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Letter from the Foundation Year Program Director

Letter from the Foundation Year Program Director

Dear Reader,

In describing the year-long adventure of the Foundation Year Program, I have sometimes appealed to T.S. Eliot’s marvelous lines from ‘Little Gidding’:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Dr. Daniel Brandes, Director, Foundation Year Program

These lines capture beautifully the distinctive journey that we begin anew every year in FYP. In search of understanding, we cast our eyes back into the distant past, to the ancient cultures of Israel, Greece, and Rome; and we trace, over the course of centuries, the emergence, flourishing, and decline of the great empires of Europe and the Americas; but the aim of these far-reaching wanderings in time and space, the true “end of all our exploring,” is not to arrive at the knowledge of something new and strange and mysterious. On the contrary, as Eliot teaches us, our journey will return us to our starting place—to this world, here and now, and to the questions, concepts, and commitments with which we began. In short, we will return to ourselves. But we will have acquired a much richer understanding of who we are by becoming acquainted with the traditions of thought that have helped to set our present horizons.

Why should we care about the origins of our moral and political and scientific concepts? We should care not only because we strive to be historically literate persons, and not only because we employ these concepts every day without paying sufficient attention to their assumptions, echoes, and implications. We should care because our understanding of ourselves and of the world we inhabit is made richer, stronger, and more expansive, by such intellectual scruples. And we should care because the possibility of a genuinely critical posture toward our shared world—a posture which would enable us to subject our most important institutions (including institutions like the university, and programs like FYP) to rational scrutiny—is only possible on the basis of such an education, and in the light of such “ceaseless explorations.” That we are fortunate enough to take these travels together, and to rediscover who we are “for the first time” in such good company, is a rare privilege, indeed.

Dr. Daniel Brandes
Director, Foundation Year Program