Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plato's Republic

The Republic of Plato translated, with notes, an interpretive Essay, and A New Introduction by Allan Bloom. 2nd ed. Basic Books, 1991.

The Republic

Books I-II

Cephalus states that justice is "giving back what a man has taken from another." However, it would not be just to give back a gun to a person who will harm himself with it. Simonides said "it is just to give to each what is owed." This seems to be true. If we owe someone, it is just to pay them. It is then said that justice is to do good to friends, and harm to enemies. They think they owe an enemy arm. Socrates argues that people are to do good, not harm. For example, a doctor should not harm his patient. Socrates asks is it "the part of a just man to harm any human being whatever"? No seems to be the implied answer. How can a man be just if he does harm to others? Thrasymachus states that "the just is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger." In other words, if someone can get the better of someone else, it is just. This seems to be wrong because if everyone is trying to better each other, this is a world at war. In addition, he says that people create laws that benefit themselves. This seems to be true, at least sometimes. We have those in power oppressing minorities or outsiders. This cannot be just. What would happen if the tables are turned? Thrasymachus argues that the unjust man is stronger than the just man, so it is better to be unjust if you do not want to be taken advantaged of. Socrates uses the example of a robber gang to show that being unjust does not lead to success. If the robbers are unjust in all matters to each other, they could never work together to achieve their aims. The argument turns with the question, does the just or the unjust live happier? They end Book 1 with the argument that the just will lead better lives. Basically, the idea is that those who develop the virtues will live better lives. For example, those who pursue the seven deadly sins will suffer from it. 

In Book 2 a big question voiced by Socrates, "Is there in your opinion a kind of good that we would choose to have not because we desire its consequences, but because we delight in it for its own sake." This seems to be distinguishing ends from means. Socrates tells about a ring that makes one invisible. Would you seek the good if you could get away with doing the bad without harmful consequences or would you do the good if you did not receive good consequences, but bad ones. It reminds me of the book of Job when it is asked, Does God serve Job for nothing? They decide the best way to know what is justice by enlarging the framework by creating a city in speech. Basically, the city is divided between the farmers, soldiers, and rulers. Everyone will do the one thing they are good at. It seems everyone will be happy by doing the task that they are good at. The argument seems to be at the end of Book 2 that this would be just if everyone worked from their particular strength. One question about Book II is that it endorses censorship. The only poets are musicians allowed will be those whose ideas agree with the beliefs of the city. This chapter also emphasizes training children in the moral virtues. The city will not allow bad representations of the gods are heroes. I do not know if censorship is what is required for a just city. He will return to this subject in book X.

Books III-X

A Major theme of Plato's Republic is What is Justice. I summarized some of the answers to this question above. Socrates thought it might be more clear by seeing what is justice in a city. He argues that there is a close relationship between the city and the individual. The City is made up of three groups: Guardians, Soldiers, and Farmers. He describes three parts to the soul: the calculating or rational part, and the spirited part. The idea is that the guardians or rational part is to direct the other parts. In desribing this, he emphasizes the importance of cultivating both the moral and intellectual virtues.Of course, one of the most known parts of the Republic is the allegory of the cave. It is Socrate's idea on how we know the forms or the transcendentals. He describes this journey to knowledge as a quest. It is interesting that he describes that a only a few will take this journey to wisdom. He shows how many things can interfere in this quest for wisdom. He also says that intellectual pleasures are the greatest pleasure. 

Another theme of the Republic is whether the just man or the unjust man lives the good life. There are many answers to this question during the dialogue. Socrates believes that the just life is the good life and the unjust life is the wretched life. In some sense, the Republic is Socrate's argument that the just life is the best life. The Republic is a many layered work that discusses Plato's ideas of justice, society, government, education, and aesthetics. It is a book that requires many readings. I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Socrates states that education "is not what the professions of certain men assert it to be. They presumably assert that they put into the soul knowledge that isn't in it" (Book VII, 518 b-c). This reminds me of an experience I had many years ago. I enjoyed going to Tastee's Donuts to drink coffee and read. One night I was there grading papers. The owner's wife saw my grades and were appalled. She asked me why I was not "learning" them. The reason was that I could not learn them, but could just assist them in gaining knowledge. The main actor is the student, not the teacher. As Plato says, we are like midwives in assisting in the delivery. If we took this idea seriously, would it change how we taught? 

