Gray - Promise of Wisdom

Gray - Promise of Wisdom - THE PROMISE OF WISDOM A...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–11. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 8
Background image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 10
Background image of page 11
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: THE PROMISE OF WISDOM A Philosophical Theory of Education J. GLENN GRAY Colorado College I V HARPER TORCHBOOKS Harper 8: Rowaublishers New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London I. THE PROMISE OF WISDOM WHAT IS EDUCATION? At first blush the question appears uncom— plicated; in reality it is highly perplexing. Stated another way: What is the condition of being educated? Or less abstractly: Who is the educated person? At the unreflective level, the answer to the last question is likely to be: One who has completed a course of study at an educational institution. Nowadays such an answer would proba- bly specify a college degree; earlier a high school diploma would have sufficed; by the end of this century a Master’s degree may well be necessary. But a little reflection makes such an answer suspect. Education and schooling are not at all the same thing. Most of us have known individuals with little formal schooling who seemed to us unusually well educated—in a very common usage of the term education. And we have also known others who hold advanced degrees yet are uncultivated and insensitive. We are forced at once to make a distinction between schooling and education. Though the two often go together in the same person, perhaps increasingly so in our age and country, there is certainly no necessary conjunction between them. Why is this so? Why do we refuse to call the merely well— schooled man or woman educated? Why is learning, even im- mense and highly specialized learning, not sufficient in itself to make a person educated? Throughout Western history there has been a reluctance to believe that schools can provide the ideal education or that schoolmasters are models of the best educated men. At the same time, few have denied that the greatest learning has been incorporated in the schools and that schoolmen usually command the best in scholarship. Insofar as this, derogation ‘of learning is not a manifestation of anti-intellectualism, what can be [I 12 THE PROMISE 0F WISDOM its source? I think it lies in the genuine insight that education is more than information and more than scholarship. But what is this “more”? In Goethe’s Faust there is a satire on education that contains a clue to the answer. Faust is a doctor-teacher at the beginning of the play, much revered in his community as a learned and wise man, but he is convinced that he really knows nothing at all. Studies have devoured his youth and middle years, kept him cloistered in musty library and laboratory, and in the end brought him to despair and the verge of suicide. Faust is not a narrow specialist in medicine or chemistry. He is one of those universal Renaissance men who have studied jurisprudence, phi— losophy, and theology in addition to the sciences. All his studies have had a similar effect: to leave him feeling empty, sceptical, and without vitality. And his students have contributed to his dejection. Goethe introduces us to two of these students. One is a fresh- man, without a name but with the characteristics of the eternal freshman. He is attractive enough, respectful in the presence of this man of reputation and learning, though repelled by the ill- smelling laboratories and dusty books. His fun—loving spirit feels cramped by the academy. Trees and grass and long summer holi- days seem much more real than the scholarly environment. He begins: Please, sir, assist me. I have come With the best intentions, good health, and a little money. ' My mother didn’t like to have me leave her. I rwant to learn something here that’s practical. Here is one charge against the academic world that the satire makes: it is filled with youth who are interested in success rather than knowledge, who are motivated by what a course of study can ’.do for them rather than what it can do to them. Vmuateyer‘glse ~the educated, man may be, he is not one who pursues art and science for the sake of their commercial benefits. On this occa- sion Faust,"‘uri'der"'thegilise of his Satan’s mask and in a cynical A Definition of Education 13 mood, runs through the curriculum with his advice, making de— vastatingly amusing comments about law, theology, the sciences, and philosophy and finally counsels his own major specialty, medicine. Here the student’s insistence on the practical is re- warded. Though medicine has no cures for the ills of mankind, the populace does not know it and prefers to trust the physician’s arts rather than nature’s curative powers. Armed with his title and self—confidence, a doctor can easily win the hearts of his patients, particularly the women “with their everlasting aches and groans.” With impunity he can handle their bodies, unlace their corsets, and steal many a pleasure forbidden to other men. That’s better now. The How and Where one sees, cries