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Sidetracked 2

with 11 comments

Because, you know, it never fails.

So we’ll go a little off to the side for a moment, and then tomorrow we’ll get back on track.

1) I have to prove none of the things Charlou says I have to prove, not least of which because I have made none of the claims Charlou says I’ve made.  All I have done so far is to describe how a liberal education has traditionally been conceived, and to outline the kind of program modern proponents of a liberal education favor. 

If you want to complain about that, go complain to Plato, Aristotle, Basil the Great,  Tacitus, Seneca, Martin Luther, Isocrates, Jonathan Edwards,  St. Benedict,  John Henry Cardinal Newman, and Thomas Jefferson.

For starters.

2) The purpose of talking about this stuff is that I want to talk about it.  That is the only purpose I need.  And I will not be shut up.

3) Sherlock Holmes is a specific character in a specific set of short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, but he’s also what’s known as a mythic archetype.  As a specific character he had his faults–not least of which was that he had no idea where specific species of wild animals live–but as a mythic archetype he is the Great Detective, who is never wrong at all.

For better or worse, such mythic archetypes–think of all the references to “Frankenstein” when people really mean the monster–become part of the cultural currency, and when that happens it’s more important to know the archetype than the reality of the original reference.

4) I don’t think philosophical abstractions are irrelevant, and I don’t think they’re all that abstract.  I do think that determinism–in the sense of “we’re all puppets with our strings being pulled”–is untrue.

To have any usefulness, a proposition has to be able to do two things:  explain and predict. 

Determinism in the sense AB seems to be using it has no predictive power whatsoever–even standing from afar, it could not predict the arrival of a  Kant or a Hegel or, for that matter, of a Monet–and its explanatory power is a version of “because I said so.”

“We’re all being pulled by strings.”  “How do you know?”  “Because we’re all being pulled by strings.  THAT explains everything we do!”

But this is theology, not science.  Get back to me when you can demonstrate the strings being pulled.

And, no, experiments showing that if you stick a needle into this part of the brain the subject crows like a chicken do not prove determinism.  They best they prove is that a brain is a functioning organ that will be affect by physical assaults on its integrity. 

See later, re the attraction of atheists to deterministic narratives.

4)  It would help if everybody would remember that I am NOT talking about academia here.   I don’t have much use for it, especially in its incarnation. 

I agree that the idea that a broad education makes one better has been controversial–but so what?  What we’ve been discussing is the history and utility of a liberal education.  This is what it is.

5)  As for philosophy as a rationalization–well, then it’s “rationalization” when we study tree frogs and try to explain their behavior.   Looking at phenomena and trying to understand how it works is not rationalizing unless you’re being dishonest about it.

Philosophy is, however–talking metaphysics now, and ethics, and politics–definitely the foundation of everything.

Consider your own.  You begin with your atheism, which says that God does not exist, or (if you’re a soft atheist) that there is no evidence that anything like God exists.

You are now presented with the fact that you must explain everything that occurs without reference to anything outside nature.  That’s fine, but it runs you into the problem that the behavior of people certainly does not look as if it operates on the same kinds of principles as, say, the behavior of quartz.

You therefor go looking for an explanation that will fit the bill–keep anything about human beings in the realm of nature with no need of a non-natural or non-material aspect at all.

Determinism cannot be proved, it’s counterintuitive, it explains nothing and it actually makes you more likely to be wrong in your predictions of human behavior–but that matters much less than the fact that it fits your basic philosophical principle. 

Philosophy, in the form of the precepts you accept as axioms about the world and human nature, is the foundation from which all else is built, including your own self-perception.

6) I was not associating “academic philosophy” with “popular self government,” and I do not think that self government is (inevitably) “demogoguery.”

I was saying that, historically, one of the purposes of a liberal education was that it made men fit for participation in the governing of their nations.

Yes, yes, of course, yawn, the ancient Greeks didn’t include women and slaves.  So what?

Philosophy is the foundation of everything, and in one way that is true is in the way in which we define what is “human.”  The Greeks did not define it as we do, quite true.  But they did in fact extend the right to self government to all those included under the definition of “human.”