Plato's Argument for the Immortality of the Soul

Plato, Phaedo

In the first argument for the immortality of the soul, Socrates seems to be arguing from the cycle of life. He argues that the souls of people come from the underworld (54). He states, "If that is true, that the living come back from the dead, then our souls must exist there..."(54). This seems to make sense. Where do souls come from? It seems this argument is as strong as other explanations of the origin of the soul. Materialists, of course, would say there are no souls, so they will not accept the argument; but if we accept the existence of souls, and they are immortal, the first argument seems supported. What I do notice is that the arguments are interconnected, so to accept one it seems you have to accept the others. The second argument is the argument of recollection. This seems to be a strong argument since most people experience deja vu. It seems that we have done the same thing before or remember doing it. There might be other explanations for this experience. Another support of this argument is that we seem to be born with a knowledge of the forms. How do we know these things? It does seem sometimes we experience an opening of the curtain and we know things or have a mystical experience. In the third argument, Socrates differentiates the soul/body, the visible/invisible, the material/immaterial. He states the body is visible and material and impermanent. In contrast, the soul is invisible, immaterial and permanent. This seems to be a strong argument for the immortality of the soul. These comparisons seem accurate. In addition, he argues that knowledge through the senses are ever-changing; in contrast, reasoning about the forms are eternal. How we experience the body does seem that us (soul?) is different from the body. In addition, we have reports of people leaving their bodies for a short time. The last argument seems to be based on the theory of the forms. He even thinks that "Mind" directs everything (69). He says that we assume "the existence of a Beautiful, itself by itself, of a Good and a Great" (70). He says particulars are made what they are through participation in the forms. For example, something is beautiful by participating in the beautiful. Then, he argues that opposites cannot exist in itself. I am not sure I understand what he means by this, but he argues if the soul is what gives life, it is indestructible and deathless and cannot give death. He argues that the "soul will never admit the opposite of that which it brings along" (73). I admit I do not completely understand these arguments, but I hope I understand it a little. I try to think of these arguments in the context of their time and the immortality of the soul seems supported by these arguments. Other arguments could be added to it. For example, since people do not get their due in this life, so their must be another life where sinners will be punished and the righteous rewarded.

Is Socrates wrong to start from certain cultural beliefs and to see where the thought will take him? It might be wrong to view Socrates as a purely rational thinker. Maybe, there is both faith and reason in Socrates use of dialectic. Descartes wanted to start from scratch, but I think he was wrong in his pursuit. 

Friday, December 9, 2016


Mortimer Jerome Adler, Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind, edited by Geraldine Van Doren. New York: Macmillan, 1988. 362 pages.

I am rereading Adler's Reforming Education. It is a collection of essays or lectures he did throughout his life. The book provides a good overall view of Adler's thought on education. I read the book several years ago and I am now reading it again with much pleasure. I was reading his essay on docility this morning. He begins the essay by distinguishing between study and curiosity. This distinction was emphasized in the Medieval period by Catholic scholars. Studiositas refers to the virtue of studying the important things. Curiositas was the vice of emphasizing the non-essentials. These two terms had to do with the virtue of temperance. The virtue is the golden mean between two extremes according to Aristotle. Adler thinks that learning is basically discovery. It can be direct discovery or discovery through the help of a teacher. Study and curiosity concerns direct discovery. Most learning is indirect discovery through instruction. Docility is the virtue in regards to learning with the help of a teacher. So, docility would be the mean between the extremes of subservience and pride. Docility means the willingness and ability to learn from others. Adler asserts in another essay that teaching is a cooperative activity with the learner. The learning takes place in the learner. Because of this idea, Adler does not think learning is the teacher pouring what he knows to the learner. In addition, it is not the teacher lecturing and the learner memorizing information to be regurgitated to the teacher. This is exercising the memory and not the intellect of the learner. Adler believes the best way to cooperate with the learner is through the socratic method, the asking of questions. At first, the learner might not see the truth of what the master/scholar is teaching him, but he accepts it temporarily based on the authority of the teacher. However, he must not stay in this situation because that would be subservience or slavery. The goal is that the student will ultimately accept the principle or truth not because of the words of the teacher, but because of his own reason. The student must accept the truth because his own reason impels him to do so. The teacher as well as the student will continue learning their whole life. Mostly the teacher will learn from the best minds of the past through time. So, he will be both a teacher and learner. The major player in learning is the learner himself. The teacher plays a subsidiary role.

