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Lifelong Intellectual Development

The Lyceum Institute is dedicated to nurturing the habits of lifelong intellectual development through the use of digital technology, making high-quality education accessible to a meaningfully diverse community of like-intentioned persons. As a non-profit institution, we rely on the generosity of our supporters to continue providing exceptional learning experiences that foster genuine thinking and self-improvement. How do we provide this education and how can you help?

Higher Education

All of our programs are structured and conducted with the intent of building key habits of intellectual virtue: studiousness, diligence, orderliness, focus, knowledge, insight, and the humility to recognize, respect, and adhere to wisdom. These habits are cultivated in an atmosphere that emphasizes forming and asking questions—questions asked of others, of the tradition, of the present world, and most of all, of oneself. We cannot improve without knowing what we lack, and we cannot discover answers if we do not know the questions.

Traditional institutions of higher education remain invaluable, but insufficiently meet our current needs. Students must overcome obstacles of time, place, and considerable financial expense to attend such programs. Moreover, wars of ideological opposition, serving only to distract from an honest pursuit of the truth, have decimated the courses and curricula of many universities. By contrast, the digital environment of the Lyceum is flexible, affordable, and concerned with the inquiry into and discovery of what is true, regardless of its provenance or associations.

Members and Studies

Members of the Lyceum Institute come from a wide range of backgrounds and with a diversity of experience: factory workers and truck drivers, PhDs and medical doctors, students and retirees, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim; with backgrounds in the humanities and the sciences, with decades of study or just beginning—we all seek the same good and are bound by the common desire to know. Humility before true wisdom, possessed by none but loved by all, provides the foundation for our community.

Thus we commonly engage in studies of philosophy, literature and the arts, the classical trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (though continually revising our understanding in light of the new technological paradigm), languages (with an emphasis on Latin), and keep open our doors for new thoughts.

Together we are building a new way of learning: one not constrained to a course of months or years, but which integrates itself into the whole of human life.

Since joining [the Lyceum Institute], I feel that I have found a place in the digital wasteland to call home: a home where I learn and discuss more about philosophy, the classics, art, theology and psychology; a home where my interests are taken seriously and given room to grow; a home where I find others living consciously, respectful of the thoughtfulness of others, motivated by the wisdom of the past, and wrestling with the answers for the future.

-Mark [see more testimonials here].

Broader Community

At the core of this new way of learning stands a principle of financial subsidiarity. Put simply, we do not want financial barriers to stand in the way of individuals serious about integrating their love of wisdom into daily life. Thus, we encourage all of our members who can to pay more, so that those who cannot, may still participate. But we also rely upon donations from the broader community to supplement this model of subsidiarity.

Every member that we gain is another light in the dark—brightening not only our own digital community, but bringing that light to friends and family and their local communities. Every donation we receive is fuel for those flames.

Even if membership is not right for you, you can help us to brighten the world. Donate to our Spring Fundraiser by 8 June 2023, Better Self-Critics, to help us reach our quarterly goal, or set up a recurring donation here.

Re-Thinking Education

I have, relative to my own age and experience, long been a critic of academia. Just the other week, a friend reminded me of a late-night frustrated rant delivered in graduate school about the seeming hopeless prospects laid before us. Not only our chances to find meaningful employment, I claimed, but the whole structure is crumbling. The problems are entrenched in its very structure: it has become irredeemably ordered toward expedience, technical training, empty credentialing, pseudo-professionalism, consumerism, and disdainful of the methods through which true intellectual habits are formed, for these all are inconvenient to its model.

But worst of all, the gears of academia’s modern mechanism grind down those who most love its true (if largely abandoned) purpose: the pursuit and teaching of the truth. Many good professors stay in their positions despite academia: they love teaching and seeing their students get it; discovering truths new to themselves; being in a community of the like-minded. But to see these goods realized often requires a Herculean effort. Burdened with apathetic students and bureaucratic headaches, they are left with too little time. Job security eludes many, and most attain it only by sacrificing even more time to tasks even more tedious.