(And that definition was in itself a matter of tension.  Aristotle’s famous defense of slavery as okay because some people are “born slaves” wasn’t so much a defense as an attempt to escape what seemed to be more likely to be true: which was that, given all the rest of what his philosophy said, slavery was likely to be indefensible.)

The way you get here from there is also a matter of philosophy–It’s St. Paul’s dictum that “you are neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.  You are all sons of God.”

Welcome to a completely new definition of the human, one that had never existed on the planet before as far as we know. 

It took centuries to work its way through the culture, but the culture could not have gotten where it has if it hadn’t.

Philosophy is the foundation of everything.  Science depends not just on universality and mathematics, but on a whole slew of ideas:  that in a conflict between authority and what your mind tells you is true, you should opt for what your mind tells you is true (and you’re a worse person if you opt for authority), for one.  That’s a biggie.

7)  I was never taught Plato or Aristotle as “great thinkers” I had to admire but not question, and I was never taught Shakespeare or Jane Austen as “great writers” that everybody had to admire, either.  This is not a critique of the liberal arts but of bad teaching, and I’m sorry you had it. This entire thing about “geniuses” who “tower over mere mortals” is contrary to any education I ever had.  Hell, the nuns in my high school didn’t feel that way about the Pope.

8) The idea that the bulk of the populace should have as broad an education as possible (as broad was defined for the times) begins with the Protestant Reformation.

The central organizing tenet of Protestantism was that every Christian (male and female) was capable of reading and interpreting Scripture on his (or her) own. 

But to interpret Scripture, you had to read it.  And to read it, you had to be taught to read.  That’s where the first great pushes for universal literacy come, and you can see that manifest in every Protestant community down to the beginning of the 19th Century. 

Even those theoretically “theocratic” communities of Puritans set up schools and then  universities as the second thing after setting up a Church.  And although they didn’t allow women into the universities, they did teach them, often quite well, and in all those “hard” things, too, like Latin.  They taught them well enough so that women could and did pass the entrance exams to places like Yale before the US was even a country, leaving the university to try to figure out another rationale for why they shouldn’t attend.

I don’t know enough about Thomas Paine to say, but I do know George Washing, and he’d definitely had a liberal education (again, as defined in his day) in spite of the fact that he never set foot inside a university.  Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, John Adams, James Monroe–all of them had a liberal education as it was defined in their day, whether or not they actually attended schools.  Any schools.

The American Revolutin is the ultimate example of a country made by liberal education, drawing on the works of Seneca and Tacitus and Cicero and on history and philosophy to try to make a new system that would work.

The American Revolution not only came about because of those axioms I’m talking about up there, but it came about because people deliberately tried to find a way to build something on them, consciously.

9) Yes, of course, education breeds dissent.  Thinking breeds dissent.  Why do you think “consensus” is necessary to keep a nation going?

10) Nothing can function as a raw democracy–a liberal education will tell you that.  But nations can indeed function as Republics, and have.

But then, I have never said a thing here to indicate I think that’s what I was aiming for, either.  “To participate in one’s government” is not the same as “giving over everything to a popular vote.” 

The point of a Republic is to limit what is part of government at all. 

But then, your philosophy and mine differ on an important point–I don’t think my fellow citizens are (necessarily) “the mob,”  and I do think the fundamental principle of this Republic is a sound one:  the ordinary run of human beings are capable of understanding the issues and making the decisions that determine how their country will be run.

11) I wouldn’t have forced you through Hamelt.  I would have forced you through Lear.

That said–no, just being told about it is not enough.  You need to look at Medieval playwriting and then at Shakespeare and see the difference.

The difference is important because it was part of a whole: the individuation of characters in plays occurs just around the same time as the call for individual interpretation of scripture and around the same time as the growing Puritan sentiment that we should end monarchy–we’re talking the English Civil War here.

Being told about things is nowhere near as useful as seeing for yourself.  

For one thing, if you don’t see for yourself, you’ll never know if what they’re telling you is right or wrong.

12) The fact that all people think in narratives–or most of them–is a fact, and it does not obviate the need for education, nor does it make education useless.