the student, and decides immediately on his major course of study. As he leaves enraptured, his counselor ironically auto- graphs the books extended to him: Eritis sicut Deus, scientes honum et malum (You shall be as God, knowing good and evil). This misconception of the purpose of learning is so pervasive that it can dominate a whole culture. In neophytes it is forgivable and can be combated by wise teaching, with the result that stu- dents who begin with pragmatic and egoistic motives may realize in time that educationwis for its grown sake, that_knowing, however useful it may be to society, should be pursued by theknower as an end. in itself. ‘Yet there is so much emphasis on material ends that in all schools teachers no less than students forget that school— ing is for the sake of education. The recurrent emphasis on the three R’s is put there usually by a commercial spirit, which is in— nocent of any conception of what education is about, wanting reading, writing, and arithmetic for the sake of gain. At the moment, the best argument American educators can muster against the drop-out plague is that incomplete schooling leads to unemployment and lowered life earnings. This motive is im— portant, of course, and schools must serve the practical needs of 14. THE PROMISE 0F WISDOM the society which sustains them. But the acquisition of skills by which to earn a livelihood, however necessary, falls short of the meaning of education. If not resisted constantly and in every generation, such a spirit can effectively destroy the concept of education, causing schools to degenerate into training institutes. The second student in Faust is the graduate assistant, Wagner, whose name has become a synonym for pedantry. Though osten— tatious display of learning may seem to be at the opposite pole from commercializing it, the two are not so far removed in es— sence. Indeed, Wagner, like the Freshman, may once have ap— peared before F aust’s desk, rosy-cheeked and impatient to learn the knowledge of good and evil. But scholarship has converted him into an insufferable bore. Goethe portrays him as “content to paste phrases together by the hour” and “to work up a little stew from others’ feasts.” Inflated by the waste baskets and attics of scholarship, Wagner feels vastly superior to the unschooled mul- titude outside the walls of academia. Convinced that the time in which he lives is far advanced over other epochs and asininely self—confident, he asserts the perennial creed of the mediocre learned man: “Much do I know—but to know all is my ambi— tion.” Again and again he interrupts his teacher’s musings, drowning Faust’s creative moods with irrelevant chatter, pseudo-scholar— ship, and proverbial lore that he mistakes for wisdom. As incapa— ble of despair as he is of insight, Wagner is the prototype of that multitude in the schools—both teachers and students-who mis- take shadow for substance. They not only extinguish whatever sparks their youth might have promised but also impede immeas— urably the progress of others. They can spend years in contact with excellence and sensitivity and still confuse, as Wagner did, discourse with invisible powers, originality with clichés, inspira— tion with insipid chatter. Such students are capable of driving good teachers into drink and debauchery as such teachers have done to good students. The Wagners are perhaps more hope- less than thc opportunists who decide on medicine in order to seduce women, or study economics to get rich, or become teachers from fear of competition in other fields. They have A Definition of Education 15 at least the possibility of change; the pedant is forever just what he is. Both types are equally far removed from what most of us mean by the term education. What of Faust himself before his adventures outside the ivied walls, those adventures which have made him a symbol of modern restlessness and striving? Is he truly educated? One would hardly say so. He is possessed, to be sure, with the primary requisite of educated human nature, the passion for knowledge. But he lacks the required experience of the world to give that passion direction. A prisoner of books, learning, and his father's inheritance, he yearns for freedom to create his own life. His plight led Goethe to write: What you inherit from your father: . Must first be earned before it’s yours. As a scholar and a teacher, Faust lacks serenity and real wis— dom. His knowledge has not brought him any fulfillment; it has not opened the world to him. On the contrary, he feels stifled in the confinement of his library and laboratory. Hence Goethe led him out of the life of scholarship, the Goethe who had himself found little satisfaction in his formal education. Faust learns to know the world of amorous excitement, governmental affairs, stock markets, drawing rooms, and battlefields, and finally the world of statesman and colonizer. At the end of this colorful career, the ex-professor sums it up as follows: I only through the world have flown: Each appetite I seized as by the hair: What not sufi‘iced me, forth I let it fare And what escaped me, I let go. * I’ve