Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weds. with Words: Those who love to learn

I did not get to summarizing the science section of the Liberal Arts Tradition - but I will.  Instead, I read a lecture about the tug of war between the "sciences" or practical education and the "liberal arts" or education aimed at truth, beauty and goodness.  It was delivered by A.E. Housman a Latin Professor in 1892 at University College in London.

After discussing the pitfalls of science (not as practical as one would think) and the liberal arts (not as able to develop beauty and truth as one would hope) he argues that we should acquire learning and knowledge for its own sake - not to fulfill a pre-set agenda.

He argues that we all naturally want to learn.  If that's the case, the natural question is, why does it appear that there are so many who seem to lack an inborn curiosity?  Here is his response:
So it is generally recognized that hunger and thirst cannot be neglected with impunity, that a man ought to eat and drink.  But if the craving for knowledge is denied satisfaction, the result which follows is not so striking to the eye.  The man, worse luck, does not starve to death.  He still perseveres the aspect and motions of living human being; so people think that the hunger and thirst for knowledge can be neglected without impunity.  And yet, though the man does not die altogether, part of him dies, part of him starves to death: as Plato says, he never attains completeness and health, but walks lame to the end of his life and returns imperfect and good for nothing to the world below. 

Later he continues
And let us too disdain to take lower ground in commending knowledge: let us insist that the pursuit of knowledge, like the pursuit of righteousness, is part of man's duty to himself; and remember the Scripture where it is written: "He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul." 
After undercutting some lofty thoughts about the value of knowledge - especially its sweetness - he proceeds.

If a certain department of knowledge specially attracts a man, let him study that, and study it because it attracts him; and let him not fabricate excuses for that which requires no excuse, but rest assured that the reason why it most attracts him is that it is best for him.  
He also provides an interesting comparison of Shakespeare and Milton and the role of classical education in their writing.  So in the end, knowledge should be pursued for its own sake - not for practical or even lofty purposes.  I need to remember not to label certain types of knowledge as "lesser than" (like lego building) while exalting other things.  I appreciate Charlotte Mason because she offers the "banquet" and allows students to take what they will.  Housman is addressing college professors, so students will begin to narrow their focus.  From the beginning we should honor our children's interests and encourage them to learn for the sake of learning - even if it does seem a little out of reach.

See what others are reading at Ordo Amoris.


  1. The dangerous part of this WWW thing is that I end up buying more books!

    I just raised yours up in priority on my list. :)

    1. Fortunately, it is a very short speech and free. I am trying to darken my links but if you click on A.E. Housman it links to the full text of the speech. I totally agree about adding more books to the pile!

  2. I have the same difficulty, Brandy. I just put three more books on my TBR list and it was already longer than my lifespan will handle.

    I need to munch on these quotes for a while and go back and read the whole lecture. THanks for the quotes.

  3. I am excited to Jain speak at Circe. I have suddenly started reading more science books for the fun of it-Einstein and the history of the making of the Bomb. Truly fascinating stuff which I never imagined caring for. Now I am trying to communicate to my boys this love.