The Floating University

Video Quiz

Take this quiz to test your knowledge of Dean Brenzel's classics lecture. Find the answer key at the bottom, as well as an additional quiz on the assigned reading!

(1.) Which of the following statements best represents Dean Brenzel’s position on reading choices?

  • (A.) Books published in the last 50 years are very likely not going to be worth your time.
  • (B.) The best way to tell if a book has value is if it is over 100 years old and is still in circulation.
  • (C.) People seeking true wisdom should mainly read books published before 1850.
  • (D.) Some books published before 1800 are difficult to read today but worth your time if chosen correctly.

(2.) All of the following works would fulfill one or more of Brenzel’s criteria of a true classic EXCEPT:

  • (A.) An Edwardian chamber drama that was popular in its time but is mainly read by English scholars today for historical context.
  • (B.) A book on anatomy published in the 1400s that permanently changed how people thought about the internal workings of the human body.
  • (C.) A history of classical cultures written in Elizabethan England that provided story material for authors and playwrights for generations.
  • (D.) An epic medieval poem that revolves around the power of romantic love to overturn practical considerations when seeking a marriage partner.

(3.) According to Brenzel, why should you prioritize old classics over much-heralded new works?

  • (A.) A new book might receive universal acclaim upon release, and be labeled an instant classic, only to be virtually forgotten 20 years later.
  • (B.) A new book will almost invariably be more expensive than a verified classic, and you are certain to gain more value for your money by going for a classic.
  • (C.) Due to changes in the publishing industry over the last hundred years, the odds that a new book will be bad are extremely high, and this situation will only get worse.
  • (D.) Buying new books encourages the depletion of forests, which at this point in time is not morally permissible; old books already physically exist and don’t contribute to this problem.

(4.) Which of the following statements best describes the argument between Socrates and Thrasymachus in The Republic?

  • (A.) Socrates argues that the best rulers are those that produce the best outcome for their people, while Thrasymachus asserts that all morality is relative and that there is no true justice.
  • (B.) Socrates argues that living a just life is the best way for a human to behave, while Thrasymachus asserts that accumulating wealth and power is the best outcome in life.
  • (C.) Socrates argues that, despite what they claim, men don’t actually know anything, while Thrasymachus asserts that un-just men will also reap more material rewards than just men.
  • (D.) Socrates argues that all of reality is actually an illusion created by our senses, while Thrasymachus asserts that material rewards and power provide enough certainty to live by.

(5.) Which of the following statements best describes the influence of classical Greek philosophy on Christianity?

  • (A.) Early Christian theologians, like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, were heavily influenced by the thinking of Plato and Aristotle, but were rejected by Martin Luther, who sought to purge classical thinking from Christianity and sparked the Reformation.
  • (B.) After Greek culture was supplanted by Roman culture, and after the Roman Empire collapsed, early theologians sought to reject the thinking of Plato and Aristotle and build an antithetical world using Christianity as a base.
  • (C.) Early Christian theologians used the works of Plato and Aristotle as base texts, and rewrote them to incorporate the tenets of the emerging Catholic religion, side-stepping the old Testament to obviate Judaism. Later thinkers, like Martin Luther and John Milton sought to purge classical influence from Christianity by restoring the base texts of the Old Testament.
  • (D.) The works of classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were not widely available in the early years of Christianity, but nonetheless heavily influenced theologians like St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Later thinkers like Martin Luther rejected some of the thinking of early theologians, and were influenced differently by classical philosophy in their reformation of Christian doctrine.

(6.) Which of the following statements would Brenzel most likely agree with?

  • (A.) The great books are often challenging to read, but the instructional value imparted to the reader makes the effort worthwhile and rewards engagement by even relatively uneducated readers who have no strong initial desire to read the work in question.
  • (B.) The great books are often challenging to read, and skilled readers and those with a well-rounded education will be rewarded by the effort. Less educated readers can gain the same value by reading artful summaries or listening to lectures by skilled readers.
  • (C.) Difficult books only pay out the effort a skilled reader puts into them, and, depending on the objective difficulty of the source material, many readers simply don’t have the time or ability to put in enough reading effort to make thorny classics worthwhile.
  • (D.) Every college student in the United States should be required to read the classics, regardless of his or her ability or interest, because the effects of great books will have at least some impact on them and improve their performance in unrelated tasks.

