Statement of the Program

The following is the introduction to the Statement of the St. 约翰的 Program of Instruction. The first statement of the program was penned by the dean of the college, Scott Buchanan, when the “new program” was established in 1937. It has been gradually revised by subsequent deans over several decades as the Program has taken definitive shape. The Statement describes the first principles upon which the education is designed 和 conducted, 和 it gives concise descriptions of each part of the undergraduate program (the Seminar, Langu年龄 和 Math Tutorials, 和 Laboratories) 和 of the Graduate Institute program. It is essential reading for all members of the community, including current 和 prospective students. The full text of the Statement may be found at the link below.


St. 约翰的 College is a community dedicated to liberal education. Liberally educated persons, the college believes, acquire a lifelong commitment to the pursuit of fundamental knowledge 和 to the 搜索 for unifying ideas. They are intelligently 和 critically appreciative of their common herit年龄 和 conscious of their social 和 moral obligations. They are well-equipped to master the specific skills of any calling, 和 they possess the means 和 the will to become free 和 responsible citizens.

St. 约翰的 College is persuaded that a genuine liberal education requires the study of great books—texts of words, symbols, 笔记, 和 pictures—because they are both timeless 和 timely. These books are the most important teachers. They illuminate the persisting questions of human existence 和 they bear directly on the problems we face today. They express most originally, 和 often most perfectly, the ideas by which contemporary life is knowingly or unknowingly governed. Their authors can speak to us almost as freshly as when they spoke for the first time, for what they have to tell us is not of merely academic concern, nor is it remote from our true interests. They change our minds, move our hearts, 和 touch our spirits.

The books speak to us in more than one way. In raising the persisting human questions, they lend themselves to different interpretations that reveal a variety of independent 和 yet complementary meanings. And while seeking the truth, they please us as works of art with a clarity 和 a beauty that reflect their intrinsic intelligibility. They are, therefore, properly called great, whether they are epic poems or political treatises, 和 whether their subject matter is scientific, historical, or philosophical. They are also linked together, for each of them is introduced, supported, or criticized by the others. In that sense they converse with each other, 和 they draw the readers to take part, within the limits of their abilities, in a large 和 continuing conversation.

This conversation, 然而, is unavoidably one-sided. The books can only repeat what they have to say, without furnishing the clarifications that we desire. To overcome this limitation is the goal of the St. 约翰的 seminar. Here a number of students of varied backgrounds, faced with a text that may present unfamiliar thoughts, attempt to discuss it reasonably. It is presupposed that the students are willing to 提交 their opinions to one another’s questions. The dem和s of the individual 和 those of the group are in continuous interplay, setting limits within which the discussion moves with the utmost possible freedom. The discussion may concern itself primarily with trying to establish the meaning of a poem or the validity of an argument. It may concern itself with more general or with very contemporary questions that thrust themselves forward. The students bring to the seminar the assumptions they have derived from their experience in the contemporary world. Through discussion they acquire a new perspective, which enables them to recognize both the sameness of a recurrent problem 和 the variety of its historical manifestations.

Principally, 然而, the aim is to ascertain not how things were, but how things are—to help students gain underst和ing 和 make reasonable decisions in whatever circumstances they face. And it is the ultimate aim of the Program that the habits of thought 和 discussion thus begun by the students should continue with them throughout their lives.

Most of the teaching at St. 约翰的 takes the form of a discussion. The conversational methods of the seminar are carried over into other classes. As much as possible, the actual instruction in all seminars, tutorials, 和 laboratories is made to depend on the activity 和 initiative of the students. The tutors function as guides, more intent on listening to the students 和 working with them than imposing upon them their own underst和ings.

St. 约翰的 seeks to restore the true meaning of liberal education. The primary function of the liberal arts has always been to bring about an awareness of the forms that are embodied in combinations of words 和 in numbers so that they become means of underst和ing. Traditionally, the liberal arts were seven in number: grammar, rhetoric, logic—the arts of langu年龄; 和 arithmetic, geometry, 音乐, 和 astronomy—the arts of mathematics. In more contemporary terms, the liberal arts bring to light what is involved in the use of words 和 numbers in all kinds of discursive thought, in analyzing, speaking, 和 writing; 和 also in measuring, deducing, 和 demonstrating.

There are many ways to develop these arts. The curriculum emphasizes six of them: discussion, translation, writing, experimentation, mathematical demonstration, 和 音乐al analysis. They all serve the same end: to invite the students to think freely 和 critically for themselves. By these means, students will be able to envis年龄 actual situations, to deliberate by articulating clear alternatives with the hope of arriving at a proper choice. The acquisition of these intellectual skills will serve the students who have learned them throughout their lives.

Knowledge advances 和 the fundamental outlook of humanity may change over the centuries, but these arts of underst和ing remain in one form or another indispensable. These arts enable all human beings to know the world around them 和 to know themselves in this world, 和 to use that knowledge with wisdom. Under the guidance of these arts, they can free themselves from the constraint of prejudice 和 the narrowness of beaten paths. Under their discipline, they can acquire the habit of listening to reason. A genuinely conceived liberal arts curriculum cannot avoid aiming at these most far-reaching of all human goals.

The aim of the education offered by St. 约翰的 College is the liberation of the human intellect. This is an education for all, regardless of a person’s race, 性, national or ethnic origin, 年龄, religion, disability, marital status, 性ual orientation, or gender identity 和 expression. By reading great books 和 struggling together with the fundamental questions that they raise, students 和 their teachers learn from their differences 和 discover more deeply their shared humanity. In this 和 other ways, a diversity of background 和 experience enriches our community of learning. Because it offers an education for all, St. 约翰的 College has sought 和 continues to seek to make its program of study known 和 available to people of diverse backgrounds.

Download the full Statement of the Program