Dwight, this made me think of you:
I take my cue from something Socrates says in the dialogue Theaetetus. “Thinking,” he says, “is a conversation that the soul has with itself”(189E). Let me approach what Socrates says by saying what writing at St. John’s is not. Writing for us is neither a technique to be mastered nor a vehicle for self-expression. It is not for the sake of “arguing a thesis” (the written version of debate), although to be sure our students are expected to give reasons for what they think and say. In former days the senior essay, the culmination of the student’s four years of learning, was called a senior thesis, but that misnomer was emended to the term “essay,” whose French origin in the verb essayer points to writing as above all an intellectual effort, attempt and even risk. Nor does writing at St. John’s ever take the form of the research paper. Students read and discuss primary sources exclusively and are encouraged to think things out for themselves in the company of the very greatest authors. To return to Socrates, if thinking is a conversation that the soul has with itself — if our inner private thinking mirrors the sort of thinking that goes on in serious conversation with others — then writing is the natural outgrowth of this inner “talk.” And if serious conversation with others is essentially a joint inquiry, then writing, as the shaped record of our inner talk, is also an inquiry. We write in order to learn.
I am still upset that I didn’t discover St. Johns until after it found you. Though, I can’t complain too much since I had the opportunity to discover Kimberly instead.
One of these days, I still want to do our best to recreate St. Johns online with a community of dedicated and curious folk.