Friday, May 1, 2009

The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being, edited by Richard M. Gamble

668 pages hardcover, ISI Books, $30.00.

An anthology of the Western world's great thinkers on the subject of education, this book offers the corpus of Western philosophy. The editor aims to protect this great tradition from the university professors, who nowadays in the name of political correctness tend to reject these thinkers.

Many of the great writers of our civilization were Christians of course, since the Church has been the patron of education and the arts, and helped to establish science. The collection includes a few church fathers, some medieval scholastics, and humanist scholars such as Petrarch, the fourteenth-century Italian writer, who defended the Church against

“[A] set of dialecticians, who are not only ignorant but demented. Like a black army of ants from some old rotten oak, they swarm forth from their hiding-places and devastate the fields of sound learning. They condemn Plato and Aristotle, and laugh at Socrates and Pythagoras. And, good God! Under what silly and incompetent leaders these opinions are put forth!”

Petrarch's words also describe the intellectual landscape of the modern university.

The Great Tradition defends a vigorous education system that instills honor and the sense of right from wrong in people. It is a tradition that, like Plato and Aristotle – not to mention Christianity – seeks the truth, believing that opinion is not enough. These thinkers therefore support the Church's view that we must strive for the truth, which is one reason that the Church has always demanded a philosophical education for its priests.

The editor notes that occasionally these writers seemingly share little in common, as in Catholic and Protestant thinkers from the Reformation. Yet they all developed something very deep, which is the belief that humans can and should strive after the truth and live accordingly.

Nowadays, education is more like training and about getting a good job. Yet the writers in this book agree with the Church that life is worth being thought about for its own sake. “Wisdom and virtue” rather than “power and vanity” are important to a real education.

Since many of the book's selections are cautions against the prevailing greed or otherwise negative direction of the society of the time, the book offers an interesting intellectual backdrop to many of the interesting events in Western history, such as the industrialization of the US. One writer opposed the increasingly fast pace, and wondered how people could find meaning and wisdom from such lifestyles.

The great twentieth-century German-American political-philosopher, Eric Voegelin, offers the most cutting criticism of the modern world from the eyes of traditional Western philosophy, which is based on the classical Greek age. He condemned the modern world's rejection of a search for a philosophical or religious truth and adoption of opinion-based diversity. He saw in this, as the Church does, a rejection of God and a turn to human self-preoccupation.

Voegelin went so far as to say that deculturation was happening in universities and society at large because of the “destruction” of philosophy.

1 comment:

  1. This is brilliant. It is a pleasure to know that there are people out there whose minds have not yet been stiffled by epidemic ambition. Thank you for posting this.