only craved, accomplished my delight, Then wished a second time, and thus with might Stormed through my life. And after rejecting as foolish any concern with another life beyond the grave, he ends with this advice to the young: 16 THE PROMISE OF WISDOM Firm let him stand and look around him well! This world means something to the capable. Though Faust in his old age has gained some wisdom from his rather chaotic foraging in experience, we are still in doubt, I think, that he can serve as a model of the educated man. He has reacted violently against the restraints of scholarship and learning as pursued in the schools and universities but—has failed to unify direct experience, the life of action, with theoria, that search for those “secret springs” which hold the world and man together. As Goethe himself admitted, after spending much of his long life on this great dramatic poem, Faust is no whole but simply the fragment of a great confession. . Faust can teach us who the educated man is not. He 18 not merely the learned man, though a learned man may also be an educated man. He is not the opportunist bent on worldly success, nor is he the despairing hero of the tragedy, who alternates be- tween cynicism and ecstatic religious faith, weekends on Wal- purgis and extravagant schemes for national reforms. Neverthe- less, Faust and his students afford some hints into the COIldlthn of being educated. Education seems to involve both. direct'experi— ence of many kinds and reflection on that experience; 1n some fashion it involves experience and knowledge and wisdom. We need to explore the relations of these qualities in order to d15- cover, if possible, some hierarchy. . Some years ago I ran across lines of T. S. Eliot that have haunted me ever since. They are relevant to our search for an acceptable definition of the educated man. Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?' Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? These lines are tragic as well as haunting. They seem to suggest “ that an educated man may lose his state of being educated, to become something other than he was. We like to think that, whatever else is true, education is a kind of ladder upon which we climb from information to knowledge to wisdom. Eliot A Definition of Education 17 laments that it is possible to descend the ladder, to have been once wise and now merely informed. The danger of such a loss makes it even more important that we discover the relations among these components of education: information, knowledge, and Wisdom. fl How do we commonly distinguish information from knowl— edge? Most of us are somehow aware of the difference; we have information in many areas where we know that we have no real knowledge. Particularly in this age of mass communications, our minds contain a jumble of information, bits and pieces bombard— ing us daily from all over the world. Much of it belongs in the department of useless information and is forgotten and re— acquired on occasion, often at night when one is trying to sleep and finds this floatsam and jetsam of information coursing, mys— teriously enough, through consciousness. Information may be as unsound as it is haphazard, since the dictionary reports there is no implication that information is factual. Knowledge, on the other hand, implies system and order, logical relationships of facts and a perception of their proximate causes at least and some of their effects. The Greek philosophers early made the distinction between knowing “the fact that” and “the reason why." By observing, many of us have information that such and such is so; far fewer know why it is so. The former comes from experience, the latter from art or science. All of us have some jumbled information about the chemistry of our own bodies; physicians and physiologists are said to have knowledge of it. Or we know something of the laws and regulations that gov— ern our society; whereas lawyers and political scientists are sup- posed to have systematic knowledge of them. If this knowledge is extensive, physicians or lawyers can interpret the relations and applications of the principles of chemistry or jurisprudence to individual cases. They understand the why and the how as well as the fact that the laws are. This early formulation of the difference between information and knowledge still endures, but there has grown up in the last century and particularly in this country an allegedly more rigor— o 18 THE PROMISE OF WISDOM ous definition of knowledge which would restrict it to that body of facts which has been tested and verified by strict scientific methods. Knowledge is a term that threatens to become a synonym for science itself and especially for mathematically measurable and exact science. And, perversely, as I see it, this conception of knowledge does not imply necessarily much ac— quaintance with the principles or theory underlying the subject matter but concerns itself instead with statistics, measurement, and the quantitative aspects of any subject matter. Its emphasis is on precision and exactness, not on understanding and on wholes or on interrelationships of a qualitative sort. In this narrow defi— nition, knowledge is nearly identical with facts as isolated partic— ulars. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that, if this definition is to prevail, the distinction between training and education will largely disappear. There are individuals in our country who call themselves scientists yet make no pretense of knowing anything about the principles or origins of their subject matter or its rela- tions toother fields. They command acquaintance of a body of facts and are skilled in methods of discovering the sequences of events within that body of facts and of measuring how fre- quently those events succeed one another. Such intense concen— tration on a tiny area of observed phenomena, the study of their surface and the manipulation of their parts, is of course necessary and valuable in a society as technological and as scientifically advanced as ours. For our material existence, such trained tech— nicians are perhaps more necessary than scientists and knowers. But it is surely a serious mistake to confuse these technicians with scientists. The confusion of factual information with knowledge is akin to that between breadth and depth. A man may be highly specialized in one of the established disciplines and be a thor— oughly educated man. Education does not consist in knowing something about many fields of knowledge. The specialisr who is educated is one who is in search of the principles of his own field and how they relate to the principles of other fields. He will go far beyond minute observations of the phenomena themselves. A Definition of Education 19 It is a great error to restrict knowledge to this narrow meaning of detailed acquaintance with exact scientific facts. Indeed, I think it an error to restrict the term science to the investigation of natural phenomena, as we Americans increasingly tend to do. Knowledge and science are equivalent terms if they are properly used to designate an ordered and systematic familiarity with any subject matter that possesses principles, together with an under- standing of its relations to other subject matters. We could profit from the Europeans, who speak of the science of literary criti- cism, for example, or the science of history, with no implication of exactness or minute precision but definitely with an implica- tion of insight into the principles of these inquiries. Some of our sad and silly wrangling over the role of the natural sciences as opposed to the humanities might well disappear if we learned to speak of the science of literature or music or painting and turned away from the equation of knowledge with verified informa— tion. In any case, it is becoming increasingly clear that much of what the natural sciences once held to be exact and absolute fact is now seen to be imprecise and relative. We also possess large quantities of fact in new fields for which generalizations are being discovered; principles are coming into vision, so that we are able to guide future action and uncover new data. Many of these new fields of inquiry, especially in the social sciences, are obtaining knowledge that cannot in principle be verified in any exact way. Yet these subject matters are already organized, rich in theory, and capable of generalization. If we are wise, we will reverse the recent trend to restrict the term knowledge, we will restore it to the usage of previous centuries and other na- tions, namely, the systematic grasp of the principles of a subject matter and the ability to communicate these principles to oth— ers. It is characteristic of one who is acquiring an education that he learns to make the passage from information to knowledge. The process 15 in no sense an automatic one. Gathering information in any field is reasonably passive and can be gained by reading, by 20 THE PROMISE 0F WISDOM keen observation, or by listening to informed teachers. But to organize and relate the information and facts thus gathered de- mands the active and imaginative participation of the learner. Knowledge is “being able to learn,” as we often put it today. That is a phrase we would do well to ponder for a long time. Being able to learn hardly means being facile at acquiring information. For information, as we all know, easily leaves the mind unless it is ordered into a framework of related facts and they in turn are grounded in principles which can be used in guiding our activity. Unless we, as students, rise up, as it were, and become actively engaged in the process of our own learning, we will never obtain knowledge. . The idea of education as self-education has been repeated so often that it has become banal. But surely no principle of educa- tional theory is less subject to challenge than this one. At some early point in his career every aspirant to the status of edu- cated man must decide that he is in charge, that information and facts will only confuse and weary him unless he learns to exclude as well as include, to synthesize as well as analyze, to relate him- self to the immediate world that is external to consciousness by responding to it rather than reacting or remaining passiverfigiflg , able to learn, means being imaginative or being creative in a gen- eral sense. And this in turn signifies being constructive and recon— structive, synthesizing the impressions that flood into the mind with the principles already present to it.