“It’s no easy task—indeed it’s very difficult—to realize that in every soul there is an instrument that is purified and rekindled by such subjects [liberal studies] when it has been blinded and destroyed by other ways of life, an instrument that is more important to preserve than ten thousand eyes, since only with it can the truth be seen.”
Socrates, in Plato’s Republic VII
Yesterday I finished teaching yet another semester of Philosophy. If the power of reason outweighs ten thousand eyes, then how do I measure the worth of forming that instrument, by teaching the subjects to which Socrates refers?
Never easy, often discouraging, always seeming to require more than I can give. Priceless.
To ask myself how I have deserved to be in such a position misses the point; I do not deserve it. Gratitude must be the fundamental response. What can compare with the moments I’ve shared together with my students? Maybe no one will ever know, but us.
And perhaps the central truth that we have come to see together, is the transcendent importance of seeking the truth, together. It is a treasure beyond measure.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.
Image: the library at Christendom College
Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns
I looked for the precise quote and could not find it, but Bertrand Russell wrote something very much like ‘Teaching is either fine art or torture.’ I am certain of the polar terms ‘fine art’ and ‘torture.’ ‘Teaching’ might’ve been ‘education.’
I’ll have to look for that.
Sometimes, perhaps, there is an element of torture, even in the fine art…
But if we, like Socrates, have confidence that we can at least begin to discover the truth, then I suppose education will always be an art with a precious fruit.
Having just finished another semester of study on a technical subject in logic with a very good and very humble professor of philosophy (self-described as an “unreconstructed Platonist”!), I can assure you that the great truth to which you point becomes visible to those who pursue even technical ideas of truth– in good company and right order.
I have come to understand that teaching and learning are merely the opposite sides of a rapidly spinning coin. To teach well one must continue to learn well. One comes to understand that all subjects and disciplines as manifestations of the Mysterium Tremendum are lesser mysteries which nevertheless have the capacity to reveal ones ignorance whether one is student or master, a humiliating encounter if one’s moral position is arrogance and hubris or an humbling encounter if one’s moral position is one of subordination to the Creator and His created order. When ignorance revealed in the encounter with mystery engenders humility, then one has the proper position to experience awe; from awe comes curiosity, out of curiosity come the quest to know, and from the quest to know come the discipline and skills necessary to encounter the mystery and to come to know it, ever deeper into the mystery, ever deeper into ignorance and ever deeper into humility. In this quest we become that which we are supposed to be, learning the created order and the limits which it sets on us, thereby coming to know our Creator.
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