For one thing, education might help you to spot your narratives.  And that will help you control for them.

Note:  I didn’t say “control them.”  I said “control for them.”

AB exhibit a lot of the dysfunctionality of the modern-day atheist narrative, although not nearly as much of it as some people, including some of the atheist orgs.

We have a world that looks like this:  there is Us, and we’re rational and intelligent.  There is Them, they’re “the mob,” and mostly stupid, and totally controlled by something or the other–faith, superstition, fear, whatever.  It’s something emotional and irrational and uncontrollable.  And They are always threatening Us.

It’s coherent, but it’s also a crock.

13)  As for self control–it is definitely not the case that everybody feels equally “free.”  Just talk to addicted people about their addictions.  The idea that without some training in self control–of imposing discipline on our desires–we end up being jerked around like those puppets AB says we all are is the philosophical basis of all childrearing. 

The ancient writers on morality did not feel free of passions and habits.  Nor did the early Christians (St. Paul again–the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak).  Nor did the founding generation of this Republic.

But I’ve said more than enough.

And I’ll get back to the defense, Part 8, tomorrow.

Written by janeh

September 26th, 2011 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

11 Responses to 'Sidetracked 2'

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  1. Mique

    26 Sep 11 at 10:22 am

  2. “So the first thing–and the most important thing–a thorough knowledge of the liberal arts can give you is this: the ability to read the sign, prominently posted, which says “cliff ahead! stop now!” before you rush right over it and break your neck.

    So I’ll start here.”

    So who made this claim if not you? Before you claim that you “made none of these claims,” why don’t you go back and read your postings for the last month and see just what you have been claiming?

    It took me about 15 seconds to find a claim that you now claim you didn’t make. How many more claims you didn’t make do you think I can find if I spend ten minutes reading your previous posts?

    Of course you don’t need to prove anything I say you need to prove. You own the blog. You can make the rules. You can change the rules whenever you want. You can make claims and then say you didn’t make any claims. It smacks of intellectual dishonesty, but you can do it.


    26 Sep 11 at 10:48 am

  3. 4) It would help if everybody would remember that I am NOT talking about academia here. I don’t have much use for it, especially in its incarnation.
    I agree that the idea that a broad education makes one better has been controversial–but so what? What we’ve been discussing is the history and utility of a liberal education. This is what it is.

    I have been fascinated by the amount of angst and disagreement these posts have created. Part of that is because, for me, what Jane is writing is SO logical and SO much common sense. A broad education (formal or not) makes one better – well, yes. My Liberal Arts education (as sub-par as it was in comparison to what it might have been) has made me better than I was before I had it – a better reader, a better writer, a better thinker. It has made me more able to evaluate evidence and to recognize faulty evidence and illogical arguments when I see them. It has made me more able to see diverse perspectives and to make informed judgments about the value of those perspectives in understanding the world in which I live.

    While I only need to look at myself to see the truth in this, I do see it everywhere I look. I see it in the contrast between friends and family members with such an education and those without, again formal or not. I see it in the ‘before and after’ contrast of dozens of my students each semester – that even the smallest degree of education in the Liberal Arts results in change.

    Such an education does not guarantee a specific job, a specific perspective on life, a specific level of achievement or intelligence, or a specific morality – and I don’t hear Jane arguing that it does. I hear her saying that it makes one ‘better’. Are any of us really so arrogant that we believe we (or others) are so stupid and bad that we cannot improve or so inherently good and smart and logical and insightful that we cannot, in any way, be better?


    26 Sep 11 at 11:39 am

  4. Okay. I can’t help myself. I just can’t.

    Charlou provides, as proof that I have made claims that would require me to proof her set of propositions, the following:

    >>“So the first thing–and the most important thing–a thorough knowledge of the liberal arts can give you is this: the ability to read the sign, prominently posted, which says “cliff ahead! stop now!” before you rush right over it and break your neck.

    So I’ll start here.”>>>


    26 Sep 11 at 3:12 pm

  5. Okay. Sorry.

    Charlou posted”:

    >>“So the first thing–and the most important thing–a thorough knowledge of the liberal arts can give you is this: the ability to read the sign, prominently posted, which says “cliff ahead! stop now!” before you rush right over it and break your neck.

