Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Life of the Mind

James V. Schall, The Life of the Mind: On the Joy and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington, Del. : ISI Books, 2006. 214 pp. ISBN: 1-932236-89-7.

This is probably my third time reading this book. One might ask why would a person keeps reading a book when there are so many other books to read. All I can say is that I keep reading books that keep teaching me and The Life of the Mind continues to teach me about truth, wisdom, and beauty. James V. Schall is a great teacher and he makes the permanent or essential things clear and attractive.The author draws from many of the great thinkers odf Western Civilization: Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas, the Bible, Samuel Johnson, and many more.

There are many great essays in this book. In "On the Joys and Travails of Thinking," provides an overview of an important book which provides instruction on pursuing the intellectual life, The Intellectual Life by A. D. Sertillanges. Schall observes, "An intellectual life, a contemplative life, is filled with activity, but activity that is purposeful, that wants to know and to know the truth" (4). In other words, we must have a desire for truth and a plan to discover it.

"Books and the Intellectual Life" teaches the importance of having a personal library. Samuel Johnson advised James Boswell "to have as many books about me as I could; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time" (8-9). It is important to have access to the books when we have need of them. I believe there is a close connection between books and the intellectual life. It also helps to own the books so we can write in them.

Schall in "The Liberal Arts" notes "The question of a proper education follows the question of what to read" (24). The author sees a close relationship between reading and learning. Why a liberal arts education? Because it provides you with the tools for a life of learning. Education is a life-long task. Schall asserts that a liberal arts education is not a "major." Instead, it is "rooted in the kind of intellectual  eros that we find in Plato, in the wonder that according to Aristotle stimulates all thought, in the drive to know what reoriented the life of the young Augustine when he read Cicero." This knowing is an end in itself.

There are many other excellent essays in The Life of the Mind. For example, in "On the Taking Care of One's Own Wisdom," Schall instructs us, "The books we read, the liberal arts themselves, are ultimately designed to teach us to be wise" (44). The pursuit of wisdom is a life-long endeavor. Reading books about ultimate things will help us in this pursuit. Especially, books like The Life of the Mind.

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