‘ Only in activity are these principles brought to light. Vision or theory is not so much an acquisition as a discovery, one that each person must make for himself though countless minds have made it before him. In an age like ours,-characterized by a floodtide of new facts, it is not enough to gain insight into the principles of a subject matter once and for all. Our traditional fields are being trans- formed by the discovery of ever wider principles, by Visions of new relationships. As everyone knows, the natural sciences are developing interstitial fields of investigation—areas between chemistry and biology, geology and astronomy, biology and physics, and so on. And mathematics, that gateway of the sci- ences, is, to the astonishment of everyone, undergoing a revolu— ,4, A Definition of Education 21 tion in our generation. The situation in physics may well be prophetic of all traditional knowledge. Not so long ago the sub- ject matter in physics was thought to be complete and. closed, its major principles established for all time. Sir Isaac Newton had synthesized and set down what God had wrought in the material universe; henceforth students need only master the master. Now we know, even as laymen, something of the creative confusion that has entered the reconstruction of this bellwether among the natural sciences. Physics, as one of its contemporary practitioners remarked not long ago, “leaps from one lie to another by means of intermediate falsehoods.” If the situation is not so acute in most of the other fields, it is probably because they have not advanced so rapidly in our cen— tury. The term research has acquired fantastic prestige today, and many absurdities are promulgated in its name. Its currency testifies, nevertheless, to the new uncertainty that possesses us concerning the reliability of our received traditions. We have come to accept Goethe’s wisdom that “he only deserves freedom and existence who daily conquers them anew.” Now We are be- ginning to realize that something of the same sort is true for learning and scholarship. For it is not simply a matter of staying abreast of the new facts in the various disciplines to which we are devoted. Frequently these new developments require a reorgani— zation of principles and a positive unlearning of what we have been taught since childhood. As a consequence, knowledge is not only “being able to learn”; to a unique degree in our time, it is also being able to unlearn and t0 relearn throughout life. Well might Eliot ask resignedly: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” For it is lamentably true that to stop searching for new theory, to cease re- ordering the traditions we have inherited, is to descend the ladder from knowledge to information. “The merely well informed man,” Whitehead assures us, “is the greatest bore on God’s earth.” It is frightening to a keen and reflective mind to realize that age will not necessarily either increase his knowledge or his wisdom, however much his store of information grows. 22 THE PROMISE OF WISDOM If the distinction between information and knowledge is fairly clear, that between knowledge and wisdom is much less so. And advancing from the one to the other is so difficult as to elude most of us all our lives. I suppose many would not deny the title of “educated man” to the possessor of knowledge, interpreted as one who is able to learn and who has a growing insight into the principles of any subject matter. Yet we normally think that being well educated involves something more than knowledge. The age-old reluctance of the non-academic world to accept the scholar as the model of the educated man relates to the nature of this “more”. What is this “more”? Many would answer: wisdom. Yet the question arises at once: What does it mean to be wise? If we can explicate the significance of the word, perhaps we have a chance to point to the possibility of its attainment. In our Western tradition the term wisdom is commonly used in two senses, senses that were first distinguished clearly by Aris- totle. There is a practical kind of wisdom—sometimes called life— wisdom—which enables a person to apply his learning and knowledge to the enrichment of his daily activities. In ancient Greece that man was wise who had achieved excellence or virtue (areté) in the conduct of life. He was an artist in living, using the materials that were available to him from within and. in his soci— ety, and molding the “good life” from them. Because his was a public society (where the term idiot was applied to the merely private person) the wise man was necessarily an effective citizen as well. Here knowledge was only a part, though an essential part, of wisdom. The capacity for happiness was another. Honor or reputation that came from serving one’s state and age was still another. This practical wisdom was usually construed