What are we to do? Give up and allow ourselves finally to become naught but ground-down dust—or abandon the academic intent altogether? Or… might we do something else? I believe in the third alternative. Allow me to explain; and allow me to be so audacious as to use poetry in offering an explanation of re-thinking education.

The Purpose of Education

Controversy over the topic of academic freedom seems to arise every so often. In recent years, the controversy has mostly concerned the policing of language and adherence to ideologies concerning individual identities. Popular figures—mostly those who have suffered somehow at the hands of relevant censorship—have made names for themselves by railing against this restriction of intellectual freedom. But the proponents of academic freedom often champion it as a kind of absolute principle. Behind their advocation stands a belief that, on a level playing field, truth will win out over falsity, and, therefore, academia should be a place where any idea can be stated.

But the “level playing field” does not ever exist.  Culture shapes students long before they enter the university and tends to maintain a hold on their thought throughout as well.  Moreover, even in the university, we live not by intellect alone.  A professor may have weak arguments, but a cool, commanding air about him; and he may be handsome.  The other, meanwhile, might have the best reasoning, but be physically ailing, old, unrelatable.  To which will the typical eighteen-year-old be more drawn?

Many academics accepted (contrary to the spirit of intellectual inquiry) that the academy was a place in which they could freely pursue whatever theory they wished.  To be sure, intellectual inquiry demands a looseness with respect to restraint.  But it does not merit total absence of any restraint.  It requires an antecedent purposiveness: that of being-towards-truth.  Put otherwise, freedom without purpose is not really freedom; and academic freedom not ordered towards the pursuit of truth (and the willingness to admit fault or uncertainty) is not a freedom anyone should possess.

In the absence of this unifying pursuit (behind which absence there lies another story too long to tell here), the “university” (to which name it no longer merits a claim) turns to purposes inhuman and inhumane: primarily, the diversion of its resources into the training of functionaries.  This perversion of aim runs deep.  It infects university presidents and deans, board members and trustees, hiring and curriculum committees, and branches out systemically through every vein of the increasingly-bureaucratic institution.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats 1919: ”The Second Coming”

W.B. Yeats’ poem—perhaps his most famous—“The Second Coming” expresses this reality, most especially in its first stanza.  The university has lost its center and all culture falls apart.  If governments and corporations seem increasingly totalitarian, this comes as a response (a poor one) to an anarchy in the human soul: a loss of principle and a corresponding loss of order.  The world seems bleak… and we lack the education to make it right again.  Many, I think, anticipate the “rough beast”—war, plague, famine, destruction of all civil order; a purging fire—with trepidation, anxiety, but also a sense of relief.  Let it all be over.

Slow Build of a New Approach

Like many, I do not find myself often brimming with optimism about the world.  Things do, indeed, appear bleak.  But it is historically myopic to believe this bleakness an abnormality.  If we find the world seeming dark today, perhaps this is because we have never been able to see so much of it in so short a time.  All the worst news rains down upon us in a constant barrage.  Tragedy, strife, and suffering can be delivered instantaneously around the globe.

Good things, on the other hand—truly good things—take time for their fruits to ripen.  As such, we can seldom see them at an instant.  We must observe them closely and across months, years; perhaps even decades or centuries.  The immediacy of the bad and the long, slow unfolding of the good, no doubt, frustrates our contemporary minds.  Habits of immediate gratification have seized us all.  We lack the patience to wait and watch, to see the good through from seed to fruit.  But our impatience is unbecoming.  The realization of the good is and ought to be slow.

Why “ought”?  Perhaps that assertion evokes a knee-jerk reaction, an objection.  But from where?  What within us objects to the notion that the good ought to be slow?  Most likely, it arises from that aforementioned habit of immediate gratification.  Yet do we truly see the good of things gained immediately?  Or do we not, and rightly so, appreciate more the things hard-won?  Deep and abstruse philosophical questions emerge here: questions concerning act and potency, virtue and human habits.  We’ll not tackle them at the moment (for, indeed, they cannot be tackled at a moment—for understanding them is a true good).  Succinctly stated, however, the world which we inhabit requires toil by its nature.  It is fitting that we toil to bring forth the good.  We may not like this truth; but we will be much more at peace with the world if we recognize and accept it.

