and what is revealed to us about reality. 

                What of those that complain that the majority of those considered ‘great’ in the curriculum originate from the west? This complaint misses the point in a couple ways. First, insofar as the truths in the great texts are true, they are also universal. The truths apply everywhere and to everyone in the universe (universal means it even includes the east!). Second, it is actually undeniable that the principles found in these texts apply everywhere. I remember a friend in graduate school spoke as if there were one set of truths that operated in the east that differed from the west. However, he revealed what he really knew to be the case when he looked both ways before crossing the street. He could wax eloquently in the classroom about contradictions, but in reality he couldn’t live as if contradictions didn’t matter. In other words, if contradictions are both equal, then there really is no difference between two opposite things- like living and dying, eating or not eating, saying something is or is not the case. As soon as a person opens his mouth he assumes you know the difference between what he is saying and what he is not saying. As previously suggested, if this weren’t true then not only would education be meaningless, so would communication! Third, the complaint about the origin of the work actually commits an error of reason called the genetic fallacy. This fallacy simply points to the source of something as solely determining whether or not it is true. Fourth, as many of the other points indicate, there is not one reality that is true in the east and another that is true in the west. Reality, along with the principles that govern our reasoning about it, is everywhere the same. It is incumbent upon every human to make a quest to discover what is true about reality and how best to live with what we’ve found. 

               In 1941 there was a debate about the different approaches to education. On one side the proponent (the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell) denied there were universal principles of education. On the other side was the philosopher Mortimer Adler. He argued that there were these universal principles upon which education should be founded. Dr. Adler’s approach, detailed in his work The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto, explained how to alter a curriculum to motivate and inspire students as well as the great social benefits that would come from these changes. The great texts avoid subpar standards which have led to the destruction of many youth. Adler seems prophetic in regards to the consequences of a system that spurned the classics (compare what he writes with the condition which we find schools in today). In a visionary way he states, “The absence of intellectual stimulation and the failure to challenge students by expecting the most of them leads to boredom, delinquency, lawless violence, drug dependence, alcoholism, and other forms of undesirable conduct.”[i] Those that are committed to the superiority of a great texts or classical approach which recognizes universal principles of education have a distinct advantage.

There are basic and universal principles that education should be founded upon which are inherent in a classical great texts approach. These include studying the answers to the great questions, the virtues, logic, and the rules of grammar. The opposing position is unaffirmable as it must borrow principles from an approach that assumes universals to make its point, thus implicitly conceding our point (that some truths are universal and should be studied by all)! The following argument borrows and slightly revises Adler’s opening salvo from that famous debate on education. Any critic that denies universal truths presupposes that it is better to think as they do. This person must say that people should agree with them because there is some flaw in my reasoning. Yet, there remains the following assumptions in their argument that can only be the case if the universal principles a great text approach promotes:

1. It is better for people to develop their thinking in order to identify fallacies and attain intellectual virtue.

2. There is a universal human need to learn to think logically (unless they refuse to use reason, logic, rules of grammar, and deny the law of non-contradiction to refute my argument).

3. Short of saying nothing (which is no argument), the critic must utilize reason and logic to argue against training the students to use reason and logic.

All these point to the universal truths that we can build our educational foundation upon. At the very least critics must agree that men have the universal need to think rightly.[ii]


We can all recognize the value of the words of Solomon which echo through the ages: “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” May all people seek to find the source of knowledge and virtue together, while strengthening our ability to discern good and evil.



[i] Mortimer Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto, (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1982): 36.
[ii] Mortimer J. Adler, “Are there Absolute and Universal Principles,” in Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, (New York: Collier Books, 1988): 64-65.