    So I’ll start here.”


    Which is a statement of mine.

    And I defy anybody, anywhere, to tell me why such a statement should require me to prove:

    a) that a liberal arts education makes us a self-governing people

    2) that it will do this for everybody and anybody who tries it.

    3) that it will work this way for at least 50% of the population of the US AND

    5) that the US has the resources, as we speak, to deliver such an education to its entire population.

    All the above says is that one of the things a liberal education CAN do–CAN not WILL.

    CAN Jenny Craig help you lose 150 pounds? Sure it CAN–you can read the testimonials from people who have had it help do just that.

    WILL it? For wome people it will, for soome people it won’t.

    Does that mean Jenny Craig doesn’t help people lose weight? No.

    Nor do I understand why it should be necessary to prove that the majority of people are able and willing to do something before we agree that it has value.

    Most people will never be able to learn to do brain surgery–but we don’t abandon the study of brain surgery and declare it worthless (or trivial) because that’s the case.

    And even if nobody wanted to do brain surgery at all, it would still be worthwhile talking about it.

    And even if we had no resources to train people to do it, it would still be worth talking about–if only so that we developed the resources.


    26 Sep 11 at 3:23 pm

  6. OK, I was with you right up until
    “I do know George Washington, and he’d definitely had a liberal education (again, as defined in his day) in spite of the fact that he never set foot inside a university.”

    Weren’t we discussing the ancient and unchanging definition of a liberal eduation that Seneca would have recognized? And, no, Washington didn’t. I don’t believe he spoke a word of a foreign language, knew any more math than was required for surveying, or had any theoretical understanding of the physical sciences. Mind you, a man who owned and operated mines, foundries, smithies, and commercial farms and bred stock in the bargain probably had a better practical understanding than most–but that wasn’t what we were discussing. What Washington had was the kind of self-mastery a liberal education was supposed to produce.

    Everyone else you mentioned with him had a university degree and a liberal education–but none were the equals of Washington in governing themselves.

    But why stop there? Try Lincoln on mathematics, physical science, foreign languages or even history, where he was pretty spotty. Again, intelligence and self-discipline trumped NOT having a liberal education.

    Shall I mention military men like Daniel Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest? Businessmen like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Sam Walton and Bill Gates?

    Of our political leadership, those educated to the standard specified would include Hillary Clinton, John Kennedy, and pretty much the entire JFK-LBJ cabinet, “when the Charles(?) flowed into the Potomac.” I do not personally regard the Bay of Pigs, the Vietnam War and the Great Society as much of an advertisement.

    Which is not to say you’re wrong. It IS to say that the assertion that a liberal education is good for free men and self-governing countries needs support–and a fair bit of hedging. It is not self-evident.

    And simply annexing people you’d like to have had a liberal education is unworthy. How about considering what Washington DID study, then explaining why other things are necessary?


    26 Sep 11 at 3:58 pm

  7. “…simply annexing people you’d like to have had a liberal education is unworthy. How about considering what Washington DID study, then explaining why other things are necessary?”

    Sparked my curiosity. The best summation I can find on the web without spending all day at it:

    “Although George Washington never went to college and acquired little formal education, he was not an uneducated man. [figure 4.2] Largely taught by his father and then his brother, Washington learned much of what he needed to know to be accepted into the local Virginia gentry. Private reading helped further pave the way. He did, however, feel his lack of formal education acutely later in life, when he was surrounded by university men, and this may be what prompted him to become, if not an insatiable reader, at least a competent one, amassing a large and diverse library of his own. [figure 4.1] Although Washington’s reputation as a reader suffers in comparison to that of Adams and Jefferson, his books suggest otherwise. Being a man of action, he rarely, if ever, spoke of his personal reading habits.

    Mount Vernon housed Washington’s books. [figure 4.3] At the time of his death, it was recorded that his library contained 884 books and pamphlets and 100 charts and maps. Many more were perhaps scattered about. Today a personal library of this size would be considered quite fine, and in 1799 it was a collection of books worthy of great pride.”