as the conse- quence of ordering aright the variOus elements of one’s psycho— logical constitution or faculties. No one who came under the domination of his appetites, whether for drink or sex, money or power, could earn the title of being wise. Nor did the Greek thinkers or dramatists believe that the emotional life was in itself productive of wisdom. They regarded the positive emotions as highly desirable, to be sure, an indispensable ingredient of the A Definition of Education 23 good life. But to be fully wise in even the practical sense of the term a man had to bring his daily life and thoughts under the guidance of reason. Wisdom was that excellence or virtue which was the consequence of curbing the appetites and harmonizing the emotions under the control of reason. The other cardinal virtues or excellence of the Greeks, courage, temperance, and justice, and even holiness, were likewise the product of reason. Hence a man had achieved practical wisdom when he had or- dered his activity by reason in order to realize his best powers, gaining maximum happiness for himself and contributing accord- ing to his abilities to the common life of his society or state. With the increasing secularism of American culture, this early conception of practical wisdom is being revived. We tend to regard the wise man as one who knows pre-eminently how to live well or, as we rather curiously put it, “how to get the most out of life.” We think of him as a happy man or at least one who has a clear surplus of happiness over misery. Though it is hard to be- lieve that anyone in our chaotic times can transform his life into a work of art, we do call wise that man who has found his role and is effective in it, at the same time aiding others to be effective, too. Like the Greeks, we put emphasis on activity rather than passive contemplation, on mastery of passion, not subservience to it, and we tend to believe that wisdom is associ— ated with a kind of satisfaction and serenity in daily life, which arises from a knowledge of self and of society. If we do not glorify reason, it is doubtless because of our inheritance of Chris- tian and Romantic ideals and of Darwinian and Freudian theories, an inheritance that has undermined our confidence in human reason. Despite these influences, it seems to me that the importance of the concept of liberal education in twentieth-century America testifies to a revival of the Greek idea of practical life under the control of reason. We certainly have a new appreciation of the difliculties of attaining to such practical wisdom, but the ideal, perhaps the dream of it, is very much a part of our reflective culture. But there is another definition of wisdom, as old as Aristotle, 24 THE PROMISE 0F WISDOM which occasions confusion not merely in concept but in practice as well. According to this second definition, wisdom is the search for truth about the world and man’s proper place in it. W5 opposed to practical, the vision of the pure scientist or researcher, the philosopher and the man of great intellectual power, who are concerned with knowing things for their own sake. This sort of wisdom comes from study and re— flection and is the product of leisure and freedom from the daily life of vocation and association with others of quite different concerns. Such theoretical wisdom involves long-continued intel— lectual discipline, inherited ability, and a passion for truth how— ever unpleasant or impractical. It involves an objectivity that can come only to the disinterested, the researcher Who has learned to suppress what he would like to believe in the interest of What really is true. This wisdom does not, as the Greeks poetically put it, “teach a man how to find his way home.” It does not make him practically effective as a family man, citizen, or community leader. But Aristotle at least felt that it did make a man supremely self—sufficient and even god-like, for it enabled him to retrace the thoughts of God after Him. This conception of wisdom is still very much with us and is an aim of formal education at its upper levels and its non-vocational curricula. We call it pure science or pure research. Many of our acrimonious quarrels in education over purposes derive from this difference about wisdom conceived as practical or as theoretical. The pure scholars, if one may call them that, want the accent in schooling to be on straining the minds of students early and late in the pursuit of learning the materials of our heritage in order to make them searchers and researchers for truth in whatever realm. Theyare not concerned with applications to the daily existence of their students, either because they doubt that this can be taught or because they believe that education is for the sake of truth. Education should lead to scholarship if it is not to be dilettantism. The proponents of practical wisdom, on the other hand, are convinced that ideas and learning are to be judged by their fruits A Definition of Education 25 in subsequent living. They are for liberal education in the sense of freeing its products for effective action on the contemporary social scene