Mathematics at St. John’s
When students approach mathematics as a
liberal art—as they do at St. John’s—many are
struck by its clarity and elegance. What in high
school may have seemed tedious or worse
reveals itself as a record of systematic reason-
ing, or even a reflection of fundamental reality.
What was exciting to those adept at math
takes on even greater depth. As students read
and discuss mathematical treatises, demon-
strate propositions, and solve problems,
they raise and encounter questions that arouse
the imagination and lead to further inquiry.
To learn, for example, that “a point is that
which has no part” is not enough; the question
becomes “What does it mean to say that a
point is that which has no part?”
Thus, mathematics at St. John’s
goes beneath the questions that would be
asked in a more technical program,
examining the foundations of mathematics
in an atmosphere of reflection. As they work
out solutions to problems and work through
the details of propositions, students
contemplate what it means to count and
measure things, what it means to come to
know anything at all—and bring these rumina-
tions to bear on their readings in seminar.
Proceeding fromEuclid through
Einstein over four years, students gain a direct
understanding of the succession of mathemati-
cal revolutions—and an appreciation for the
beauty and truth within each—that have led to
our modern conception of the universe.
What if I’mnot good atmath?
It requires trust—and courage—but by starting with the elements of geometry in freshman year
and moving forward gradually, supported by class discussion, students learn that math doesn’t
have to be intimidating; indeed most find it both exciting and rewarding.
What is a point?