    Alas, his library was dispersed after his death so there’s no account of exactly what was in it, but based on what I can find it was quite a reasonable collection of classics as well as Washington’s agricultural interests.


    26 Sep 11 at 5:05 pm

  8. Uh, Guys? Not denying any of that. Washington is my favorite founding father.
    But I seem to have wandered into another blog. Over on Hildegarde, we were discussing a liberal education as understood since the days of Seneca, if not before–and it included foreign language, physical science and mathematics, among other things. All of them: not just philosophy and political philosophy.
    Washington was intelligent, driven and eventually very well read–in certain fields. What he wasn’t was the beneficiary of a liberal education of the type discussed.
    You can’t change the definition part-way through. A liberal education wasn’t the same as being well read yesterday,


    26 Sep 11 at 6:48 pm

  9. 1) If you want to make a convincing argument for introducing universal liberal education as a national policy, then you do have to show some evidence for the things Charlou mentioned. Otherwise, I suppose not. Honestly I was kind of expecting this to run in the direction of policy (as things so often do).

    3) Yes, I liked Sherlock Holmes as a kid, too. Nonetheless, I did not find your site on Facebook, because I go not to that evil place.

    4) “To have any usefulness, a proposition has to be able to do two things: explain and predict.”

    Then I have to ask what is the usefulness of any of the propositions of metaphysics.

    Science IS determinism – that is its very essence. It is deterministic because natural law is universal – that is, there are no exceptions. If I throw a rock off the Empire State building, it will fall downward every time. If it falls upward instead, it is because there is a deterministic factor that was not considered, or else the law of gravity has not been understood correctly. It is not a miracle, and the rock did not fall upward because it was pissed off at the Earth and so lacked Aristotle’s imputed love to return to the ground. Exceptions require explanation – universal, scientific explanation. If I figure out why the rock went upward, I can make it do so again.

    The strings ARE there, whether they can be found or not – even when we know that they cannot possibly be found. If there is any exception at all, then the universe is entirely without order, because ANY exception is /by definition/ an exception not bounded by any rules. Whatever order might seem to exist is then illusory; it could disappear at any time at the will of God or Fate or whatever name you choose to give the exception. This is the nature of being as understood by primitive tribes, by the ancients, and even the Scholastics. It is flatly contradictory to science, and it does not encourage experimentation or technological development.

    5) In what way is philosophy the foundation of anything? Show me that epistemology precedes knowledge, that ontology precedes being, that ethics precedes behavior, or the like, then I will take this claim seriously.

    You suppose that I begin with atheism, and go on to further suppositions concerning why you think I say what I do – but this is mere supposition, and not relevant to the argument. For all you know I could be making everything up as I go along, but it would be no less valid if I were.

    Determinism cannot be proved, but of course, strictly speaking, nothing at all can be proved. Determinism cannot be disproved, either. But the important thing is that all observable evidence is consistent with determinism. “Deterministic” is not the same thing as “predictable”. Take weather, for instance. The rules of physics that govern weather are very well understood, and they are never violated, but we can’t reliably predict the weather even a day in advance. This isn’t because Thor sends the rain at his whim; it’s because we lack sufficient data and computational power.

    Determinism may be counterintuitive to some people, that’s got nothing to do with whether it’s true or not. To some people, a round Earth was counterintuitive.

    It’s not meaningful to say that determinism “explains nothing”. What determinism does is allow us to understand the natural laws that DO predict and explain.

    6) You might wish to make it more clear what you mean by “self government.” In modern parlance, this means that pretty much all adults have an equal vote. Even in the “democratic” period of ancient Athens, only an elite minority voted and most of them did not have a liberal education. Do you mean that politicians or public officers should have a liberal education?

    “Yes, yes, of course, yawn, the ancient Greeks didn’t include women and slaves. So what?”

    And again: Science depends on universality and measurement. That’s it. Everything else is a corollary (actually, even measurement is a corollary of universality). The very existence of universal law makes any contradicting authority void, so this is a corollary, too.

