British philosopher and scholar AC Grayling gave the keynote speech of the 2015 Reinventing Higher Education  symposium entitled “How global citizenship in Antiquity teaches us, through Humanities, about global citizenship today“. The event was introduced by IE’s Dean of Humanities Arantza de Areilza.
AC Grayling is one of the most relevant present-day philosophers, with an extensive record of publication including more than 30 titles, mainly focused on atheism and classical culture. Popular in the UK thanks to philosophic discussions held at the BBC and his former weekly column in The Guardian called “The Last Word”, he is also Master of the New College of the Humanities , an institution launched in 2011 whose students, regardless of their final degree, have to take compulsory courses on applied ethics, logic and critical thinking, science literacy and business and professional skills.
His speech was a defense of the Humanities and why do they matter. He supported his argument on classical references, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, applicable to today’s world, where highly specialized degrees are beginning to be questioned in the West. He underlined the importance of self-understanding, which is impossible to achieve without the Humanities, and that the main contribution of philosophy is to challenge assumptions, the “digging up and scrutiny of assumptions”.
Following on Socrates’ thought “The meaning of life is the meaning you make of it”, the speaker was able to provide a whole argumentation on education as a process of searching and discovering. Besides the importance of thinking about philosophy, he also shared the relevance of enjoying literature, “Literature is a door to hundreds of windows into other lives, other ways, other choices”, and of reading history, “History is our greatest resource for reflection on things as they are now.”
He finalized his lecture by making an analogy of good guests, who must “be informed, be attentive, be good listeners”, with successful humans, reflecting on Humanists as true cosmopolitans.