Another point that I have seen recently in my readings is the importance of questions. Many Christians say Jesus is the answer, but they do not know the questions. That is putting the cart before the horse. It is actually through questions that the intellect of the learner is actually activated. Questions causes some confusion in the learner. He is not sure what the question. He goes on a quest to discover answer to his questions which might lead to more questions. As Socrates, the teacher is teaching through dialectics or the discussion of questions. I am afraid that what often happens in schools is indoctrination, not education. For example, some of the colleges I have been a member emphasize answers, not questions. They tell the students what they are to believe. Questions are not emphasized, but correct answers. Wrong answers are frowned on. This method of indoctrination does not seem helpful in teaching the learner to stand on their own feet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On Teaching and Being Taught

James v. Schall, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. ST. Augustine's Press, 2016. 194 pages. ISBN 978-1-57831-182-6

I am always interested when a new book by Father Schall comes out. I have been reading his books for over 15 years. He has written over thirty books, and I have read most of them if not all of them. Some of them, I have read multiple times. I have never been disappointed in reading a book by Schall and I was not disappointed in reading his new book, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught. Docilitas is a Latin word that means being teachable. Schall writes, "the emphasis should be on one's openess, on one's delight, in being taught" (6). This book contains sixteen chapters, each of these chapters were lectures Schall delivered at different colleges and universities. Some of the titles are: "Knowledge is not owned," "Patron Saint of Teachers," "Questions Proper to the University," "Reading without Learning," "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?, "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind," "What Must I Read to be Saved," and "Seneca on Personal Libraries." Docilitas is a good companion to some other books Schall wrote on teaching and learning: Another Sort of Learning, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs,  and The Life of the Mind.

In the introduction, Schall asserts, "Undergraduate and most graduates on leaving school in the springtime, are not really old enough to know what fully goes on within them" (16). One is not educated after receiving a college education. Aristotle said youth itself is an obstacle to learning. Both Schall and Mortimer Adler both have said that one cannot be educated till after fifty. The best that a college education can do is to provide the tools of learning and a minimum knowledge of general learning that the student can go on learning once they leave school and if they continue this learning, they have a good chance of being a general education human being. The student, however, needs an introduction to learning. Schall believes the professor exists "to facilitate the first reading" of a great work. A great work is not really read if it is only read once. College gives the student a beginning on the road of knowledge. Schall states, "We thus must wonder about the difference between knowledge, information, and wisdom" (30). One wonders if many even realize a difference between the three. Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom. The end of education should be wisdom.

The author makes some good points in his chapter on, "What Makes Liberal Education 'Liberal'?" Schall notes, "Ultimately, I think, what is 'liberal' about liberal education is the awareness that our minds are measured by reality. Truth is, as Aquinas said, the conformity of mind with what is" (99). The truth of things is an important emphasis in all of Schall's writings. We might not learn the truth of things in the modern academy. Sometimes, we will study the important truths outside of the academy. Liberal, basically, means the freeing arts. The arts that enable us to pursue the truth of things. We must also have good moral habits to pursue the truth of things.

Schall, in "Aquinas and the Life of the Mind" states that Aquinas was the only saint canonized for his thinking? Does this suggest the importance the Catholic church puts on thinking. Schall asserts that Aquinas is "most famous for his defense of ordinary things along with our natural ability to know them and speak in our words to indicate what they are. We can and do, like Adam name things, whereby we can communicate with one another about the reality that surrounds us, the reality within us" (103-104). Thomas Aquinas is a great thinker and he is worth reading. Thomas supports both the life of the mind and the spiritual life or the life of faith. Schall states, "To be able to understand and explain a text, as it stands, not as we would like it to stand, must be the beginning of any true education" (105). The ability to read and understand a book is a great skill. It is falsely thought that once you learn to read that you now have the skill of reading which is not true. There is a big difference between beginning to read and the skill to be able to read almost anything and to understand it. We grow as a reader by reading things over our head. Schall asserts, "There is no intellectual pleasure, I think, quite like reading and understanding even one article in the works of Thomas Aquinas. To learn to do so is worth your whole college career" (106). Schall likes to say that you do not have a college education if you have not reading Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. I believe he is correct.

Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught is a great book on teaching and learning. It teaches us how to be the right kind of learner. It provides guidance on how to continue learning our whole life. It tells us how to discern the wrong kind of teachers. In other words, it is classic Schall.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Choose a Catholic Education?

Mark W. Roche, The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University. University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. 51 pages. ISBN 0-268-01196-6

"One of the strengths of Catholicism is that it has always been a great defender of reason in religious belief, of the attempt to show that belief in God is a rational belief, and that religious belief is more rational than any atheistic alternative. In his recent encyclical Fides et ratio ("Faith and Reason"), Pope John Paul II made a very interesting point when he noted the irony that it is now the Church who is among the foremost defenders of reason and truth, of the objectivity of knowledge, of common sense, whereas many times throughout history those who claimed to defend reason and truth ridiculed the Church for being on the side of superstition and myth. The Catholic Church, in particular, has always insisted on a significant role for reason in religious belief and in theology. It has always defended the view that faith and reason are compatible--that the truths of faith are compatible with reason, and, more significantly, that religious faith is a rational response to the ultimate mystery of the universe and of human life. The Catholic Church has great resources to defend its worldview and its philosophy of the human person against secular opposition and criticism. This is one of the reasons the Catholic Church is much disliked by many intellectuals--because it represents a serious rational alternative to their worldview, and hence is a threat to their worldview."
--Brendan Sweetman, "A Rational Approach to Religious Belief"

"It is not a small thing, either, to turn your back on two thousand years of rational thinking and hard work and science and art and the Judeo-Christian tradition."
--Walker Percy

I like Roche's title: The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University. This review will attempt to ask at least two questions: What is a Catholic University and Why choose a Catholic University? What motivated me to ask these questions is that my daughter is considering attending a Catholic University next year. So, I have weighed the pros and cons in my own head for why should a Protestant attend a Catholic University. Many Protestants and others are attracted to Catholic universities. Why?

Previously, I wrote a review on Why Choose the Liberal Arts by the same author. Mark Roche was Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. He is currently Professor of German Language and Literature and Professor of Philosophy. The author's book is ecumenical, in the sense, he points out the positive contributions made by Secular, Protestant, and Catholic Universities.

Roche in this essay seeks to clarify the mission of a catholic university. Why does it exist? He states that many Protestant universities "have divested themselves of their Christian heritage, the Catholic university has become one of the few places where religious scholarship can truly flourish alongside secular scholarships" (5). Some Protestants seem to think the church fell at the end of the New Testament period and did not come into being till the Reformation. Maybe, this is the reason some Protestants tend to neglect Christian history before the reformation. For example, it bothers me extremely when Protestants make blanket condemnations of the Middle Ages by calling it the Dark Ages. It seems the real dark ages is modern times.

The author states that Catholic universities emphasize liberal arts education. He believes that Catholicism "enriches" the liberal arts experience. In addition, "religion brings to the liberal arts ideal a strong existential component" (6). Both values and "existential aspirations shapes intellectual inquiry" at Catholic universities. A second main point is that "religion is not separated from the curriculum or from scholarship but is fully integrated into both areas" (7). In other words, faith and religion is not an add-on to the curriculum. However, these things are not the main aspects of what differentiates Catholic Universities from other universities. Roche there are four main characteristics of a Catholic University: universalism, sacramental vision, elevation of tradition and reason, and its emphasis on the unity of knowledge.

First, the author emphasizes the communal aspect of Catholicism verses modern individualism. Roche asserts that Catholicism "elevates to an unusual degree the embeddedness of the individual within a collective identity. Catholic students, therefore, may find it easy to identify with larger institutions and with tradition" (11). There seems to be an overemphasis on the individual in Protestantism and the secular university. The author argues, "America has been fertile ground for the Protestant elevation of individuality. Indeed, individuals and autonomy are distinguishing dimensions of American culture" (12). There is a tendency to put loyalty to the American religion of democracy over Christianity.

Catholic Christianity recognizes the equality of persons before God. From this belief, the concept of "universal human rights" were developed were developed by Christianity "with its emphasis on the dignity of the individual and the value of the common good. This concept and the concomitant obligations toward other persons, especially the underprivileged and underserved, are the inspiration behind the scholarly focus on social justice issues, including issues of poverty and development, that we find in Catholic universities" (12-13). Individual human rights must be balanced with the common good. Jesuit institutions, for example, emphasize service to others as part of the mission of the Catholic university.

