Great Books Program Class Samples

This class sample is from the Greek year

[the first year] of our Great Books Program. The students have read two of Plato’s dialogues, Crito and Phaedo, for this class. In the Crito, Socrates is awaiting execution in his prison cell. His friend Crito has come early one morning to try to convince Socrates to escape his cell [which he could do relatively easily] to avoid undergoing an unjust execution. He offers several arguments as to why this is the proper thing to do. The sample begins with the students responding to this question, “Which of Crito’s arguments do you find to be the most persuasive? Whichever argument you choose why do you choose it?” The moderators for the class were Dr. James Taylor and Mr. Stephen Bertucci.

For this class these Roman year students have read selections from Thomas à Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ.” The conversation opens with a question about similarities and differences between what the students’ have encountered in the Imitation and what they read previously from Plato, Cicero, St. Augustine, Plotinus, Aristotle, and others who gave counsel about how one ought to live. This moderators for this class are Dr. Heather Erb and Mr. Stephen Bertucci.

In Cicero’s work “On Duties” he discusses the question, “Is the immoral ever expedient?”  As the students discuss this question the conversation turns to the topic of a hierarchy of duties; do some duties come before others?  Are one’s obligations to the family primary or are those obligations below obligations to the State?  What is the common good and how is it best achieved?  The class is moderated by Dr. Christopher Morrissey and Mr. Stephen Bertucci.

These students have read Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in preparation for class.

In this clip they are discussing the killing of Caesar.  Prior to what you will hear the conversation has included discussion on whether or not the killing was murder; murder being understood as the taking of innocent life.  Now the issue of “preemptive strike” has arisen and the students are discussing this issue in regard to the death of Caesar.  Is it permissible to kill someone for something he hasn’t done but that you are are afraid he might do?  Sometimes yes and sometimes no?  If that is the case how does one know when it is permissible and when it isn’t?  Are there principles that can be identified by which such judgements can be made?  The moderators for the class are Dr. Peter Redpath and Mr. Stephen Bertucci.

For this class the students have read Willa Cather’s “My Antonia.” As the sample begins the students have just been commenting on the day’s opening poetry reading (“The Hawthorne Tree” by Willa Cather), and Dr. James Taylor comments on poetry in general and “The Hawthorne Tree” in particular. Dr. Taylor and Stephen Bertucci were the moderators for this class.  Note: We begin each class with poetry related to the larger reading, and what you see on the whiteboard as the recording begins is the poetry with which this class began. It is replaced on the board with selections for the primary text of the day as the discussion begins.


Roundtables are not ordinary Great Books classes. They take place once or twice per semester, among some of our faculty members only, to model Socratic discussions, so students and parents are encouraged to audit them. Sometimes students are invited to join the discussion towards the end of the roundtable. Regular Great Books class samples may be accessed HERE.

Our “roundtable discussions” or, simply, “roundtables,” are conversations upon an agreed topic and take their initial direction from particular texts that have been read for that specific roundtable.  We say “initial direction” as the conversations can go wherever the flow of ideas leads.  The number of participants is usually limited to three or four people to allow for the presentation of differing viewpoints without the impediment of having so many voices that give and take among the participants becomes unwieldy.

The topic of this roundtable discussion is “Good and Evil.”  The texts that served as the catalysts for the conversation are Frederich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” and Aristotle’s “Metaphysics,” Nicomachean Ethics,” and “Politics.”  Here is a link to the roundtable.

The topic of this roundtable is “Is there an ideal size of human community?”  Our texts for the roundtable were excerpts of Plato’s “Republic,” Aristotle’s “Politics,” and St. Augustine’s “City of God.”  Here is the link.

This class recording features Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov.”  The moderators for this class were Fr. Joseph Fessio, Mr. Patrick Carmack, and Mr. Steve Bertucci.  Here is a link to the class.