Locke's empiricism asserts that we know via the impressions of an exterior object made in the mind through the senses. Does that create an interminable gap between the object and our minds knowledge of it? If so, how would we overcome such a gap?
First, Locke says that "idea" stands for "whatsoever is the object of the understanding when man thinks" (672). This seems to create a problem for Locke since the object of our thought is not the thing itself. This creates a gap between the idea and the external reality. This seems similar to Descartes, in the sense, we know the idea in our head, but how do we know that it matches external reality. Second, Locke says that all our ideas are from "sensation or reflection." He asks where comes our ideas and he answers that they come from "experience". They come either from our observation of external things are "the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves" (674-675). So the question is what does Locke mean by experience? It it a little tricky how he defines these things. He says, "First, our Senses, conversant about sensible objects, do convey in the mind several distinct perceptions of things, according to those various ways wherein those objects do effect them" (675). Locke is saying that our experiences impress upon us certain perceptions based on how we are affected by things. It is from these senses that our ideas originate. This puzzles me. This seems problematic. He seems to be saying that certain impressions are fastened on us through the senses which becomes ideas. It sounds like it is completely passive. It seems more likely that in interacting with external reality our own mind is influencing how we are interpreting external reality. I might not be interpreting Locke correctly. Third, Locke says that our ideas are either from external objects or our reflection on the operation of our mind and that that all our ideas come from these two things. Speaking of sensation, he says "external objects furnish the mind with ideas of sensible qualities" (675). Therefore, our ideas are sensible qualities or copies of impressions from external things and what we know are these sensible qualities and not external thing which seems to create a gap between the mind and external reality. It seems the reflection on the mind's operation is how we reflect on the impressions that created our ideas? If this is true, we have even another gap since we are not reflecting on external things, but on the sensations or impressions from external things, so the mind is not knowing external reality but our ideas. The only way to overcome this is to see that we are not knowing our ideas, but that we are knowing external reality through our ideas.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
The Liberal Arts
What are the liberal arts? The author explains that its origin is found in the ancient world. Roche writes, "The term has its origin in the medieval concept of artes liberalis, the seven liberal arts that were appropriate for a free man in contrast to the artes illiberalis or artes mechanicae, which were pursued for economic purposes and involved vocational and practical arts, which prepared young persons to become weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, hunters, navigators, soldiers, or doctors." The seven liberal arts were made up of the trivium--grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic--and the quadrivium which was made up of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. These areas have been expanded in our own time. These liberal arts are sometimes called freeing liberal arts because they are for free people, not slaves. They are also called freeing because they enable us to know the truth. In addition, they are not “simply a body of books to be read, but a way of life enabling us to be free enough to know the truth of things.” Cicero thought of liberal education as the education “of free men for the exercise of their freedom rather than of slaves. Aristotle leaves the impression that education is for the wise use of leisure.” In a liberal arts education, “in contrast to the specialized orientation of professional or technical curricula, students receive a general education that is a broad grounding in the diverse disciplines." In other words, a liberal arts education is not professional training, technical training, nor training for a career. It is the cultivation of the mind and moral character. An important point to this discussion is that liberal education is an education for persons as persons since humans are more than workers. “It was Cicero who defined the liberal arts as those which are appropriate to humanity. If one is to be anything more than a specialist or technician, if one is to feel life whole and to live it whole rather than piecemeal, if one is to think for himself rather than live secondhand, the liberal arts are needed to educate the person.” This seems to imply educating the whole person. Aristotle thought that the books we read, the liberal arts themselves, are ultimately designed to teach us to be wise—the highest of the virtues.”
