To Think or to Do: The Unification of False Dichotomies

Sarah Davis + David McDonald

In the ancient world, art and religion provided a sense of meaning and order that was upended by science and technology. Today, our world is defined by consumerism, self-expression, and a gnawing lack of meaning. Can the contemplative life of the mind play a central role in addressing this void? What about the role of its supposed counterparts—doing, making, and simply being? This episode seeks to untangle the human desire for meaning and coherence, the reality of disorientation and disorder, and the perhaps false dichotomy between the life of the mind and the simple act of living itself. Featuring Santa Fe host Sarah Davis, also an artist, and tutor David McDonald, also a photographer, the two begin their conversation exploring the order and power of harmonic music, stumble into the disorder of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and eventually find some inspiration in the humble unity of Kierkegaard’s knight of faith.

In this Episode

  • David McDonald
    Guest David McDonald

    David McDonald (SF95) is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is reading Sophocles in freshman seminar, studying non-Euclidian geometry and modern math in senior mathematics, and exploring the synthesis of evolution and genetics in senior laboratory.

  • Host Sarah Davis

    Sarah Davis is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, she is discussing Aristotle in freshman seminar and Dedekind’s theory of numbers in junior mathematics.

Featured Release

The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host Louis Petrich and tutor Erica Beall delve into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful and war potentially beautiful, invites us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.

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Executive Producers Welcome

Continuing the Conversation was funded through the philanthropy of donors to St. John’s College. If you’d like to give to the college’s Annual Fund, your gift will go to support the kinds of inquiry and conversation that comes to life at St. John’s College. It also frees up money for creative projects like this one, which brings great conversation and great books into homes across the world.


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