According to the Tradition, education aims beyond the intellect
by Matthew Fish
In reply to Ben Brown’s letter on “The real purpose of liberal education,” I would like to defend the role of education in forming the whole person. Indeed it is in the Christian tradition to take an educational approach to virtue, and it is just as important as imparting to the student a philosophical state of mind. Traditionally, even from a secular view, education has been understood to have the purpose of imparting order in the soul of the student. Within the Christian tradition, the purpose and end of education, especially liberal education, is not simply for the “cultivation of the intellect,” but to lead the students to a “greater love and service of our Lord,” to quote St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Mr. Brown, relying heavily on Newman’s Idea of a University, claims that “education is the formation of the whole mind, not the whole man. It has to do with the intellect, not with the will.” If I may be so bold, I believe that Newman is incorrect on this matter, and is not representative of tradition in terms of the end of education.
It is foolish to think we can amputate the intellect of a man, educate it in a vacuum, and then neatly insert it back into his personality when we are finished, saying to ourselves, “well, we’ve done our job, no more can be expected. Now he can go about cultivating virtue somehow; surely it won’t be hard with that finely tuned intellect.” Mr. Brown says he does “not want to artificially separate the intellect and will,” but in all honesty I think that’s just what his article does.
Mr. Brown states that education does not “automatically confer such moral values… it can certainly help develop them, but in itself it neither intends to nor necessarily does so.” He is correct here; education does not intend to impart values. Its aim is truth, reality. But the pursuit of truth does not simply involve the intellect, but the entire person. Indeed, it could be said that the role of the educator is to help the pupil assent to the truth, which entails an act of the will. This is why education must be directed toward the whole person. In the words of C.S. Lewis, it is meant “to make the pupil a good man.” (Rehabilitations, 83) And in “Our English Syllabus”, he reminds us that “the purpose of education has been described by Milton as that of fitting a man to perform justly, skillfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.” (Lewis, 81) The purpose of education is for the order of the soul of the person, that is, conforming the soul to reality. This entails the perfection of the intellect through the virtue of prudence, and the direction of the will and appetite by that reason, guided by temperance and fortitude. The result of this first end is then the just man; this is what the educator is hoping to produce.
For Aristotle, too, education involves the whole person, that he might be virtuous, and thus happy. In the Politics he writes: “we must ask whether education should proceed by means of reason or by the formation of habits. Certainly these must chime in perfect unison; for it is possible to make an error of reason about the best principle, and to find oneself equally led astray by one’s habits.” (Politics, 1334b6) In fact, Aristotle stresses that the passions must be trained before the intellect. For the just man is the one who has harmony within his whole being, whose intellectual development mirrors and is supported by moral virtue.
It is from a Christian perspective, however, that I find Mr. Brown’s conclusions most disagreeable.
My philosophy of education has been greatly influenced by Jesuit pedagogy, so perhaps I am biased. Nonetheless, I find St. Ignatius of Loyola brilliant in this account. His Ratio Studiorum is a masterpiece of humanist educational ideals, and the methods and rules he lays out in his Constitutions for the curriculum and governance of the colleges are inspiring. As is characteristic of this saint, he maintains the central theme of the Exercises throughout the entire rule: that man was created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by these means to save his soul.
The masters should make it their special aim, both in their lectures when occasion is offered and outside of them too, to inspire the students to the love and service of God our Lord, and to a love of the virtues by which they will please him. They should urge the students to direct all of their studies to this end. (Constitutions, )
In reference to the interior state one should have pertaining to the labor of study, Ignatius directs his young scholastics as such:
In order to make good progress in these subjects, the scholastics should strive first of all to keep their souls pure and their intention right, by seeking in their studies nothing except the glory of God and the good of souls. Moreover they shall frequently beg in prayer for grace to make progress in learning for the sake of this end. ()
An authentically Christian education must be one that puts a priority on religious education and especially theology. In his essay “Modern Education,” T.S. Eliot writes, “as only the Catholic and communist know, all education must be ultimately religious education.” “As the world at large becomes more completely secularized, the need becomes more urgent that professedly Christian people should have a Christian education, which should be an education both for this world and for the life of prayer in this world.” (Eliot, Selected Essays, 459) The Catholic historian Christopher Dawson similarly states that “Christian education should be an initiation into a universal spiritual society; the community of the civitas Dei.” (Dawson, Crisis of Western Education, 149)
Indeed it seems more than clear that for an education to be authentic, it must be directed toward the whole person. This by no means denigrates the importance of intellectual formation, nor the truth that knowledge is good in itself. Our main vocation as university students, as St. Ignatius often pointed out, is to labor in study. We are here to learn, and it is when we are giving ourselves completely to the intellectual life that the Divine Majesty is most pleased. But it must be a learning and a study that forms the whole person, that leads us to a greater life of virtue, to a truer happiness, to a more authentic human life, and most importantly, one that imparts to us the desire to pursue the Truth. St. Bonaventure said it best in his On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology:
And this is the fruit of all sciences, that in all, faith may be strengthened, God may be honored, character may be formed, and consolation may be derived from union of the Spouse with the beloved, a union which takes place through charity: a charity in which the whole purpose of Sacred Scripture, and thus of every illumination descending from above, comes to rest—a charity without which all knowledge is vain because no one comes to the Son except through the Holy Spirit who teaches us all the truth, who is blessed forever. Amen. ()
Matthew Fish, Sophomore Philosophy/English major