The second characteristic of the Catholic university is a sacramental vision "that finds God in and through the world; correspondingly, it upholds the innate dignity of every human being and argues for the binding nature of the moral law"(18-19). The creation witnesses to God's being. The author contrasts different parts of this emphasis with Protestant views. Some Protestants think of God "as wholly other; in contrast, the Catholic emphasize the "presence of God in reality." Even when Catholics "rightly stress that the mystery of God is inexhaustible, there is a greater optimism about our ability to make discoveries about God" (19). For example, the Catholic position is that the existence of God can be proven by reason. The author states that Protestants tend to emphasize the fallenness of humans. For example, the teaching that states the total depravity of man. Roche argues, "Protestants tend to be skeptical of the view that through human inquiry we can approach the knowledge of God. The Catholic position argues that divine truth, beauty, and goodness are reflected in this world and that effects of original are not so severe as to prevent humans from knowing this reflection and through such knowledge, coming closer to God" (19). One is reminded of Thomas Aquinas' statement that grace perfects nature.

Two teachings emphasized by Catholic Christianity are the incarnation and the trinity. Roche asserts, "The Catholic tradition seeks to celebrate both of the defining features of Christianity: the incarnation, or God's entering the world as a human being, which gives rise to the sacramental vision of Catholicism; and the trinity, including not not only the concept of God as a relation or community, but also the idea that the Holy Spirit infuses the world with divinity in ways that extend beyond the singular appearance of Christ" (20). In addition, these beliefs argue for the importance of studying about God's world. Catholicism emphasizes both transcendence and  immanence, God is both in the world and above the world. This balanced position contrasts with "two mirroring elements of modernity: the secular tendency to see only immanence and no higher meaning in the world, and the Protestant tendency to project meaning beyond this world and so, by a different route, to divest this world of its higher meaning" (20). Basically, in my Protestant tradition we were taught that the only world that mattered was in the next life, heaven. In addition, we were taught that the only reason God leaves us here is to win souls.

The sacramental vision also teaches about the moral law that is open to reason and how the different disciplines reveal God. Roche states, "The Catholic intellectual sees the moral law as independent of human invention and as sacred. At the same time, it can be discovered via reason and is tested by argument; it not need not simply on faith" (21). This is important in a disoriented age. The sacramental view argues for the importance of the different disciplines in the university. The author argues that "Biology, chemistry, and physics give us windows onto the divine structure of reality" (21). In other words, there are natural revelation and special revelation. Ultimately, these two books do not conflict. The social sciences provide important knowledge about humans and society. Roche states, "the customs, institutions, and interaction of human beings have a hidden wisdom, which we are invited to explore through the social sciences" (22). In addition, the sacramental vision "ennobles the arts" (22). The arts, like the sacraments, "Not only gives us a window onto the transcendent, it leaves us with a sense of mystery and multivalence" (23). Art is also "inexhaustible".

The third characteristic of the Catholic university is the "elevation of tradition and reason" (25). Roche asserts, "Through the centuries Roman Catholicism has placed great emphasis on philosophical argument and historical tradition. Instead of basing its claims solely on the Scriptures, it has attended to the philosophical development of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit" (25). This is another area where Catholicism and Protestantism differ from each other. Protestants tend to emphasize individual, private interpretations of scripture. They also promote the Bible "as the singular source of religious wisdom" (25). I have thought often about this difference over the years. It seems like that some Protestants think of the Bible as an exhaustive revelation. That it speaks on every possible issue in life. For example, I pulled this book off the shelf: Politics: According to the Bible: A comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem. The author of this book is a research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary. I do not know if he has any degrees in Political Science, but it seems to imply that one can be a theologian and discuss the issues of a particular discipline solely from a knowledge of the Bible. I mean no disrespect to Grudem. I just want to show how Catholics and Protestants think of this issue differently.

