All Courses

History of Western Thought

HIST 570/571

History of Western Thought

Description and Objectives

The History of Western Thought explores the intellectual history of the West. It is a capstone to a young​ man’s liberal arts studies at The Heights, and as such, it is a required course for seniors. In this course the student grapples with some of the key thinkers of the Western tradition in many fields—Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, More, Erasmus, Descartes, Locke, Kant, and others—statesmen, poets, theologians, philosophers, mathematicians, jurists, and natural scientists. The study of these fields comes together in The History of Western Thought, or HoWT as it is lovingly called. Through this integration, a new clarity and depth is given to each student’s understanding of history. For example, the Civil War that the boys studied in grade school, when viewed in the light of HoWT, is not merely a military narrative but a clash of ideas about truth, the good, and how society should be governed. Indeed, the entire narrative of our rich past is better understood from multiple perspectives, related and informed by an honest search for truth of every kind.


  1. Phaedo by Plato 
  2. The Republicby Plato (selections) 
  3. Life of Cato by Plutarch 
  4. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
  5. De Officiisby Cicero 
  6. Confessions by Augustine 
  7. Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas (selections) 
  8. Utopiaby Thomas More (selections) 
  9. Letter to von Hutten by Erasmus 
  10. Idea of a University by John Henry Newman (selections) 
  11. “The Regensburg Address” by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI 
  12. Apologyby Plato 

These texts will be supplemented with literary and historical texts that help to illustrate the concepts studied—some of these texts will be new to the students, others will be reviews of texts they’ve read earlier in the curriculum. In addition, the entire senior class will gather for lectures presenting other key ideas on various topics, for example: 

  • Aristotle’s Physics
  • Modern Utopias and Our Social Nature
  • Kant’s “Copernican Revolution”, the epistemic ‘turn’
  • Euclidean and Cartesian mathematics
  • Banishing the Poets—Why We Read Homer

Course Requirements

  1. Class participation
  2. Engaging the material in class – answering questions, asking questions, quality of seminar discussion
  3. Taking notes in class
  4. Posing intelligent questions based on the readings 
  5. Writing journal
  6. Journals collected and graded at least 2 times per quarter 
  7. Quizzes
  8. Tests (primarily written throughout the year, with oral final exams)

Successful Students

  • carefully and critically read texts—reasoning well. 
  • write reflective journal entries that show real engagement with the texts and ideas of the course. 
  • 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.