The Seventh Academy uses ancient disciplines, which were the basis of teachings for nearly 1000 years in Plato's Academy in Athens, over 2000 years in Buddhist monasteries, 2000 years or more in Confucian training circles, more than 2500 years in Taoist philosophical circles, and at least 3000 years in Egyptian inner-temple schools.
The most recent Academy (the sixth after Plato's) was established by philosopher Marsilio Ficino outside Florence, Italy in the fifteenth century. Historians have noted that Ficino's Academy became an important center for learning during the Renaissance.
In the twenty-first century, the Seventh Academy has similar aims, drawing on these diverse, yet parallel, philosophical traditions to study of a wide range of topics.
In engaging with these age-old practices, participants develop clarity about their lives. They develop skills that can be useful, no matter what their particular paths, aims and endeavors.
THE CENTRAL DISCIPLINE: CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY
METHOD VS. CONTENT
Modeled most closely on Plato’s Academy in ancient Athens, the Seventh Academy resembles our modern educational organizations only slightly. Today's schools and churches emphasize content and expect members to absorb information and adopt doctrines. Academies do not.
Like ancient academies, the Seventh Academy has no membership, only participants in seminars. It is not content-oriented, but method-oriented.It focuses on the how of learning rather than the what.
Because ancient academies needed some shared body of knowledge – in this case, about methods – teachers would give lectures, and standard texts would be circulated and read.
However, after formal instruction, an Academy community would engage in group study and in shared discourse as the primary modes of learning. Debate provided clarity, and dialogue provided insight.
Over time, the community developed these “tools of thought” to an ever-higher degree, and learned how to apply them to any topic – any “content.” This is the essence of classical philosophy. It focuses on developing ways of looking at the world, not imparting absolute “truths” about the world. It provides “tools of thought” that are meaningful insofar as they are useful.
If the tool is not useful in a given context, or ceases to be useful at all, then it is put aside – not carried around or held up as the best/only tool, nor worshipped as the absolute truth.
In other words, ancient philosophy avoids an important misstep: it does not confuse the map with the territory, nor the menu with the meal (to paraphrase the general semantics theory of Count Alfred Korzybski).
Philosophy does not contain reality and experience. Philosophy is a way of examining reality and experience.
WHAT ARE THE METHODS OF CLASSICAL PHILOSOPHY?
In developing its methods, classical philosophy asks fundamental questions – and in doing so, invites discussion around them. Furthermore, each question gives rise to specific fields of study within philosophy.
There is also a philosophy behind every discipline and field of study – medicine, science, education, history, and so on.
Interestingly, classical philosophers were serious and yet light-hearted. The ability to joke about teachings encouraged playfulness, discouraged taking oneself “deadly seriously,” and above all, reminded the community that philosophical tools are not inviolable truths but useful ways of living in the everyday world.
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