Skip to main content
Spelunking With Plato

Spelunking With Plato

By Spelunking With Plato
“Spelunking with Plato,” the Arts and Sciences podcast of the University of St. Thomas, offers conversations with faculty and friends of the university who can help us see more clearly the truth of things and devote our lives to the pursuit of Wisdom. By drinking deeply through dialogue from the Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions we hope to order our lives more completely to the truths of reality, so that we can become fully free and come to a vision of the Good.
Listen on
Where to listen
Breaker Logo

Breaker

Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo

RadioPublic

Spotify Logo

Spotify

Dante and the Odyssey of Liberal Education
“What was life like before you read Dante?” For many of us, this is almost the same as asking, “What was life like before you began the journey of liberal education?” In this conversation with Prof. Dominic Aquila, we consider the Poet and his work, taking up the merits of various translations, various ways to read the poem, the scholarly tradition of commentary, and the potential fruitfulness of exile.  Prof. Aquila reflects on the Purgatorio and its liturgical-musical dimension—a work on which he has recently published—as well as Dante’s “three Advents.” Links of Potential Interest: Dante, The Divine Comedy Esolen translation Hollander translation T.S. Eliot “The Wasteland” Hollander, “Dante, A Party of One” Dominic Aquila, “Dante and the Other: A Phenomenology of Love” Rev. Augustine Thompson, O.P., Francis of Assisi: A New Biography University of St. Thomas’ Honors Program
32:23
January 8, 2021
Dawson, Lukacs, and MacIntyre: History, Historicism, and Liberal Learning
Where does history fit into the liberal learning? How can a historical sensibility be integrated into liberal education without relativizing and historicizing the truth claims made by other disciplines.  How do we prevent “Becoming” from overwhelming our access to “Being.” In this conversation with Prof. Dominic Aquila, we take up these questions and many more. (This discussion is preceded by Prof. Aquila’s thoughts on the place of liberal learning within the family.) Links of Potential Interest: Christopher Dawson, Christianity and European Culture: Selections from the Work of Christopher Dawson Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education John Lukacs, Historical Consciousness Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History Christopher O. Blum, “The Historian and His Tools in the Workshop of Wisdom” Rev. John Courtney Murray, “Is it Basket Weaving” from We hold these truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition The Josias Podcast, Episode XXVI: Historicism
35:47
January 7, 2021
On Lying for a Living and the Ontology of Arithmetic
In this conversation with Prof. Tom Harmon, a scholar of St. Augustine, we consider whether rhetoric should be considered the chief of the liberal arts (at least among the trivium), its status during Augustine’s time, and its relation to the other liberal arts.  In light of Augustine’s criticism of rhetoric—“telling lies to people who know you are lying, and who praise you for it”—we consider how Augustine might defend liberal learning in our own day. and how such learning remains essential to fields and disciplines we might not expect.  We also consider considering the links between the verbal arts of the trivium and the mathematical ones of the quadrivium, particularly the relation between poetry, arithmetic, and  metaphysics. Links of Potential Interest: Our first conversation on Augustine Works by Augustine: Confessions City of God Works by other authors John Cavadini, Visioning Augustine Pierre Manent, The Metamorphosis of the City Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography Rev. Ernest L. Fortin, A.A. "Political Idealism and Christianity in the Thought of St. Augustine" (See also the three volumes of essays edited by J. Brian Benestad.) Joseph Ratzinger, Volk und Haus Gottes in Augustins Lehre von der Kirche (Munich: Karl Zink Verlag, 1954).  
32:24
January 7, 2021
St. Augustine: Embodiment and Critic of Liberal Learning
Are the liberal arts necessary for the Christian? How did St. Augustine simultaneously embody and critique liberal learning? In this conversation, Prof. Tom Harmon, a scholar of St. Augustine, takes up the Bishop of Hippo’s vision of liberal education from a variety of perspectives. If Augustine were rewriting the “Allegory of the Cave,” how would his account be different? Along the way he also considers the difference between Cicero’s and Augustine’s vision of oratory, the role of the Platonists in Augustine’s conversion, and the temptation to pride that is an occupational hazard for Christian academics. Links of Potential Interest: Peter Brown,  Augustine of Hippo: A Biography Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion Works by Augustine:   Confessions On Christian Teaching (De Doctrina Christiana) The Augustine Catechism: Enchiridion On the Happy Life Tractates on the Gospel of John
35:50
December 16, 2020
Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II: Competing Views of Education?
A thought experiment: Imagine that both John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas are alive today. They have been commissioned to establish independent universities in different cities according to their respective visions of education. How would the universities differ? How would they be similar? Is it possible that they establish identical universities? In this conversation, Dr. John Hittinger takes up these questions while also offering insights that illuminate the role of culture, philosophical anthropology, freedom, and conscience in the well-ordered human life of learning. Hittinger also reflects on how he—as a life-long Thomist—has developed his own thinking as a result of his work on the thought of John Paul II. Links of potential interest: John Paul II Institute George Weigel’s John Paul II Trilogy: Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II--The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”) Pope Saint John Paul II, Ex corde ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities/From the Heart of the Church) Pope Saint John Paul II, “Letter to Artists” Karol Wojtyła (Pope Saint John Paul II) The Jeweler's Shop: A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony Passing on Occasion Into a Drama Henryk Górecki, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” Pope Saint John Paul II, Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium George Weigel, “Two Ideas of Freedom”