A liberal arts education cultivates the ability of using leisure wisely. Augustine writes, "the love of truth seeks sacred leisure." It is surprising to the modern person that Augustine connects sacred and leisure, but probably not the ancients. Leisure seems to disappear in modernity, even though, technology supposed to give people more free time. Instead, life seems to accelerate with technology and invention. Roche asserts, "Contemporary society has little patience for the apparent idleness of learning for its own sake." Many see the idea of learning for its own sake as beyond belief. They think of doing things for some type of external reward. Roche thinks that liberal arts education "is more than a means to an end; it is a dose of otium (leisure) in a world driven by speed and utility." Liberal arts education teaches how to use leisure wisely and it is acquired through leisure. Mortimer Adler thought that the “end of liberal education lies in the use we make of our leisure, in the activities with which we occupy our leisure time.” There are two kinds of human excellence from leisure: “those private excellences by which a man perfects his own nature and those public excellences which can be translated into the performance of moral or political duty … Hence I would define leisure activities as those activities desirable for their own sake (and so uncompensated and not compulsory) and also for the sake of excellences, private and public, to which they give rise.” Adler thinks that “a good human life is one that is enriched by as much leisure as one can cram into it.” There must be a balance or moderation in our use of leisure. The Puritans affirmed leisure, but they thought it could be pursued in excess. For example, it could take too much of a person’s time, not leaving time for other duties or obligations. This could be said about work too. We can work all the time, leaving no time for leisure pursuits. In some sense, we work to make it possible to pursue leisure activities. To work to have time to “develop ourselves and enrich our relationships in leisure pursuits is a more worthy motivation for work than the urge to acquire more and more things.” A liberal arts education is better than vocational education to prepare for quality work and leisure.
Calling or Vocation
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. Roche thinks a student needs an education that focuses "on ends and the value of ideas in the service of the common good." 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." The Protestant Reformers emphasized the idea of work as a calling. They thought that every Christian “is called by God to serve him.” The Reformers spoke of two calls. The general call is to “conversion and sanctification.” The specific call “consists of the specific job and tasks that God places before us in the course of daily living. It focuses on a person’s occupation, but is not limited to that. It includes one’s work and roles more generally.” Education should help students understand their giftedness and how they can use their gifts in service to others. A liberal education is better than technical, specialized education for preparing us for our callings in life. Luther thought that a liberal arts education prepares for all of one’s callings in life. John Milton asserts, “a complete and generous education is one that fits a man to perform all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.” It is liberal schooling that equips one to “do well in all that they might be called to do in life.” In addition, it should help the student to discern his own calling in life.
A liberal arts education promotes better work and leisure. 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." A liberal arts education cultivates the ability to live a fuller, richer life. It helps one to live the good life. In a sense, it is what sets humans apart from perfectly-programmed robots.
Friday, February 17, 2017
James V. Schall states that education “is not a thing.” He states that education comes from the word educere which “means to bring forth, or to complete something already begun by the very fact that one is a human being.” In some sense, education is to humanize us, help us to reach our potential as human beings. Many people think a college degree means that one is an educated human being. Mortimer Adler disagreed with this conclusion. He states,
“The worst mistake we can possibly make is to suppose that the bachelor of arts degree, honestly earned, signifies that its possessor is an educated man or woman. Nothing could be further from the truth… The reason simply that youth itself—immaturity of mind, character, and experience—is the insuperable obstacle to becoming educated. We cannot educate the young; the best we can do for them is to school them in such a way that they have a good chance to become educated in the course of their life.”
Labor, Leisure, and Liberal EducationMortimer Adler in an essay, “Labor, Leisure, and Liberal Education” argues that the “end of liberal education. . . lies in the use we make of our leisure.” In this essay, he distinguishes between labor and leisure. He believes vocational training is “training for work or labor;” in contrast, liberal education “is education for leisure; it is general in character; it is for an intrinsic and not an extrinsic end; and ultimately it is the education of free men.” Leisure is what people do in their free time. Basically, they spend one third of their time in sleep, one third of their time at work, and one third of their time in leisure pursuits. Adler defines leisure activities as “such things as thinking or learning, reading or writing, conversation or correspondence, love and acts of friendship, political activity, domestic activity, artistic and esthetic activity.” Adler defines education as a “process which aims at the improvement or the betterment of men, in themselves and in relation to society.” A liberal arts education equips “for a life of learning and for the leisure activities of a whole lifetime. Adult liberal education in an indispensable part of the life of leisure, which is a life of learning.”Liberal education will equip students with the tools to be better workers and to use their leisure wisely.
Adler thinks there are two ways men and women can be improved. First, they can be improved in their functions and talents. Second, they can be improved in the “capacities” and “functions” they share with other humans. These two ways lead to two different kinds of education. One type of education will emphasize training men and women in respect of their similarities with other people. These two types of education can be distinguished as general and specialized education. Adler thinks we can identify specialized education with vocational education and general education with liberal education. “Vocational training is learning for earning. … School is a place of learning for the sake of learning, not for the sake of earning. … Liberal education is learning for its own sake or for the sake of further education. It is learning for the sake of all those self-rewarding activities which include the political, aesthetic, and speculative.” Vocational education is to limited to prepare the student for a lifetime of learning and career mobility.