There are four consequences to the elevation of reason and tradition. First, philosophy and theology "have always played central roles in the Catholic Church." For example, students at Catholic Universities are required to take both philosophy and theology courses. In the past, I think they were required to take more philosophy courses than they do now. Spring Hill College in Mobile requires their students to take eighteen hours of philosophy and theology. In contrast, at evangelical Christian colleges, the students are required to take multiple courses on the Bible. This just shows a different emphasis by Evangelical and Catholic schools. I used Evangelical, instead of Protestant because. many Protestant colleges require little if any Bible, philosophy, or theology courses.

A second consequence of elevating reason and tradition "suggests that the Catholic intellectual is eager to learn from other traditions and new perspectives" (27). The Catholic view of the value of all persons lead a Catholic university to welcome persons of diverse faiths" (27). Catholic universities believe other views can complement the Catholic university. Roche writes, "Such a university gladly embraces those who, with intelligence and respect, can challenge and complement the Catholic character of an institution" (27). An example of this is the Medieval scholars "from the three great montheistic religion who so elevated reason that they sought out competing traditions in order to see what was of value in them and to ask how these might relate to their own" (27). It seems the willingness of the Catholic university to entertain other views strengthens the education of the college student. Catholic universities practice religious and intellectual freedom and allows room for students to develop their own views. Roche writes, "A great Catholic university pursues alternative positions either to ensure that its own positions measure up to reason, or to adjust them accordingly. The Catholic university challenges its students in ways that requires them to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the Catholic tradition and to confront Catholic values with other religious values and with contemporary cultural values" (27). This encourages dialogue and respecting the views of others.

A third consequence of emphasizing tradition, "the Catholic Church gives us a rich array of intellectual and artistic works to study" (28). The student finds at a Catholic university great respect "for artistic creations and the wisdom of the ages" (28). The Catholic church was often a patron of the arts. The study of law at Catholic universities "has drawn considerably on the natural law tradition in order to shed light on modern dilemmas" (28). This emphasis on the wisdom of the past enables the student to discuss with others the great achievements of the past.

A fourth consequence of the emphasis of tradition and reason is that the Catholic university "cannot shy away from philosophy and science, as they lead to unexpected insights" (29). The Catholic university believes that truth will "prevail". This is the reason that the Catholic university emphasizes academic freedom. Academic freedom can originate from the Protestant emphasis on the autonomy of the individual; but, it can also arise "from the Catholic elevation of truth as that which is best discovered by our having listened carefully to all possible solutions" (30). We discover truth in conversation with others. The Catholic tradition gives the student a foundation in their search for truth.

The last characteristic of the Catholic university is its emphasis on the unity of knowledge. Roche asserts, "The modern secular university has become 'an intellectual department store', a 'multiversity', where disciplines develop side by side and scholars pursue independent pursuits with no connection or overarching purpose" (34). In other words, in the modern university you have fragmentation, instead of the unity of knowledge. The author writes, "The Catholic tradition, inspired by the concept of the unity of knowledge, seeks in contrast to cultivate meaningful and integrative thought across the disciplines and argues that morality is not one sphere separate from the others but that it infuses all spheres: one can and should ask moral questions of architecture, art, business, engineering, law, politics, science, society, even religion" (34). It does seem the Catholic university is able to counteract the modern fragmentation of knowledge dominant in the secular university. The idea that truth is one is a belief that has been held in the Catholic church throughout its history. It includes that all truth is from God, and truth is truth, no matter where it is found.

Christopher Dawson, in his book, The Crisis of Western Education, highlighted some of the problems of modern education: utilitarianism, careerism, specialization, and the expanse of the state over all areas of society. A major solution to this crisis Dawson argued was to introduce"the study of Christian culture as an objective historical reality into the curriculum of university studies." Mark Roche has given us four characteristics of the Catholic university: its universalism, its sacramental vision, its elevation of tradition and reason, and its emphasis on the unity of knowledge. It seems that Dawson's solution can work in the Catholic university, but it can also work in universities willing to institute a Christian studies program as an academic discipline. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 5

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

This is the last part of my review of the excellent book, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? This is the second time I read it and I believe I like it better on the second reading. I assume there are so many good points in the book it requires a second reading to take it all in. In the last part of the book, Roche writes, "The idea of participation in a higher reality, a connection to the transcendent, is for the most part forgotten in contemporary culture, but it is common to both a liberal arts education's intrinsic value and its cultivation of a sense of vocation, of identity and purpose" (147). The intrinsic value of a liberal arts education and the cultivation of a sense of vocation are two of the most beneficial aspects of a liberal arts education. I first when to college to get a degree, so I would be able to go to a graduate, theological institution, and ultimately to become a minister. However, something unexpected happened along the way. I fell in love with learning. I began to appreciate learning for its intrinsic end. It was not so much what I could do with an education, but what an education could do with me. My experience in college converted me to a life of learning.