and making them good parents, good citizens, and happy men and women. Implicitly they question whether more than a tiny minority are fitted for the life of pure scholarship, and in any case they consider theory to be valuable only as it relates to practice. This distinction between practical and theoretical wisdom goes to the heart, I believe, of many conflicting theories of education and competing schools of educational philosophy. It separates those who are accustomed to thinking about the purposes of education and confuses them in their attempts to select models of the best in contemporary life. Accordingly, this distinction is much more fruitful for reflection than are most other conflicts in the theory of education. It is obvious that both practical and theoretical wisdom can exist in varying degrees in any person and that to attain either in significant amounts is the task of a lifetime and can only be started in the schools. It is nearly as obvious, I think, that there is no necessary exclusiveness between the two kinds; no law of nature prevents a seeker after truth from being an effective citi— zen and leader in public life. Nevertheless, the limitations of most of us predetermine the directions our lives are to take, whether predominantly the life of pure theory or the practical life. In the former case formal education is surely more important. The pur— suit of theoretical wisdom for those called to it is most easily launched in the schools. For the brilliant child who is exposed to a few teachers devoted to learning for its own sake can become infected first with the love of knowledge and then, as he matures, can make the leap to wisdom, that state of independence of ‘judg— ment and desire where life is importantly governed by a disinter- ested love of truth. Such individuals, always a tiny minority in any society, can become the scientists, artists, philosophers, creators in every field who discover new knowledge, establish new ideals more relevant to present times, and increase the grasp of mankind on the signifi- 26 THE PROMISE 0F WISDOM cance of its career in time on this planet. Though they may be deemed impractical, even foolish, in the ways of the world, and be, in fact, indifferent husbands, wives, or citizens, they are su— preme in reaching wider principles and creating new syntheses. Many of these creative ones do not find it easy to renounce worldly success, the fame and fortune that their high talents appear to justify. Though they may discover a higher happiness in devoting themselves to ideal goals, they may feel bitter about the studied neglect by the majority of their contemporaries and about the indifference of their governments. In our generation, the traditional attitude toward theoretical wisdom appears to be changing. America has not yet produced her share of such theoreticians, partly because of material needs of a new civilization, partly because of the pragmatic bent of our educational establishment. Now we are increasingly aware of the place of pure theory, particularly in the sciences, if only because of its practical relevance. Our motives for this change may be suspect. We are mortally afraid of being bested by our Commu- nist adversaries, and the transformation of our educational em- phasis in the direction of theory owes much to this political interest in triumphing over other peoples. Yet in our dawning recognition of the fact that one superb theoretician is much more valuable, even for our survival, than a dozen average ones, we may well be raising up a kind of person who can see beyond the immediate political struggle and can establish respect in the lay- man for the theoretical life. Such a development is a highly desirable one for many reasons. Our culture still lacks dimensions of depth and richness needed to attract and hold the allegiance of potential allies of the demo- cratic way. We alienate many who want to be our friends sim- ply because Americans appear to be all surface, without depth. Our own best minds continue to draw most of their nourishment from Europe in science, art, and philosophy because of Our comparative poverty in these fields. Moreover, we now possess the requisite leisure, thanks to our conquests in technology and economics, to support a rich and varied life of vision for those A Definition of Education 27 who are called to it, an advantage that perhaps no society has ever had before us. Without great strain our American society could free a good many of its most creative, theoretical minds to pursue their deepest interests without holding them responsible for prac— tical results. An even more important result of the growing respect for theoretical wisdom in American life may well be a clarification of the differences between specialization and such wisdom. Every— one recognizes that specialization is a necessary and inevitable effect of the complexity of contemporary civilization. Yet the specialist, in the narrow sense, is far removed from the creative theoretician. The latter is on the frontiers of learning; the former is lost in the labyrinths of his discipline. The creative artist, sci- entist, or