    7) “I was never taught Plato or Aristotle as “great thinkers” I had to admire but not question…”

    But that was an aspect of Medieval and early Scholastic education, which was the point. By your current definition, theirs was not a “liberal education;” nor was that of most early Protestants, who were more repressive than the Inquisition ever was in terms of what a person was allowed to discover in the Bible – they were allowed to read words, but not to understand them. Surely you’ve read of Servetus?

    8) As you well know, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Jay, John Adams, James Monroe et al. were never advocates of what we call “democracy” today. Even Jefferson, who was much more radical than most of them, did not contemplate universal suffrage. For the most part, the Founding Fathers were conservatives mainly interested in restoring the effective independence of the /aristocracy/ from the British Crown. They weren’t really trying to make a new system at all; such democracy as they had was little more than a continuation of what they had under British rule, and /that/ democracy owed nothing to philosophers.

    9) Consensus is obviously not necessary to keep a nation going. It is, however, necessary to keep any genuine democracy (or republic) going. But this is perhaps too far off topic – and frankly I’m shocked you’re not familiar with Montesquieu. I’m the barbarian here, after all.

    10) “…the ordinary run of human beings are capable of understanding the issues and making the decisions that determine how their country will be run.”

    They are? Ross Perot got 19% of the popular vote. If that doesn’t scare you, imagine if he’d been intelligent, eloquent, and charismatic. Imagine… oh wait, you don’t have to. Consider Barack Obama…

    11) I’ve read King Lear, too (without being forced). The story is a little tighter, having been stolen from Welsh mythology, but it still betrays some of Shakespeare’s key weaknesses:

    a. His characters are either crude stereotypes or flat and unconvincing.
    b. He liked to use “insanity” as an explanation for any and all irrational behavior, but his portrayals thereof are on the level one would expect from a six year old.
    c. When he couldn’t figure out how to wrap up a plot, there would be inexplicable suicides or nearly random murders. Sometimes lots of them. The end of King Lear is like the end of “Penn and Teller Get Killed”, except dumber.

    Also, you are in the wrong century if you want to tie Elizabethan plays to the English Civil War.

    “Being told about things is nowhere near as useful as seeing for yourself.”

    This is true for /everything/. There’s only so much time in life (i.e., not much), and some things aren’t worth the opportunity cost.

    12) [impersonating Abgrund] “We have a world that looks like this: there is Us, and we’re rational and intelligent. There is Them, they’re “the mob,” and mostly stupid, and totally controlled by something or the other–faith, superstition, fear, whatever. It’s something emotional and irrational and uncontrollable. And They are always threatening Us.”

    I’m not limiting “Them” to non-atheists. :D


    26 Sep 11 at 8:42 pm

  10. “Show me that epistemology precedes knowledge, that ontology precedes being, that ethics precedes behavior…”

    What is a species is an ontological question of some importance. How we can be certain that the universe is some 15 billion years, give or take a few per cent, old is a problem in epistemology, not just science. If these were not true, then there would not be even the possibility of someone believing fervently the earth is only 6000 years old (or thereabouts) and that there was global flood where a Hebrew patriarch carried a limited selection of “kinds” from wich all modern animals descended.

    And if the individual doesn’t sit down and ponder ethics prior to making a moral choice in a life situation — ethics most certainly come to the fore and ends up being discussed and dissected when we choose/discuss laws regarding women’s suffrage or abortion rights or the death penalty.

    Since decisions made about teaching creationism or abortion rights (for example) will have profound implications for what happens to society. Which means that therefore epistemology and ontology and ethics are critically important.

    Even if it’s possible to get up and dress and feed yourself without “doing” philosophy just to get through the morning.


    27 Sep 11 at 12:11 am

  11. You made claims about the value of a liberal education.
    You said you never made claims about the value of a liberal education.
    When I pointed this out, you talked about Jenny Craig.

    You brought up Jenny Craig, no one else did. So let’s talk about Jenny Craig.

