A Complete Liberal Arts Education in 800 Words

Are you a college student taking either a History of Literature class, or Western Philosophy 101? Great! Because below is all you need to know for those two classes. Don’t forget me later, when you’ve landed a great job due to your sweet, sweet education.

History of Literature

The Odyssey: A hairy guy who yells a lot floats around in a boat.

Oedipus the King: A guy marries a girl a little too much like the girl who married dear old dad. (When this play opened at the Viennese National Theatre in 1901, Freud, in attendance, died of an asthma attack.)

The Apology of Socrates: Socrates feels bad. He didn’t mean to do it. Plato made him do it.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses: More people than you can shake a stick at get mysteriously transformed into … well, sticks.

Dante’s The Divine Comedy: A guy in a funny hat visits Hell and acts rude. We follow him into the pits of unbearable agony, which lasts right up until the moment we close this book.

Don Quixote: A skinny old Spanish guy goes nuts and rides around being hilarious. (This really is the funniest book ever written. A must read. Get the Samuel Putnam translation.)

Goethe’s Faust: A guy who over-intellectualizes everything sells his soul for a chance to have sex. A lesson for college students everywhere.

War and Peace: Guys go crazy killing each other. Guys go crazy over women. Peace is elusive.

Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illyich: Someone named Frank Boltosky croaks. Kidding! What really happens is that Ivan Illyich, whom everyone thinks is dead, suddenly leaps from his bed, and declares that from then on he will dedicate his life to aerobic fitness. Three days later he is killed when his overcoat gets caught in a threshing mill. Sad, in a pointless kind of way.

Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: A guy turns into a cockroach the size of a sofa, and spends all his time in his room sulking about it. His family has trouble adjusting. 

Western Philosophy 101

Socrates: Liked to call himself a “gadfly.” No one argued it. Turned unceasingly asking annoying questions into the basis for Western civilization.

Plato: Believed knowledge was more about remembering than learning. Yet founded the first college in the Western World. Been confusing people ever since. Famous for the Socratic dialogues, which were later refashioned into scripts for the hit TV show, My Two Dads. Wrote Republic, in which he posited that the key to harmonious communal living was unisexual clothing, plenty of stop signs, and people picking up after their dogs. Spent majority of life trying to get people to call him just anything but “Plato.” Failed. Died miserable.

Aristotle: Believed all of nature was subject to rational analysis and understanding. Legacy includes systematic logic, scholasticism, butterfly collecting, and global warming.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Famous for writing Summa Theologiae, wherein he proved that, through the strict application of logic, a rational man could confuse himself into a religious reverie. Summa proved invaluable to surgeons of the Middle Ages, whose primary operating tools were sharp sticks and their teeth. Two sentences from Summa Theologiae, carefully whispered into a patient’s ear by an aquinaesthesiologist, would instantly numb the patient from the neck down. For brain surgery, a third sentence was read. For public executions, a fourth.

Descartes: Proved true his famous axiom “I think; therefore I am” by one day falling asleep, and instantly vanishing.

Berkeley: Renowned for being the first (and last) famous philosopher named George. Felt that reality divorced from human perception was logically unsupportable. Died unaware of why he had never been invited to any parties.

Kant: Held that all ethical decisions should be formed in response to the single question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Famous for writing The Critique of Pure Reason. It was his freakish good luck that his publisher happened to be a moron: the book was supposed to be titled, The Reason of Pure Critique. Written as a humorous guide to Berlin’s museums and cafes, it was immediately hailed as breakthrough work on metaphysical speculation. No idiot, Kant kept quiet. Died smiling.

William James: The Mr. Goodwrench of philosophy. American. Felt that philosophy was too far removed from reality to serve any verifiably useful purpose. As a result, started his own school of philosophy, Pragmatism, which quickly grew into a franchise operation, “Uncle Willie’s 1-Stop Philosophy Shop,” where drive-through customers could receive instant adjustments to their philosophical positions. Later started “Positions to Go!,” which promised philosophical constructs delivered to one’s home in thirty minutes or less. Died penniless.

Sartre: Important, but why should we care?

*******

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • John Shore

    Here's me, testing the comments section to this post.