philosopher will assuredly be specialized in his disci— pline, but his specialization will be, from the beginning, a means and not a goal; his learning will be an impetus and not an end. At present, there is much popular confusion about the difference between specialization and wisdom. Man Ctitioners nd science are themselves confused about what they are trying to do. Are the in search of knowled e or wisdom? How are the two related and how are they different? It is clear that we require more reflection in this age of the floodtide of knowledge to clarify these relations anew. Even when theoretical wisdom is attained and distinguished from its semblances, an important problem remains. For these creative theoreticians require practical wisdom, too, more so in our time than ever before. Aristotle, who first made clear this distinction between the theoretical and the practical, hesitated before deciding that the theoretical life was the higher and more desirable for man to live. Unlike his teacher Plato, he refused to make such thinkers responsible for the political fortunes of soci— ety. They were self-sufficient and could well choose to be in but not of their society. Whereas Plato’s best men, after years of study and trial, were required to devote their maturity to the conduct of public life, and only later allowed to pursue their first love in private vision, Aristotle’s theoreticians were under no 28 THE PROMISE OF WISDOM such restraint. Aristotle’s ideal, and not Plato’s, has triumphed in the centuries since, for the most brilliant thinkers have remained aloof from the practical and political affairs of the nations. The danger in such a separation is patent in our times, since so much of the theoretical at present lies in the natural sciences. Our creative scientists are discovering, often with agonized con— sciences, that their most pure and apparently remote theories are capable of practical and destructive application by technology. Unless they assume some responsibility for the application of theory, the theoretical life may become its own destroyer. Hence the age—old cleavage between practical and theoretical wisdom has narrowed dangerously, perhaps disastrously, in recent decades as pure and applied knowledge have become interrelated as never before in history. In consequence, we need to combine in edu— cation the practical and the theoretical. Perhaps it is not im— portant or possible to make the man of theory into a good house- holder or family man, really interested or able to deal with the more mundane issues of community life. But unless we insist in education on making him concerned with larger political prob— lems and able to be effective in dealing with governments, we will forfeit his great contributions to the human career. For the great majority of us, practical wisdom will continue to be the overriding goal of education, since only the few have sufficient ability and resolution to contribute significantly to new theory. The educated man as one who can make the advance from information to knowledge and then apply that knowledge to create for himself a meaningful career as a private person and also as an effective citizen of the communities of which he is a member—this will continue to be the practical purpose which motivates the vast majority of us. Education is not information and not knowledge; these are only means to effective, productive lives that satisfy intrinsically and carry significance beyond them- selves. Nevertheless, the majority must somehow learn to tolerate and) even cherish the theoretically wise who aim at different goals. These, in turn, must undertake the harder task of learning that their fate is integrally bound up with that of their more A Definition of Education 29 practical fellows, to Whom they owe time, and effort, and under— standing. The life of theory and the life of action are in our day mutually responsible for each other, however inconvenient such responsibility may be to both. We can now venture to answer the question with which We began. The educated man is one who is either practically or theoretically wise. If such a one is not to descend the ladder, he must keep constantly educating and re-educating himself. Educa— tion is a search and not a state of being. And though wisdom is inevitably dual in nature, as we have seen, a new necessity is upon us. Though we cannot unite the two kinds of wisdom, they must learn to support and to supplement each other. Eliot’s lines about knowledge and information and wisdom are preceded by a still larger question: “Where is the life that we have lost in living?” Perhaps an answer to this query can only be found if we look deeper into the problem of how in actual prac— tice we make the advance from information through knowledge to wisdom. ...
View Full Document

This note was uploaded on 01/16/2009 for the course HONR Hon taught by Professor Unknown during the Fall '09 term at Pacific.

Page1 / 11

Gray - Promise of Wisdom - THE PROMISE OF WISDOM A...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 11. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online