If humans were only workers or slaves, it would make sense to receive only vocational education or vocational training. It is more accurate to call it training since that is what it is doing. It is training the worker in specific skills for a particular job. What is the problem with vocational training? Adler would probably say nothing is wrong with it, but that it is better done on the job, not in a school. Schooling is liberal learning which prepares for all the future tasks or callings.
Adler believes there are “two limited objectives of liberal schooling.” “They are, first, to give the young a measure of competence in the liberal arts, which are nothing but the skills of learning itself—the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, observing, calculating, and measuring.” He does not mention thinking because that is included in all the specific skills of learning. In addition to “competence in the skills of learning,” a liberal arts education gives the student a preliminary and basic knowledge of universal knowledge. The student is not benefitted by falsely thinking they are educated when they have basically skimmed the surface of knowledge. It is better for them to be informed that they are only laying a foundation that they will build on for the rest of their lives.” It is a false view of liberal education that its purpose is “to turn out educated men and women, this education completed when they are awarded a degree or diploma.” Wisdom is the ultimate goal of a liberal arts education and this takes a lifetime. “Hence if wisdom is the ultimate goal of the whole process of learning, then the process must go on for a lifetime.”
A second problem with vocational education is that a person will change jobs and careers many times in a lifetime. Many people who graduate in a specific discipline work in another field when they graduate. It seems that a liberal education would serve them better than a vocational education. A liberal education equips the student for “the whole of life; its understandings, skills, and value development bear on a wide range of occupations and equips one for a lifetime of career mobility.”This is in contrast to a vocational education that prepares only for a particular job since the emphasis is not on the development of skills that would be transferable to many vocations.
The third problem is what people do with their leisure time. Vocational education does not provide the skills needed for pursuing leisurely activities. Since men and women are more than workers, it fails to prepare them for lifelong development. Many people waste their free time on frivolous things that do not improve themselves. I had a friend who had his days free because of a disability; he could not work anymore. However, he could still get around and his mind was still sharp. He was helpful to others, but spent much of his time watching television. I wondered, what if he spent thirty minutes to one hour every day at the library reading on some topic that was interesting to him? What would his life have been like after doing this for thirty years? Maybe, he did not receive the type of education that would have equipped him for this type of learning. A liberal arts education prepares for a wise use of freetime; including the time after retirement.
A typical question asked by parents and students is what can I do with a liberal arts education. Arthur Holmes believes this is the wrong question. A better question is what will the education do to us. Liberal arts education contributes to many vocations. Holmes states, “The human vocation is far larger than the scope of any job a person may hold because we are human persons created in God’s image, to honor and serve God and other people in all we do, not just in the way we earn a living.” One problem with vocational education is that it subordinates the person to the job and the person is larger than the job. An education “that helps make us more fully persons is especially important to Christians.” Holmes thinks that the question “what do the liberal arts contributes to the making of a person” depends on a “prior” question: “What is a person?” Homes defines person in three ways. “First, a person is a reflective, thinking being.” He uses reflection instead of reasoning to avoid the enlightenment idea of reason. Aristotle asserts, man by nature desires to know, they want to know why things are the way they are. They are inquisitive; they wonder and they imagine, they take things apart and put them back together. Being reflexive also means being analytical. People want to know what gives life meaning, what is true, and how to live one’s life wisely. It is important for the student to seeking understanding, ask questions, to think for themselves. These things are “part of what it means to be human.” To be reflective means to see the relationship of things, how things fit together. To develop intellectually requires the skills of reading and writing. Reading helps us to have “informed conversation.” Writing develops the skill of articulating what we want to communicate. Both of these skills will help us to think for ourselves.
Second, we are “valuing beings.” Holmes asserts, “We make value judgments and act to realize our values.” Holmes believes values are more than feelings because there is an objectivity to them. In addition, “they are not all relative.” They have a “basis” in our nature as human beings. Third, we are “responsible agents.” We are “accountable” to God on how we live our lives. We must be responsible stewards to all that God has given us. God gives us gifts, abilities, and opportunities. These things will help us discern God’s calling in our life.