The 10 Books Nobody Should Be Allowed to Die Without Reading: Dr. Peter Kreeft (Transcript)

Full text of author Dr. Peter Kreeft’s lecture titled ‘The 10 Books Nobody Should Be Allowed to Die Without Reading’.

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Dr. Peter Kreeft – Professor of Philosophy at Boston College

I thought I would give you something practical rather than theoretical today, since philosophers are usually very good at theory and very bad at practice, which is why every philosopher needs a wife.

BOOKS. The number one piece of educational technology that has ever been invented. The only thing that might rival books as a means to the end of education would be asking honest but dumb questions. Many of the greatest discoveries in history were made by asking really stupid questions.


A book is a way of connecting with another person’s mind. We have two ways of sharing our mind with other people: speaking and writing.

And speaking transcends space. What I’m doing now is communicating something of my mind to you through my mouth and your ears, which are separated by a considerable space.

Writing does more than that. Writing also transcends time. You write something down, and then you send it through the mail, or you print it and have people read it years later, or sometimes centuries later. And it’s almost as if you’re still alive. When you’re reading a book written by a dead person, you’re in contact with his ghost, that is, with his spirit, with his mind. It’s a marvelous invention.

Well, there are TWO KINDS OF BOOKS. There are ordinary books, which are usually kind of small and kind of stupid, and then there are great books. And I don’t know why the term great books is so controversial and why great books education is so rare, and why at many education conferences, when you say you teach great books, they look at you as if you had two heads and say, oh, you’re one of those.

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I have no idea. My response is, oh, you prefer stupid, crummy little books to great books.

I think the main reason great books are so rare, is that our society is increasingly believing in a kind of relativism. Not only is beauty in the eye of beholder, but so is truth and so is goodness.

The one thing that our society is judgmental about is judgmentalism. You may not make value judgments. Well, in that case, you have the end of all ethics, the end of all virtue, and the end of all education.

Because in order to educate, you have to make a judgment about what is worth educating someone about. I think this is the main reason why all the sciences are radically improving and all the humanities are radically decaying, because you can’t be a successful scientist without believing in objective truth. Science is about the real world.

But increasingly in the humanities, especially in literature and philosophy, the fashionable view now, in order not to be judgmental, is that truth is our own creation, our own invention, that you create your own reality, that nothing is a mirror and everything is a window. So you only see your own mind reflected in what you say.

Well, ultimately, I believe that’s the philosophy of hell. My notion of hell is that it’s more scary than the usual. The usual one is that it’s a terrifying fire pit where demons insert hot pitchforks into unrepentant posteriors. That’s not so terrifying, because the demons are outside of you, and so is the pitch fork, and so is the fire.

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