Cory Leonard

Notions of Success and Why Liberal Arts Really Matter

In career on August 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Plato answered the question on the end of a liberal education.

I have posted about Mark Edmunson previously, and recommend his reframing of the debate about the value of a liberal education.  He suggests that “skills” are not the real value-added component.

But the humanities are not about success. They’re about questioning success — and every important social value. Socrates taught us this, and we shouldn’t forget it. Sure, someone who studies literature or philosophy is learning to think clearly and write well. But those skills are means to an end. That end, as Plato said, is learning how to live one’s life. “This discussion is not about any chance question,” Plato’s Socrates says in “The Republic,” “but about the way one should live.”

That’s what’s at the heart of the humanities — informed, thoughtful dialogue about the way we ought to conduct life. This dialogue honors no pieties: All positions are debatable; all values are up for discussion. Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks for the spirit of the humanities in “Self-Reliance” when he says that we “must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.” He will not accept what the world calls “good” without consideration: He’ll look into it as Socrates did and see if it actually is good. When Montaigne doubts received opinion and asks himself what he really knows and what he does not, he is acting in the spirit of the humanities. “Que sais-Je?” or “What do I know?” was his motto.

via Why major in humanities? Not just for a good job — for a good life. – The Washington Post.

He also elevates Socrates as the spokesman for this view of a humanities education, where the goals are to “question those values” [in society] and to “help them work their way to insight and virtue” rather than merely helping them climb a ladder.

I cannot agree more fully with Edmunson’s distinction. The educators who influenced me the most were at various levels of accomplishment within their respective systems. They has a wide range of professional credentials–some impressive, others more pedestrian. They all had one thing in common: a focus on the need to question, think, explore, and consider what was really happening.



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