Doubtless, we find ourselves frustrated with the state today of academia.  We want a quick solution—just as we might wish to become healthy or virtuous or more learned ourselves tomorrow.  Perhaps it seems the most expedient path to recovery lies with the already-extant institutions.  Universities have buildings, of course, and funding, and faculty; accreditation and curricula, degrees and name-recognition.  But they no longer have credibility because they no longer have purpose.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas 1947: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

And purpose, of course, is also a true good.  We cannot “hand it back” to the university, held as it is by the perverse order entrenched in every level of its existence.  Purpose in education must be grown again, slowly, painstakingly, day by day, month by month, year by year.

Put otherwise, the answer is not, as Dylan Thomas would have it, to “rage against the dying of the light”; but neither is it to “go gentle into that good night”.  The sun is setting on the university, and it may be a long darkness to follow. But there will be a dawn, and we, in the meantime, may hold a candle.  One flame may beget another, and that second beget a third, and so on—but we should not try burning down the house just to make a briefer, brighter light.  An educational institution cannot be created in a single day. We have our purpose. But we will build that fire slowly.

Help Keep the Flame

Alright—just as I am not often brimming with optimism, neither am I often this melodramatic.  The flame is a metaphor, of course, for what I hope the Lyceum Institute is, and will be.  And, of course, I hope that you will help keep it going: either by donating or, even better, by supporting us through enrollment (or purchasing our “manifesto”). Re-thinking education requires a slow building of habit. We are planting the seeds. We hope you will help us bear the fruits: this year and next, this decade and the following, throughout this century and beyond.

Education and Digital Life

The Founding Declaration of the Lyceum Institute, Education and Digital Life, has now been published in paperback, along with a series of related essays written by Faculty and Board Members of the Institute. This slim volume (117 pages) outlines the why for the Lyceum Institute’s existence as well as the manner in which it pursues its goals for education.

Here is an excerpt from the Declaration itself:

“All human beings, by nature, long for knowledge.”[1]  Composing the opening line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, these are words familiar to many, and have rightfully inspired reflection for millennia: reflections on human nature and operations, as well as the good at which we, commonly human, are aimed.  To long for knowledge: this is not merely to want knowledge for some ulterior motive—making money, gaining power, defeating your enemies—but for its own sake.  We want to know because knowledge fulfills us, because it satisfies a need we experience, a need we suffer in every encounter with our own ignorance.  This longing is what Aristotle meant, and this fulfillment by knowledge, indeed, is what we long for by nature.

Many, both in the present and in decades and ages past, have suffered a diverting and anesthetizing of this longing by the proliferation of easier and lesser pleasures: why read, when you can watch a documentary; and why watch a documentary, when you can watch a comedy?  In the ubiquity of immersive entertainment media—radio giving way to television, to the internet, to streaming shows and movies seeping through every device in our homes—the slide into the ease of unthinking pleasure appears obvious.  But the diversion of our natures from their proper good occurs not only through our entertainments and pleasures, but is further fostered today even by the supposed institutions of learning—even, or perhaps especially, the most vaunted—which have themselves departed the path along which knowledge is sought, and instead flung themselves down the slippery slope of merely conveying standardized sets of information, or, far worse, disguising social activism in the garb of intellectual enrichment (the latter being merely the logical conclusion of abandoning, among other truths, the centrality of classical logic).  Rather than learning to discover what is through their own efforts, therefore, students are taught to receive and retain pre-packaged information about what is (or what is purported to be—no matter how discordant those claims from the cognition-independent reality), so that they might serve as functionaries for how we want ‘what is’ to be: information discovered, interpreted, and arranged by others, to the occlusion of—and thereby depriving us the freedom to ask—that most-human of questions, “What is that?”

Is this knowledge?  Is it learning?  We desire to know; but is that the same as receiving information, pre-determined, pre-packaged for us?  The currently common view of the universe—a reductionist view that posits the most-elemental parts of matter to be the truest reality, such that all other phenomena are merely various configurations thereof—holds that knowledge amounts indeed to nothing more than an organization of information; that our ability to know consists in the right configuration of parts in our minds, or even more reductionistically, our brains; and that what we signify by “information” is only a certain abstract descriptor of this configuration…

Is the mind “what the brain, body, and world around us” collectively do?  Perhaps that is true, in some way; but it is not very helpful for understanding what the mind really is, especially as something distinguished from the brain, body, and world.