The author believes there are three purposes are reasons for a liberal arts education. The first purpose is the "intrinsic value" of a liberal arts education that is associated with "the value of the lost art of contemplation, with which the Greeks called theoria, which is independent of practical aims" (148). Developing the skills of critical thinking and other virtues and skills enable us to make an impact on the world. The second purpose emphasizes action. The third purpose emphasizes virtue and vocation. Roche states, "All of us are engaged in praxis, but in its richest form, praxis involves not only awareness of higher values and the development of formal capacities in our relations with others but also an existential commitment, a calling to serve others in addition to ourselves" (149). The author thinks we can view these three purposes as "knowledge, action, and love" (149).

Students, do want to be able to make a living when they finish formal schooling. Roche asserts, "Students of course want to get a job and make a living, but they also want to be able to say why the life they have chosen makes sense, in what way it is connected to something higher, above and beyond simply earning money. One wants to find something that is absorbing and challenging, and at the same time will make a difference for others. Work can become an opportunity to fulfill one's potential and develop one's talent and make a difference in the world" (152). It seems that a liberal arts education will help the student to accomplish this task. Many students go into careers where they will make the most money. Later, they take a lower paying position for a job that is more fulfilling for them. Many wish they had had a broader education, than the specialized education they received.

A liberal arts education equips the student for using leisure effectively. A liberal arts educated student can draw on the riches of her education throughout her life. The wide exposure to the arts, for example, makes it possible for the student to have a richer life after college. Roche states, "the liberal arts seek to cultivate a love for the life of the mind that can flourish not only on the job but also beyond one's occupation. If work becomes simply a means to make a living, the liberal arts graduate should be able to find a purpose in other realms, beyond work. Such a graduate has more resources at her disposal than someone whose education found its purpose in mastering the technical aspects of a given profession" (155). A liberal arts education cultivates the ability to live a fuller, more rich life. It helps one to live the good life. In some sense, it makes us more human.

Some students who graduate from a liberal arts education may be called to pursue learning as a vocation either through their job or through leisure. The author writes, "While every liberal arts graduate will have experienced all three dimensions of a liberal education--the intrinsic, the practical, and the idealistic--graduates may be especially drawn by internal inclination or external opportunity to one dimension or another. A certain percentage of them will pursue the life of the mind, becoming artists, scientists, scholars, or teachers. Many will draw on their formal capacities and enter mainstream professions in business, law, medicine, and public service. And some will take the unusual path, pursuing distinctive opportunities as diverse as foreign correspondent, social activist, or minister. Many will combine all three simultaneously, be it in their professional lives or in a combination of their personal and professional lives. . . .Another way of understanding this point is by recognizing that the life-long desire for learning that is cultivated as a formal skill helps graduates as they discern, over time, that their vocation and sense of purpose may well develop in unexpected directions" (156). This last point seems especially, important since many people will change their careers many times.

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? is a passionate defense of the liberal arts. The author gives important reasons why a student should choose a liberal arts education: Engaging great question; cultivating intellectual and practical virtues; forming character; and integrating the value of the liberal arts. He has shown that a liberal arts education better prepares for the uncertainties of the future than a specialized education.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 4

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts?

When people value liberal arts education it is not usually because of its intrinsic value, but because it develops the skill of thinking critically. Roche writes, "The emphasis educators place on critical thinking, on liberating the mind from parochialism, is indeed important, but not exhaustive" (102). The author thinks that what is often not emphasized is forming character. Roche states, "Often neglected within a culture that elevates critical thinking is formation, the goal of helping students develop virtues, build character, and gain a sense of vocation, the moral and social purpose of education" (102). Educators tend to say that education is for the intellect not for the soul. It is important to think what we want students to look like when they graduate. In other words, what skills, knowledge, character traits should they receive from their education. It is also important to understand one's calling, vocation, or mission in life.

