When we talk about prospects of life for a student who has chosen the humanities as a course of study, we always fight the headwind of pragmatism that pushes toward the question “but what will they do?” Most young people are concerned with joining the adult world, whatever that may be, and they covet the signs of belonging and success that they see. How do we answer the student that says “I’m learning nothing useful” ? What arguments for the course of liberal arts do we have within the corpus of literature itself? What are the choices? Shifting the balance in the favor of the study of man himself by way of literature, we may start at the font of western self consciousness; the Iliad. Continue reading “The Archetype of Anti Heroes”
C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory gives the answer to the question of simplicity in the face of a crafty enemy –
“If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. “
“Virtue, then, is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle…”
-Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, II; 1107a
Nebuchadnezzar had his aspirations, and he had his dreams. Today, we often conflate the two concepts under one word, or perhaps make them cousins under the tired concoction of “hopes and dreams”. I have listened to Amway practitioners, politicians, and popular singers cement aspirations to dreams. Dreams though, as anyone can honestly admit to a close friend, are not goals. They are more often ghouls. These dreams are revenants picking through dumpsters of doubt. Freud in his Interpretation of Dreams suggested that the symbols colliding in uncanny ways in dreams provide distance to a mind unable to confront the unacceptable situation of existence in its working and wanting hours. A dream is the telemetry of crashing life. Continue reading “Nebuchadnezzar on his wall part 2”
The book of Daniel in the fourth chapter reminds us of Nebuchadnezzar at the height of power, considering his walls in the mighty Babylon of the 6th century BC. Babylon, inheritor of the realms of Sumer and Akkad, now ascendant over the brutality that had been Assyria. A new age of peace and prosperity opened for those reasonable enough to recognize the ‘right side of history’. Outmoded civilizations like the corrupt and vacillating kingdom of Judea were phased out, and the cream of intelligentsia, like Daniel the wise man and advisor, were grafted in to the new administration. Just like Gilgamesh, millennia before on the walls of Uruk, the master of the universe now drank in the majesty and surety of his place in progress. Like Gilgamesh, however, Nebuchadnezzar would experience a mid life crisis all the more strange because of the altitude of his accomplishment. Continue reading “Nebuchadnezzar on his wall part 1”
What is Classical Education?
Thinking about education throughout history in the Western World, we can make some general observations. The tendency of secularism and profusion of modern sciences, has pushed ever farther toward the pragmatic end of education and farther from the ideal end. One strange question that appears as an orphan child in a crowded airport, is “what is the purpose of Man?” We understand this question as an orphan since purpose and Man, two terms, one extrinsic and the other universal and intrinsic, are no longer commonly understood.
Man’s purpose is multiform in the modern eye, since he does many things. The question in modern education has something to do with ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. Classical education realizes that you already are something that needs forming and leading in order to the best potential of that thing. He has an ideal purpose, and it is one.
What is Man? Once, man was specified as the rational animal. As he learned more, he could do more, and in doing he became preoccupied with his advancing alienation. Doing is not the same thing as being. Man leads with his will, informed by his desires, which he reasons toward. Classical education recognizes the will, the reason, and the desire. We discipline the soul, we form the mind, and cultivate the desires.
Secularism alienates. The world pulled apart into rational and spiritual concerns never completely satisfies, making man a stranger in both distilled environments.
The Profusion of Sciences absorbs and self perpetuates. Specialization produces the culture of the trained savage and the guild of the obscurantist.
By listening to the lessons of antiquity alongside the current, we honor the experience of humanity, and make room for wisdom.