We live in a fractured world. However, a world of seven billion unique individuals voicing their opinion is not a problem. The problem is that that rapidly growing number is without any shared or common understanding, upon which there can be no meaningful conversation. As articulated by Robert M. Hutchins in The Great Conversation (a prologue to a collection of Great Books published in 1953):
The disappearance of great books from education and from the reading of adults constitutes a calamity. In this view education in the West has been steadily deteriorating; the rising generation has been denied its birthright; the mess of pottage it has received in exchange has not been nutritious; adults have come to lead lives comparatively rich in material comforts and very poor in moral, intellectual, and spiritual tone.
We do not think that these books will solve all our problems. We do not think that they are the only books worth reading. We think that these books shed some light on all our basic problems, and that it is folly to do without any light we can get. We think that these books show the origins of many of our most serious difficulties. We think that the spirit they represent and the habit of mind they teach are more necessary today than ever before.
The Liberal Arts are an ancient method of education that taught students about the world in a holistic, cumulative way in order to make free (liberated) citizens. When a student learns about the world in a complete way—by studying all the arts and sciences in all their strengths and weaknesses—they achieve a better understanding of themselves. It is this knowledge about oneself, one’s world, and one’s place in that world that creates an individual who is truly free. Current Liberal Arts programs—and sadly, even Liberal Arts colleges themselves—have lost this purpose.
Current educational paradigms are often factionalist and pedantic. Outside of the troubled and defunded Liberal Arts schools and programs—many of which are functioning trade schools—, higher education is now many subjects without an object. Where higher education once encouraged students to study an integrated array of arts and sciences in order to have a broad and complete understanding, today’s curricula sacrifices that holistic method in favor of narrow specialization. Of course, specialization only increases the disconnection between disciplines and furthers the esoteric through innovation without conversation. Specialized knowledge—as opposed to integrated, complete, and holistic knowledge—is unable to create people who are invested in a world that is holistic, in a nation that needs people who understand their world as well as themselves. In short, specialization is unable to craft citizens. As a democracy, we need citizens who are empowered by their freedom, and who are united by their common or shared knowledge—not by their opinions—in a conversation.
In addition: Individuals who read and strive for understanding, who strive to join a great conversation by reading these books, will find themselves capable of reading and understanding other books, as well. Reading Great Books gives a reader the ability to judge other books on their merits. This is to say that both the form and substance of a traditional Liberal Arts education (i.e. a holistic method and an independent journey through the Great Books of the World) helps people reject propaganda or “fake news” and develop the ability to both evaluate and combat the distortion of information. If it is the creation of a free and responsible citizen that is the true end of the Liberal Arts, then education today, which has misplaced the means and mistaken the ends, is responsible for the fractured nature of our nation, world, and conversation.
We support the reintegration of both the original means and ends of education into the world. We believe that, in addition to the form of a holistic approach, the best content available are the great ideas and books written by great thinkers across time and place. In order to create greater freedom, autonomy, and equality for all, we want to create a digital place where ideas, discourse, and books are available to everyone who seeks them.
• Offer free access to the greatest thinkers of history without digestion (or
• Encourage readers to create their own understanding and, thereby, develop
their ability to reason, understand, and grow.
• Help individuals craft their citizenship and help citizens craft their
• Execute our vision through our flagship projects.
This organization is committed to:
It is because we believe that all humans are created equal and that they are endowed by their creator with certain, inalienable rights that we seek to provide, for free, the tools necessary to build an independent mind. We are committed, without reservation, to sharing and fostering those ideas upon which democracy was founded. We also seek, without reservation, to share any and all books or ideas from around the world and from any time which promote the ideals we espouse.
This organization promotes these ideals:
• Spiritual Growth
And, because we are committed to sharing those books from all cultures and all periods of time (which we have the legal right to share) and we seek to foster discourse around those books and ideas. We seek to fulfill our mission because we believe that for a society to fail it is not necessary to burn books, only to leave them unread.
The Syntopicon was a massive, intellectual effort to chart and index the important themes and ideas across 431 “Great Books”. Mortimer Adler, and his staff, spent a decade in the middle of the 20th century identifying and indexing 102 “Great Ideas” and each mention of them in the works of 71 authors. Our project is similar, we will make use of the tremendous technology that is available to us to digitize and share the great books (that exist in the public domain) for free while providing indexed resources that help create a better understanding of how these authors are creating, interacting, and conversing with each other. Launching: Summer 2018.
To supplement and draw awareness to our flagship project (the Syntopicom), we will create, solicit, and publish essays and articles which address the Great Ideas, the Great Books, and the Great Thinkers. Our shared, joint inquiry will focus on questions like: What it means to be human?, Who is God?, and What is the soul? Through articles, dialogue, and digital media, we hope to offer our modest contributions to the greater, ongoing, and eternal conversation.
The People of the Polyphemus Project:
Founder and Publisher: Tom Cohen
Writer Editor: Nat Brown
Technical Director and Writer: Stephen O’Malley
Director of Logistics: Mary O’Malley
Art Director: Chloe Badner