Why is character development neglected in higher education? The author thinks it is because of  skepticism and relativism, or even tolerance. He asserts, "The contemporary hesitancy to engage personal development and moral formation derives from many factors, including the strong 'epistemological skepticism' that holds sway among rival versions of liberal education. The elevation of critical thinking, with its implicit suggestion that liberal education means viewing everything with a a distant and disinterested eye, seems to work against the idea that what one is studying could have meaning for one's development and identity as a person, for one's heart and soul" (102). This reason does not seem to be supported with of evidence. It seems to be based on the myth of neutrality.

Some might say that formation is for religious colleges only. However, the Greeks and Romans emphasize both liberal education and moral formation. The author writes, "For the ancient Greeks, education was not only about cognition but also about longing, motivation, and inspiration as well as attaining self-knowledge and developing virtues" (102). Some would even argue that without cultivating virtue, the passions would distort the ability to see truth.

Roche thinks that education "is often reduced to mastery of information and the acquisition of techniques; it is rarely viewed as serving a loftier purpose of helping them develop a philosophy of life and preparing them to answer a moral obligation or discern a sense of vocation" (103). It seems to me these latter things are very important. College is an important time to decide who we are and where we want to go. It is also an important time to decide on a life-view. What is the purpose of life? The author thinks the college years "represent a privileged time in our lives for the exploration of new ideas and the formation of personal and social identity; as a result, for many students, the college years become crucial markers for who they are to become. During these years students develop, or fail to develop, capacities for integrity and courage, for diligence and self-sacrifice, for responsibility and service to others. They also develop, or fail to develop, a love of knowledge, a capacity to learn from criticism, and a sense of higher purpose" (103-104). College lays a foundation that students will build on the rest of their lives. It seems that it is crucial what is in that foundation and to neglect formation is a short-coming in one's education.

The author thinks character and the intellect often develops together. Roche asserts, "Many intellectual pursuits presuppose virtues of character, and so the two often develop in tandem. The author list different virtues that  may develop from intellectual pursuits: temperance, generosity, modesty, justice, respect, intellectual hospitality, diplomacy, humility, attentiveness, honesty, integrity, discipline, resilience, gratitude, and courage. The author states, "to prepare well for each class completing all assignments, rereading materials, making appropriate notes, and reflecting thoughtfully is to elevate study over other available pleasures and is as such an illustration of temperance. To renounce pleasure, despite its legitimate allure, for a higher value, is both a character virtue and an intellectual virtue. . . . To consider that every author I study may have ideas that are worthy of my attention presupposes generosity of spirit. . . . To listen carefully to the views of others and to weigh them honestly, giving them a full hearing with your utmost attention, even if they contradict your own initial inclinations, is to practice a form of justice. . . . To participate in the give-and-take of discussion by asking clarifying questions of other students, offering evidence to support your own positions, or proposing alternative perspectives in the light of disagreements is to exhibit respect for other people and the common value of truth. . . . Humility is evident whenever I recognize that I must withdraw an idea from discussion in the face of decisive counter-arguments, that I haven't myself discovered the answers to a particular puzzle, and that I continue to listen attentively to the views of others" (110-111). The author gives more examples, but this is enough to support his point that character virtue and intellectual pursuits often work in tandem. In addition, he describes vices that the student should avoid: arrogance, cowardice, indifference, sloth, envy, and greed.

The author suggest that the liberal arts foster personal development. Roche states, "through their engagement with literature, students encounter imaginative and compelling situations that they have yet to experience and which are capable of giving them a more differentiated grasp of life as well as a more nuanced compass. Character is formed and leadership developed as much by models and the imagination as by theory and practice, and meaningful models are readily available through history and literature" (136). Before modern times  cultures emphasized the telling of stories for moral development. Aseop's fables would be one example. The popularity of William Bennett's Moral Virtues suggests there is a need for stories that will encouragemoral development.

Last, a liberal arts education will help students to develop a higher purpose for life than just personal fulfillment. It seems that students need a meaning and purpose for their life. The author thinks we need an education that focuses "on ends and the value of ideas in the service of the common good" (135). He thinks education "should foster not simply formal skills to gain employment, but a calling that gives our pursuit dignity, higher meaning, and a sense of fulfillment" (135). Education should help students understand their giftedness and how they can use their gifts in service to others. A liberal arts education will help students discern their own calling in life.