No.  No thinking person can accept this flattening, this levelling out of what we know from our own experience to be different.  The mind is manifestly something more than any of its contributory sources or its necessary, integral parts, and—rather than by an enumeration or description of its materially-constitutive parts—we know any object of our inquiry best by discerning its characteristic action.

The action of the mind consists fundamentally in the seeking and understanding of the world in the light of knowledge; and knowledge subsists as a relation to the intelligible truth of objects themselves—the relation whereby is grasped the articulable reality of what is.  This seeking unfolds through observation and a questioning after what is observed: that is, observation and questioning which begets recognition that the things observed have explanations, causes, beyond what the observations themselves entail; and the subsequent attempt to discover those causes to better explain the observed effects.  The phenomena of our experience, in other words, are not self-explanatory, and what we mean by “knowledge” is just such explanation: the grasp of the causes, not merely inchoate, but in a manner that both the causes themselves and the grasp of them can be verbally expressed.  These explanations must be worked out with trial and error, with continued recursion to certain principles—which themselves must be discovered with some difficulty—with experimentation, reflection, and most of all a habit of inquiry; to continue questioning, again and again, seeking always to better understand what we have revealed, always seeking better to grasp the relation between cause and effect.

It is this knowledge, which grows into wisdom, that all human beings desire.

[1] i.348-30bc: Μετά τα Φυσικά, 980a21.
[2] Steven Pinker 1997: How the Mind Works, 21.

Education and Digital Life – purchase your copy today!

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Reclaiming Wisdom – Summer Fundraising Campaign

Reclaiming Wisdom – Perennial Truths for the Digital Age

Once the center of Western culture, the University has lost its way.  For centuries, it was a force both stabilizing and civilizing, training young minds to discover the perennial truths by which they were elevated above the merely material concerns of our baser nature.  The University was a center of wisdom, guiding us to the principles by which we ought all to live. 

Today, however, we observe a culture in decay, and the root cause is the University itself… [read more]

The universities have abandoned the pursuit of wisdom for that of skills, for profits, for worldly success, for the latest ideological fashions.  What they have abandoned, we will reclaim.

The past two years have seen the Lyceum Institute continue to grow, develop, and has resulted in excellent work being done by our Faculty Fellows.  As our members and friends alike know, the Lyceum has not only already accomplished a great deal, but has the potential to do much more.  While money makes nothing happen of itself, it does help to remove some impediments for those striving to realize that potential.

And so, this summer, from June through August, we are ambitiously striving to raise $10,000.  We would be enduringly grateful to anyone who helps us reach that goal—or even just to reach towards it.  As a not-for-profit organization, we rely on the generous donations of supporters like yourself.  

Reclaiming Wisdom

Support the Lyceum Institute in providing access to perennial truths for the digital age and fostering a love and pursuit of wisdom through a community dedicated to bettering our philosophical habits.

Funding the Lyceum Institute in 2022

Dear friends:

I need your help.

Two-and-a-half years ago I started an experiment: to see whether people genuinely and seriously interested could engage in a philosophical inquiry, online, dispersed around the country or even the world. The answer? “Yes”; but a “yes” that demanded more. As it turns out, those who are genuinely and seriously interested *always* want more. True answers raise new questions.

It quickly became evident that I could not answer all of those questions myself. Thus, the experiment expanded, and this past year, five others joined me–a first group of Faculty Fellows–in building an environment of inquiry. As they all discovered (a somewhat painful revelation, I think), it’s a lot more work than it seems–but also (I think), much more rewarding than one might anticipate. After years of teaching at the university level, one becomes a bit jaded about the nonchalance, the apathy, the mercenary disposition characteristic of many of our students. Encountering people who truly want to learn, who invest themselves into the study… it makes us remember why we got into academia in the first place.

