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History of Western Thought

HIST 570/571

History of Western Thought

Description and Objectives

History of Western Thought (HoWT) explores the intellectual history of the West to discover the philosophical foundations of our own age.  In this course, students engage with some of the tradition’s key thinkers—Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, More, Descartes, Newman, Benedict XVI, and others.  Through thoughtful consideration of these thinkers’ works, students acquire an awareness of the forces that have shaped our culture and a readiness to be responsible stewards of it.

Textbooks

  • Apology by Plato 
  • Crito by Plato
  • Phaedo by Plato 
  • The Republic​ by Plato (selections) 
  • Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
  • De Officiis by Cicero
  • Confessions b​y Augustine (selections)
  • Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (selections) 
  • Utopia by Thomas More
  • Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes
  • Idea of a University b​y John Henry Newman (selections) 
  • “The Regensburg Address” by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 

In addition, the entire senior class will gather for lectures presenting other key ideas on various topics, including a multi-week unit on late modern and postmodern thinkers, including Marx, Nietzsche, and Foucault.

Course Requirements

Students should expect daily readings assignments (and quizzes), near-weekly writing assignments, and occasional examinations.

  • The final grade each quarter will be based on the following:
    • Writing Assignments
    • Quizzes (
    • Exams will require knowledge of the assigned texts, but they will mainly evaluate the student’s ability to think and to synthesize the material critically.  There will be comprehensive a mid-semester examination and a final examination (oral).
    • Participation
  • Essays and reading/reading quizzes/participation will make up most of the work in the course.  Students should expect reading quizzes on a near-daily basis.
  • Class participation is required in the form of effective insights, the ability to answer questions on the readings, and in the asking of probing questions.  Comportment, attention to detail, and sustained improvement over time in the student’s workwill also factor into class participation.  The teacher will keep an account of how well students are participating, and students can approach the teacher at any time to ask about how well they are performing in this respect.  At the end of each grading period, class participation may play a substantial role in improving, maintaining, or decreasing the student’s grade for the quarter.

Successful Students

  • carefully and critically read texts.
  • write reflective journal entries that show real engagement with the texts and ideas. 
  • engage in class and readily participate with genuine interest. 
  • grow in their appreciation and respect for the wisdom in the Western intellectual tradition. 
  • begin to understand that ideas are very powerful in the formation of culture and an important force behind the drama of history.

The instructors are available to give extra help outside of class and desire to work with parents on concerns they may have. The History of Western Thought, if mastered by the student, is a fitting finale to The Heights education and an excellent prologue to university studies and professional work.