(7.) According to Brenzel, all of the following are values of reading the classics EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Working out your intellectual capacity by testing your mental muscle against difficult source material, thus strengthening your skills to use in real-life situations.
  • (B.) Developing a sense of how ideas have emerged over time and influenced various writers, giving you a perspective on which problems have been solved and which remain.
  • (C.) Discovering ideas or perspectives that have been lost over the ages, and applying them to contemporary problems.
  • (D.) Accumulating a long list of academic accomplishments that you can demonstrate to other people in debates to reinforce the authority of your arguments.

(8.) Which of the following scenarios best illustrates Brenzel’s concept of the value of strangeness?

  • (A.) A college student is frustrated in his attempts to woo the object of his affection, and hits the library to check out books of translated Persian poetry. After many hours he pieces together a love poem from the best verses he comes across, and successfully passes the result off as his original work.
  • (B.) A married couple goes on vacation to India and over the course of their stay sample a wide variety of authentic Indian food. They discover new favorite dishes that they would not have tried on their own in America, and order them from Indian restaurants at home from there on out.
  • (C.) A woman gets called to jury duty, and over the course of three weeks becomes fascinated by the law, and after the trial wraps up she begins studying for the LSAT with the intention of applying to law school.
  • (D.) A man visits a Buddhist monastery and observes monks meditating for hours at a time; he realizes that it is not necessary to be stimulated at all times, and starts turning off his phone during large chunks of the day.

(9.) Which of the following scenarios best articulates the values of building intellectual muscle and obtaining better judgment?

  • (A.) A retiree starts checking out books virtually at random from the local library to shake up his media diet. He does not enjoy most of the books, but gradually comes to find that he loves reading about the mythology of indigenous tribes from around the world, and reads as much about the subject as possible.
  • (B.) A student in a seminary reads through the works of all of the major Christian theologians to the present day, and develops a very firm sense the intellectual basis of Christianity and uses this sense to construct a personal ideological position.
  • (C.) A woman reads every Edwardian chamber play that remains in existence, including rare folios housed at university libraries, and becomes an amateur expert on the subject, with her own arguments about the best works in the genre.
  • (D.) A politically interested person reads many volumes of selected non-fiction writing and argument from the hey-day of British newspapers and journals, and after months of examining the best material available, begins to see the rhetorical weakness prevalent in the op-eds of most contemporary newspapers.

(10.) According to Brenzel, which of the following statements best explains the relationship between wisdom and knowledge?

  • (A.) Knowledge is information that you collect that doesn’t alter who you are, whereas wisdom is the change in perspective that comes when you see a better way to arrange information.
  • (B.) Knowledge can be gained by reading the right things and lost by reading the wrong things, but wisdom cannot be gained or lost through reading the classics, and only comes from real-life experience.
  • (C.) Knowledge can’t be learned from reading the classics, because it takes the form of real-life skills, like driving a car, or changing a diaper, whereas wisdom exists only in the form of ideas, and can be gained from books.
  • (D.) Knowledge and wisdom are essentially interchangeable as terms, because wisdom is simply the accretion of knowledge, and there is no clear way to determine when any given amount of knowledge equates to wisdom.

Answer Key: (1.) C, (2.) D, (3.) A, (4.) B, (5.) B, (6.) A, (7.) C, (8.) D, (9.) C, (10.) A

Reading Quiz

This quiz is based on:

Course Pack: Hubert Dreyfuss & Sean Kelly, All Things Shining. (pp. 118–142)

(1.) Which of the following statements most accurately reflects Dante’s conception of sin?