    I love you, John. Keep up the good work, man. But don't be so serious all the time. Have you ever thought about writing anything humorous?

    • Beth Luwandi

      that's what I was going to say!
      hey, btw. I figured out how to use the comments; it's simple! Except that the text on my computer is now microscopic, I think I'm going to like this. Are you still awake?

      • John Shore

        Is that still happening, with the small text? That's … weird/not good.

  • dscottsw

    Yep – agree with John guy – once in a while you have to just not take yourself so seriously. A little levity would be good.

    Tell a joke once in a while – the one about the Rabbi and the…no maybe not that one.

    The one about the Lawyer and the priest…no, maybe not that one either.

    Hey – I know – ask profound questions like, "Before the invention of the compass did people have a moral sextant?"

  • blueberrypancakesfordinner

    john why cant i post>?

  • blueberrypancakesfordinner

    The Old Monk
    A new monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to help the other monks in copying the old texts by hand.

    He notices, however, that they are copying copies, not the original books. So, the new monk goes to the head monk to ask him about this. He points out that if there were an error in the first copy, that error would be continued in all of the other copies.

    The head monk says "We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son." So, he goes down into the cellar with one of the copies to check it against the original.

    Hours later, nobody has seen him. So, one of the monks goes downstairs to look for him. He hears a sobbing coming from the back of the cellar, and finds the old monk leaning over one of the original books crying. He asks what's wrong.

    The old monk sobs, "The word is celebrate."

    • John Shore

      Oh, that is good.

    • michael

      that is good, i'm stealing that :-)

  • http://allegro63.blogspot.com/ allegro63

    I am a college student. Thankfully I have endured philosophy already, and now face the Lit classes. That is if I pass psychology. Silly me deciding that an English based degree was a wonderful idea.

    Then there is my serious side

    Curtis & Leroy saw an ad in the Starkville Daily News Newspaper in Starkville, MS.
    And bought a mule for $100.
    The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day.
    The next morning the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry, fellers, I have some bad news,
    The mule died last night."
    Curtis &Leroy replied, "Well, then just give us our money back."
    The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."
    They said, "OK then, just bring us the dead mule."
    The farmer asked, "What in the world ya'll gonna do with a dead mule?"
    Curtis said, "We gonna raffle him off."
    The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead mule!"
    Leroy said, "We shore can! Heck, we don't hafta tell nobody he's dead!"
    A couple of weeks later, the farmer ran into Curtis & Leroy at the Piggly Wiggly
    Grocery store and asked:
    "What'd you fellers ever do with that dead mule?"
    They said, "We raffled him off like we said we wuz gonna do."
    Leroy said, "Shucks, we sold 500 tickets fer two dollars apiece and made a
    Profit of $898."
    The farmer said,"My Lord, didn't anyone complain?"
    Curtis said, "Well, the feller who won got upset. So we gave him his
    Two dollars back."

    Curtis and Leroy now work for the government.

  • John Shore

    Hah! I'll bear that in mind.

  • Wink364

    I thought liberal arts was bongin' up on some bad-ass smoke and rendering nudes of Reid and Pelosi in unappetizing variations of coital crypticity. Oh well wha'd'ya expect from some dildork that only spent a couple of semesters in junior college?

    I changed my nom de plum. An original PelosiReid nude to whoever guesses who I used to be.

  • Argy-bargy

    "Sartre: Important, but why should we care?"

    Ohoho….This is awesome. Simply awesome.

    Not that I care….

    • Paul Ardoin

      Yeah, I'm going to steal that for my Facebook status.

      • John Shore

        Um. Hello. I can hear you. I’m right here.

  • blueberrypancakesfordinner

    i want to go back to school. soon, when the toddler is in kendy.

  • Chad

    John Just found your site and have been laughing my ass off. Keep it up.

  • http://www.BuzzDixon.com buzz

    St. Thomas Aquinas: Famous for writing … a rational man could confuse himself into a religious revelry.

    “Revelry”?!?!? I thot they said “revery”! Man, all this time I’ve been doing it wrong!

  • http://www.facebook.com/iLeland Leland Baker via Facebook

    As a major in English literature, I sadly admit that I haven’t read a single one of these. Not that some of them weren’t required reading.


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