“Classical studies can’t make us better professionals,” French philosopher and historian Remi Brague told a packed room of Hillsdale College students, professors, and members of the community on Monday. “But they can make us better human beings.”
Nearly 200 attended Brague’s much-anticipated lecture on the study of classical languages. The visit was the 71-year-old Brague’s first to Hillsdale College, and the culmination of what was years in the making.
Brague is professor emeritus of Arabic at Sorbonne University of Paris and chair of philosophy at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. Associate Professor of English Dwight Lindley said he’s been interested in inviting Brague to come to Hillsdale for a few years, and was pleased that it actualized this year.
Brague’s lecture addressed the benefit of studying Latin and Greek, and how Western people are to understand their relationship with their classical roots.
“Classical studies can hardly contribute to our instruction, in order for us to do things,” Brague said. “But they can contribute to our education, which is something rather different. Such studies are because they can enhance what is human in us.”
Brague explained why it is important to study the Western cannon in particular, in relation to other cultures’ histories.
Brague argued that studying classical languages would not only strengthen ties to Western roots, but would open up a better understanding and relationship with other cultures.
After beginning his career studying classical philosophy, Brague shifted his focus to both medieval and Middle Eastern cultures.
“As a historian of philosophy, I shifted from the study of the Greeks to the study of medieval thinkers, and thereby followed a track that produces the very itinerary of European cultural history,” Brague said.
In introducing Brague, Lindley remarked on Brague’s ability to find continuity through history and culture.
“To read him is to watch the procession of human cultures down through the ages, each shimmering with differences, but each aware of the same ends,” Lindley said.
Sophomore Dan Grifferty attended the lecture, and said he enjoyed having such a high-profile philosopher visit Hillsdale to speak.
“I’ve been considering doing a Classics major and was talking to Dr. Lindley about it and he mentioned that Brague was coming to talk about classical languages,” Grifferty said. “That worked super well with what I was thinking about.”
Grifferty said he was impressed with Brague’s thoroughness in defending the study of classical languages.
“I’ve been taking Latin since I got to Hillsdale and just started taking Greek this semester. I was always interested in Latin and Greek for the philosophy, so that I’d be able to read the original texts themselves,” Grifferty said. “It was mainly practical for me, but this got beyond the practical, and why reading these authors is important in the first place.”