    Sure, there are people who lost 150 pounds on Jenny Craig. Before I would recommend Jenny Craig to anyone, I would want to know (a) what percentage of people using Jenny Craig lost 150 pounds or even 100 pounds or even 50 pounds, (b) whether the people who lost weight with Jenny Craig kept it off, (c) whether or not there are other diet plans where a higher percentage of people lose weight and keep it off than with Jenny Craig, and (d) whether or not there are diet plans that produce the same results as Jenny Craig but at a lower cost.

    You’re saying you don’t have to prove anything about a liberal education. Well, actually, if you’re recommending that someone invest their time (more important than money) in it, then you pretty much do have to prove something. Without showing that there is a benefit, all you are doing is the equivalent of discussing the ingredients in the Jenny Craig meals, and what would be the point of that?

    I can go through another of your postings on the topic of liberal educations and see if I can find other claims you have made. It’s probably a waste of time because I looked at one posting at random, immediately found a claim you made, pointed this out to you, and then instead of dealing with the fact that you had indeed made claims and then denied that you made claims, you just “defied anyone” to say that making claims required you to prove anything.

    Here are some more claims you made, which you will probably also side-step.

    “The purpose of a liberal education is to form free men… It also means that you have control of your actions, your passions, your tastes–that you can exercise self control in a world of almost infinite choice.”

    I’m two for two – I picked two of your postings at random, and there are two claims you’ve made about the value of a liberal education.

    “The idea was to get your mind in shape to do difficult intellectual work in the world, both in the conduct and management of your own life and in your governance of your family and society.”

    Wow, another claim as to the benefits of a liberal education.

    “The purpose of the study of a foreign language, for instance, isn’t to equip you to be able to speak whatever the hot language is this generation. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but that’s not the point. The purpose of the study of a foreign language is the make you better, clearer and more conscious in speaking your own. It is meant to force you to pay attention to the way in which grammar and syntax impact sense, the intricacies of nuance and connotative definition, the way language shapes thought.“

    When I originally read the quote above I was truly astonished that someone as intelligent as you would make such a stupid statement, and I was about to refute it, but then I realized that what you said may not have been what you actually meant. What you may have meant is that “The purpose for including a foreign language as part of the liberal arts curriculum isn’t to equip you to speak…”
    Apparently studying Latin was not sufficient for you to be more conscious when writing English.

    I would also like to call everyone’s attention to the particular wording “the HOT language,” because for any of you who have not learned about such things, what Jane has done here is use a loaded word to denigrate or belittle the studying of non-Latin languages.

    In my opinion, if more people learned foreign languages (living ones, not dead ones) it would yield a greater benefit to our society than studying the ancient Greeks or reading Shakespeare or learning calculus. Let us suppose, for example, that 20% of our population spoke Arabic, and that 20% of the people in the Arab world spoke English. Do any of you think there would be less misunderstanding between the Arab culture and our culture if that were the case?

    Actually, if you want to learn English grammar better then it makes more sense to study German because English uses Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) grammar with a vocabulary composed of both Anglo-Saxon words and Norman words. And if the point isn’t to study a language as grammatically close to English as possible, then it would make more sense to study Chinese, since that language is grammatically about as different from English as it is possible to get. And if we should study Latin because it will help us deal with longer, Latin-derived words in English (which Jane doesn’t say, but which someone could argue), then why Latin and not Greek?

    What’s the point of learning Latin just so it will later be easier to learn Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese? Why not just start with Spanish and avoid wasting years studying Latin? (French, Italian, and Portuguese aren’t “hot” languages today, so we can ignore them.) Or why not learn Spanish so that later it is easier to learn Latin? Assuming that you ever came up with a reason to learn Latin.

    Actually, if you want to learn about English grammar and syntax, it makes much more sense just to study English linguistics, because every language has its own grammar and syntax. You could, for example, read ENGLISH SYNTAX, by C. L. Baker, and you would learn far more about English syntax than you could ever figure out by yourself by studying any foreign language living or dead.

    So why is studying Latin just as good as studying a living language? Because it allows us to communicate with so many people who don’t speak English?… well, no… Because it allows us to understand other cultures better?… well, no… Because it allows us to understand English syntax better than studying English syntax?… well, no.


    27 Sep 11 at 2:22 am

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