I want to keep that rewarding if difficult work going. I want to keep building this environment of the Lyceum Institute. And so I am asking for your help. I’ll probably be asking for it again, too, but right now I’m asking you to help fund these Faculty Fellows, to fund our colloquium speakers, to fund our access to research materials–I’m asking you to help us become free from the constraints that have held honest intellectual work and philosophical education down for decades. To this end, I have started a $5000 fundraising campaign at GiveButter.com. Please, if you can, donate; share; participate. There’s more detail at the link. Anyone is welcome to sign up, or to come by a Happy Hour.

Thank you!

Support the Lyceum Institute’s Faculty Fellows

Importance of the Liberal Arts

Today, many minds have been shaped by educational philosophies of base pragmatism that treat the individual as a worker to be shaped for social goals, rather than a person to flourish within society.  This is not to disparage the professions of STEM, of doctors and lawyers, or to discourage learning the ins-and-outs of computer technologies.  But these endeavors aim primarily at the perfection of productivity, in making good things other than oneself, rather than in making better one’s own being, one’s own mind.

It is in contrast to these modern pursuits that we find the traditional curriculum of any schools with a classical inclination, known as the liberal arts.  These seven courses—grammar, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy—are called liberal because they free the mind and are called arts because they are tools for the mind’s interaction with the world.  Through extension, in the modern world, “liberal arts” has also come to comprise university education that includes instruction in philosophy, history, literature, classical languages, and theology, for these studies, too, liberate the mind (and build upon the liberation gained in the traditional seven).  This freedom consists not merely in the lack of restraint, but rather in an empowering: an uneducated person may lack any physical, moral, or civil restraints on his or her behavior, and yet nevertheless is not truly free to do many things, because he or she lacks the knowledge of how and especially why he ought to do them.  Conversely, with the absence of restraint, someone may do many things which result in a consequent lack of freedom: thus someone becomes a slave to the passions, to addictions, to thought-atrophying forms of entertainment, and to any object which may receive a disproportionate estimation of its worth. 

Distinctively human action—that is, the kind of action which belongs to human beings and no other animals—receives its specifically-human character from the use of reason; and reason is developed through learning.  Learning therefore needs also to be sufficiently broad in its scope: if someone studies one and only one subject for the whole of life, he or she will never develop a well-proportioned perspective on the fullness of human experience.  It is to this purpose that the liberal arts are applied: to provide a broad basis of education with which one can more easily grasp any subject, investigate any question, and seek every answer.  Consider the praise given its study by John Henry Newman:

Surely it is very intelligible to say, and that is what I say here, that Liberal Education, viewed in itself, is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence.  Everything has its own perfection, be it higher or lower in the scale of things; and the perfection of one is not the perfection of another.  Things animate, inanimate, visible, invisible, all are good in their kind, and have a best of themselves, with is an object of pursuit… The artist puts before him beauty of feature and form; the poet, beauty of mind; the preacher, the beauty of grace: then intellect too, I repeat, has its beauty, and it has those who aim at it.  To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression, is an object as intelligible (for here we are inquiring, not what the object of a Liberal Education is worth, nor what use the Church makes of it, but what it is in itself), I say, an object as intelligible as the cultivation of virtue, while, at the same time, it is absolutely distinct from it.

1852: The Idea of a University, 90-91.

There is a fruitful distinction suggested by the phrase “Liberal Education”, as comprising those subjects not in themselves arts—as philosophy or literature, for instance—but which nevertheless contribute to the freedom of the mind.  That is, though we are here enveloped in a study of the liberal arts, our ultimate goal is for a liberal education—towards which the arts are innately ordered.  We ought to keep this ordination in mind, to avoid lapsing into sophistical pretensions resulting in a misuse of these arts.

The liberal arts attain this not through each becoming a monolithic subject studied unto itself, but as each is interwoven through the others; each must be understood as part of a greater whole to which it ultimately belongs and within which it attains its ultimate fructification.  To study the liberal arts, therefore, requires rejecting the myopic specialization characteristic of modern university study.  Conversely, it thereby allows us to be doctors, but not just doctors; lawyers, but persons, too; engineers, but also poets; scientists, but also men and women of faith and human sensitivities.