Last Wednesday, over 100 students and faculty crowded into the Ho Lecture Hall in Lawrence Hall to attend the “Why We Study Plato” lecture, which was the first installment in the CORE 151 Western Traditions lecture series. The speaker, Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of Philosophy and Religion Jerry Balmuth, began by stating that it was, in fact, not a lecture, but rather an improvisation and relaxed discussion with faculty and students. He tipped his “Plato” baseball hat to the students, causing unified laughter, and began his lecture.
Balmuth started off by outlining the influential relationship between Socrates and Plato. In the second half of the lecture, Balmuth spoke solely of Plato’s thoughts and his influence on modern society. He explained the basic views of Plato’s theory of society based on values of will, reason, knowledge, wisdom, courage and justice. Challenging the students and faculty to fully grasp Plato’s ideas, Balmuth encouraged the audience to define “justice.” Is justice, itself, a good quality or is it the result of acting on justice that is the good quality? How does one identify what “good” is? Balmuth dared the students to think like Plato. Instead of a lecture, students received a workout for their brains.
In his concluding argument, Balmuth gave a succinct and pertinent answer to the question at the heart of the event: “Why do we study Plato?”
“Without Plato,” Balmuth stated, “Colgate University would not exist as a liberal arts institution.” Plato valued a physical and intellectual education, and therefore introduced subjects such as biology, chemistry and metaphysics into popular culture and educational institutions.
Murray W. and Mildred K. Finard Professor in Jewish Studies and Religion Steven Kepnes, the Chair of CORE 151, created the “Why We Study…” lecture series to clarify the reasons why Colgate students are required to read specific classics.
“This series not only is related to contemporary classes, but also serves as a forum used to revise CORE 151,” Kepnes said. Every 10 years, the Core classes are reviewed to clarify the books that are essential to a Colgate student’s education. By 2010, a new Core Curriculum will be implemented. Therefore, to gear up and begin research for this revision, the “Why We Study…” lecture series will serve as a university-wide discussion to clarify the necessities of reading Homer, Plato, the Bible and Virgil.
“Faculty make decisions to read certain classics on intellectual grounds, and this forum will allow Professors and students to discuss those intellectual grounds,” Kepnes said. He hopes that the series will not only benefit the University in its research to evaluate Core classes, but will also benefit students as they discover the importance and relevance of the classics.