  • (A.) Carnal sinners were those who focused their love on objects of desire that proved spiritually fulfilling, inciting God’s jealous anger, while     spiritual sinners were those who rejected the notion of God altogether, spending eternity in the lowest depths of Hell in total denial of their state.
  • (B.) Carnal sinners were those who focused their love on objects of desire that ultimately proved spiritually unfulfilling, while spiritual sinners were     those who rejected the Aristotelian ranking of virtue altogether.
  • (C.) Carnal sinners were those who failed to embrace the courtly tradition of love, which married the physical and the spiritual, in favor of purely     sensual desire, while spiritual sinners were those who instead chose only to revere the spirit, rejecting God’s gift of Earthly pleasure.
  • (D.) Carnal sinners were those who were born before Christ’s presence on Earth, thus focusing their desire and attention only on the attainment of     pleasurable physical sensation as the highest good, while spiritual sinners were pagans who Christ visited in Hell, and who rejected him consciously.

(2.) Why do the authors of All Things Shining ultimately attribute failure to Dante’s attempt to reconcile Greek thought with Christianity?

  • (A.) By rejecting Virgil’s advice that men ought to use their will-power to restrain their desire, Dante succumbed to a form of carnality by focusing the full force of his desire on the earthly object of Beatrice.
  • (B.) By eschewing his total love of Beatrice for the overwhelming bliss provided by contemplating God’s unfiltered glory, Dante turns away from a     meaningful life on Earth.
  • (C.) By retaining Aristotle’s emphasis on a Prime Mover at the height of heaven, toward which all of creation strives to be reunited with, Dante neglected to satisfactorily account for the attractions offered by Satan.
  • (D.) While Dante almost translated Aquinas’ theological breakthroughs into poetic form, the choice to render his prose in vernacular Italian instead of Latin ultimately renders The Divine Comedy textually inferior to earlier Christian theology.

(3.) Which of the following statements best characterizes Luther’s attitude toward the Greek influence on Christianity?

  • (A.) Plato’s emphasis on worldly forms as representative of virtuous representations of the divine contravenes the notion that only man presents an image of God’s grace, while Aristotle’s attempts to explain physical phenomenon through the direct actions of God is incompatible with God’s spiritual separation from the physical plane.
  • (B.) Plato’s emphasis on the perfection of human knowledge pulls man away from the contemplation of God’s unknowable mystery, while Aristotle’s emphasis on the hierarchical ranking of virtue tarnishes the equality of men under Christ’s salvation.
  • (C.) Plato’s emphasis on a dialectical understanding of arguments for virtue contradicts the certainty of a personal acceptance of Christ’s love, while     Aristotle’s emphasis on the easily discernible virtue of material goods denies God’s grace to the meek, injured, and sick.
  • (D.) Plato’s emphasis on the abstract contemplation of ideals isolates man from the communal joy of God’s creation, while Aristotle’s emphasis on a Prime Mover makes man apathetic toward Christ’s sacrifice and the living debt every man owes.

(4.) Luther’s doctrine influenced the development of Christianity in all of the following ways EXCEPT:

  • (A.) Luther’s emphasis on the communal feeling of joy as a result of Christ’s sacrifice encouraged men to act as Christ to one another in the material     world.
  • (B.) Luther’s rejection of both Platonic and Aristotelian influence on Christian doctrine placed a renewed emphasis on the visceral experience of Christ’s love in daily life.
  • (C.) Luther’s rejection of mediation between man and God did away with the spiritual authority of priests and popes.
  • (D.) Luther’s condemnation of the ideas of Aquinas and Aristotle presented in The Divine Comedy caused the poem to fall out of favor, allowing    Paradise Lost to take its place as the most divine work of art.

(5.) Which of the following statements would the authors of All Things Shining most likely agree with?

  • (A.) Luther and Descartes’ emphasis on the self-sufficiency of the individual man opened the door to the rising nihilism of the ensuing centuries.
  • (B.) Had Aristotle’s writings not been re-discovered by chance, we would live in a world today with significantly less existential angst.
  • (C.) The burgeoning of human autonomy traceable from Aristotle to Aquinas to Dante to Luther to Descartes represents one of the most important positive developments of Western thought.
  • (D.) The only away to avoid the specter of nihilism that accompanies deviation from external authority is to dismiss all of the works after the gospels of Jesus and focus solely on agape.

Key Answer: (1.) B, (2.) B, (3.) D, (4.) C, (5.) A