32:31
December 4, 2020
The Paradoxes of Liberal Learning or "How to Think Like Shakespeare"
In this engaging conversation, Dr. Clint Brand introduces us to Scott Newstok’s book, How to Think like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education, which serves as a door to a larger discussion of the nature of liberal learning and its inherent paradoxes. Dr. Brand considers with Newstok “a few touchstones derived from the Tudor play of mind and some habits of Renaissance education that apply very much to the challenges” we face in our current moment. He also explores the paradoxes that Newstok proposes to his readers: that play emerges through work, creativity through imitation, autonomy through tradition, innovation through constraints, and freedom through discipline. And Prof. Brand fittingly concludes the conversation with Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room.” Links of potential interest: Clint Brand, ed., St. Gregory’s Prayer Book Scott Newstok’s book, How to Think like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture (with an introduction by T.S. Eliot) Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship William Wordsworth, “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room”
31:42
December 4, 2020
The Classroom as Sacrament(al)?
In what ways is the classroom devoted to liberal learning also a sacramental place? In this conversation, Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O.P. (herself a scholar of St. Albert’s sacramental theology), discusses parallels between the classical understanding of the sacraments and the experience of a classroom animated by liberal education. Along the way she also introduces us to texts by Josef Pieper, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Pope Saint John Paul II that can illuminate our path as we seek to leave the Cave. Links of Potential Interest: Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O.P., On the Body of the Lord Her academic website Josef Pieper, Leisure the Basis of Culture (with an introduction by T.S. Eliot) Alasdair MacIntyre, God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition The University of St. Thomas’ Academic Programs:
30:42
December 4, 2020
St. Albert the Great, A Tweeting Public Intellectual?
What was Albert the Great’s vision of higher learning? In this conversation, Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski outlines Albert’s vision with wit and insight, suggesting that he was not as dispassionate as his more famous pupil and had he been alive today, might have become a public intellectual who engaged contemporary controversies on social media. Not content to be an armchair scientist, he insisted on testing popular opinions of the day: Do ostriches don’t eat iron? Let’s find out. In addition to comparing St. Albert and St. Thomas, Sr. Albert Marie takes up the place of science in liberal education more generally, potential parallels between sacramental communion (for the laity) and education, the fearless nature of liberal enquiry, and analogues between religious and academic communities. Links of Potential Interest: Sr. Albert Marie Surmanski, O.P., On the Body of the Lord Her academic website Stephen Barr, A Student's Guide to Natural Science The University of St. Thomas’ Academic Programs:
29:51
December 2, 2020
John Paul II’s Vision of Education: A Conversation with John Hittinger
In this conversation, Dr. John Hittinger explores the sources of John Paul II’s vision of education, taking up his historically rooted and deeply cultural, Thomistic Personalism as the foundation of that vision. Ranging over a wide variety of works—including music and poetry—Prof. Hittinger considers the relation between faith and reason, a relation in which the former acts as a “force multiplier” of the latter. He also considers the confidence that should mark Catholic higher education and the role of literature and the imagination in liberal learning. Links of potential interest: John Paul II Institute George Weigel’s John Paul II Trilogy Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II--The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II Pope Saint John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (“Faith and Reason”) Pope Saint John Paul II, Ex corde ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities/From the Heart of the Church) Pope Saint John Paul II, “Letter to Artists” Karol Wojtyła (Pope Saint John Paul II) The Jeweler's Shop: A Meditation on the Sacrament of Matrimony Passing on Occasion Into a Drama Henryk Górecki, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” Pope Saint John Paul II, Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium
31:58
November 19, 2020
The Role of Literature and the Imagination in Liberal Education
“For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity In this lively conversation, Dr. Clint Brand takes up Newman’s understanding of the role of the imagination within liberal education. Dr. Brand draws upon the full scope of Newman’s writings, his own experiences as a scholar and teacher, and the insights of Dante and C.S. Lewis. Central to this conversation are several questions articulated by Dr. Brand: “If faith and reason are the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, what can we say of the imagination? Where does the study of literature fit into the physiology of flight? What does a literary education bring to the school of aviation in a Catholic university?” And Prof. Brand concludes the conversation with a reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “ To R.B.” Links of potential interest: Clint Brand, ed., St. Gregory’s Prayer Book Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, “Poetry, with Reference to Aristotle’s Poetics” Paul Shrimpton, The ‘Making of Men’. The Idea and Reality of Newman's University in Oxford and Dublin Newman, The Idea of a University Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua Newman, Loss and Gain Newman, Grammar of Assent Newman, The Dream of Gerontius Gerard Manley Hopkins, “To R.B.”
28:23
October 29, 2020