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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 in order 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.


  • 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
  • Strange New World by Carl Trueman
  • Idea of a University b​y John Henry Newman (selections) 
  • “The Regensburg Address” by Pope Benedict XVI 

The entire senior class will also gather for lectures presenting other key ideas on various topics, including a multi-week unit on modern and postmodern thinkers, including Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Course Requirements


  • Students should expect daily readings assignments (and quizzes) and weekly writing evaluations.


  • The final grade each quarter will be based on a point system. The points will consist of the following:
    • Writing Evaluations (typically at least 100 points each)
    • Quizzes (typically 10 points each)
    • Participation


  • There will be a comprehensive mid-semester examination and a final examination (oral).


  • Each week students will have an in-class writing evaluation that tests how well they are reading and following along with class discussion.


  • 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 work will 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 essays 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.