Monday, May 23, 2016


James V. Schall, "Self-Discipline" in On the Unserious of Human Affairs ... ISI Books, 2001.

Fr. Schall argues that we can order our lives for the purpose of seeking truth. Self-Discipline is not an end in itself, but the means for finding truth. Schall believes there in an important connection between our moral and intellectual lives. Schall defines self-discipline as "the ability to rule over all our given passions, fears, dreams, and thoughts" (109). Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not its end.

Schall's essay on self-discipline a great short essay on how to pursue wisdom, truth, beauty, and goodness. He believes that no one can order our lives for us. Disciplining one's self is a "systematic process by which we acquire knowledge or virtue or art." IT is instructive that the author of the Book of Hebrews tells us: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (12:11). This is hard for modern man to understand. The popular idea is that learning is all fun and games. The idea is that teachers are to entertain the student. However, to learn any skill at the beginning is difficult. For example, if we want to be a great athlete it requires many hours of training and self-discipline. Another problem is that modern man wants instant gratification. He is not willing to wait for the reward of hard work.

Schall makes some great comments on what to expect from a college education. In addition, he lists some unexpected places from where we acquire wisdom. He does not think that we will learn what life is about from college. He says that college is "primarily to be used." He does not think we should attend them "blindly, even though we can and must make ourselves teachable." In other words, we must already know some things that will determine what is good and what is not so good that is offered to us in college. This relates to the idea of using college. We are to be in charge of our own education. Schall states that many of the "very important books and ideas that a student will need to know to know if he is to know the truth, and if he is to confront what is good, are never mentioned in any university curriculum or course" (108). This reminds me of my own journey. I have always read books that were not required for my courses with the books that are required. This has been very helpful in my own search for truth. In addition, Schall asserts that some of the important things we need to learn we can learn from "parents or our church or our friends or our own curiosity." I love his next sentence: "Many a man has saved his soul because of some book he chanced to read in some obscure library or used bookstore." This has happened to me many times over the years.

Self-discipline is not an end in itself. It is for the purpose of acquiring truth. Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not the end. There is an essential connection between our intellectual and moral lives.

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