A Brief Introduction to Syntopical Thinking

A Brief Introduction to Syntopical Thinking

Great Conversations that Center around Great Ideas Found in Great Works

Syntopical thinking, also known as synthesis, is the touchstone of a liberal arts education and syntopical reading is the most important type of reading in the Humanities so that we may form the most informed evaluative positions about the works that we explore.

In fact, according to Bloom’s taxonomy, synthesis and evaluation are the highest level critical thinking skills that we aspire to in education.

A great tool to assure a syntopical approach in this class is Mortimer Adler’s work The Great Ideas, and his collection of essays which divide Humanities education into the pursuit of understanding 102 Great Ideas. The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas is an excellent resource on how to organize your thinking as a humanist in this course. In his academic career, Mortimer Adler insisted that as humanists we must engage in great conversations about great ideas expressed in great works, and he defined the “great conversation” as a “discussion of the great ideas during the last twenty-five centuries.”

Confluence Courses are oriented by this principle that the best liberal arts education is one that has “great conversations” about “great ideas” expressed in great works.

Therefore, at lease a cursory understanding of the notion of syntopical reading, organized around the delineation of “great ideas,” is helpful for any student using the courseware. Obviously, the task of syntopical, great books learning is a life-long project, but this course allows for the training of life-long habits so that the student can continue his or her liberal arts education long after formal schooling.

Rodney Marshall

Rodney J. Marshall, Ed.D., is Editor-in-Chief of Confluence Courseware, LLC.

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