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On Education and Its Institutions

The contemporary controversy concerning education centers around the institutions tasked with providing it.  We ask ourselves what curricula should be implemented, what teaching methods are most effective, and how governmental agencies can assist in the growth of educational institutions—we debate the morality of teachers and their influence, the rights to speech and questioning, the difficulty of grading and assessment and so on and on.  All too rarely, especially as these disputes intensify, do we pause to question our presuppositions concerning the true nature and purpose of education itself.  Indeed: long is it overdue that we turn our gaze away from the institutional structure and instead towards the individual, the family, and especially the parents who themselves are not only the first teachers of their children, but who ought to teach them always—who ought to be models from which their children learn throughout life.

This is not to deny the necessity of educational institutions—not only as pragmatic necessities for parents who cannot afford to homeschool but also for higher learning of every kind.  Yet, though necessary, institutions will always be insufficient.  We cannot outsource or offload the responsibility for education to any institution or collection of institutions.  Institutions are lenses that help bring clarity and focus; but they are not the light.

Real Education

Education, as any experienced educator knows, consists in guiding rather than informing; in fostering the right questions rather than the correct answers.  Intellectual nourishment, however, requires a holistic approach.  Going to the gym five days a week will do relatively little for one’s health if all other hours of the day are marked by constant consumption of junk food and buttery baked goods.  So too, the best teaching in school cannot eradicate contrary examples given at home—nor, for that matter, should this be required.  For the student to see his parents’ leisure hours consumed whole by television or distractions encourages inheritance of the same infertile habit.  Every human being signifies to every other not only through words and actions, but by the virtues and vices cultivated in one’s person.  We not only think through signs; we are ourselves symbols, signifiers of the truths and goods in which we believe, shown through our actions.

Thus, we must reorient our perspective on education: the foundation—the first symbol by which its merit is conveyed to the child and spread throughout the culture—cannot be found in the institution but rather only within the household and particularly in parents aflame with their own love for wisdom and learning.  This love becomes a first spark in the lives of children—to be focused and brightened by the lenses of educational institutions.  But they can neither start nor maintain that fire.

Communal Lights

This love of learning and discovery passed from parent to child need not be of abstruse topics—neither metaphysics nor science, theological controversy nor philosophical dialectic—but can be rooted in the very life of the home: in the tradition of family, in the cultivation of land, in the play of language through story and invention.  Principally, this love must kindle the natural desire to know, that sits at the heart of every human being.  That parents may seek development of their own higher education, of course, serves all the better, for this demonstrates that learning not only satisfies curiosity or amusement, but that it requires discipline, and that this discipline earns the soul richer rewards. 

By showing this intellectual discipline to children—and, indeed, one’s whole community—the parent (or even the unmarried and childless adult) exposes the lie that education after childhood constitutes a mere hobby or pastime.  At the Lyceum Institute we aim to provide a digital community which supports this continued pursuit of learning—as, indeed, education always is enriched by being shared with others.  In fact, no education occurs alone; it is handed down by ourselves and by others and flourishes thereby, through books and records of findings and thought.  But a living engagement takes it further: brings it into the life possible only through conversation, through disputation, through real questioning. Community, structured by an institution, helps shape the lens through which the lights of learning shine brighter.

We would love for you to join us.

The Practice of Philosophy in a Time of Loneliness

Brian Jones (PhD candidate, University of St. Thomas, TX) delivers a thoughtful lecture on how the practice of philosophy in our time of loneliness can sustain and elevate us throughout the present crisis and the threat it poses to the world. Jones draws on the thought of Alexis De Tocqueville, Byung-Chul Han, James V. Schall, and many others. You may now listen to the full lecture below—and if you enjoy, please consider donating to the Lyceum! Your donations allow us to continue supporting academics like Mr. Jones in their pursuit and promulgation of the good and true.

You can download the lecture using the three-dot menu at the right! – Brian Jones on the Practice of Philosophy in a Time of Loneliness.

ABSTRACT: The COVID-19 pandemic and the destructive mitigation responses to it have certainly placed a heavy existential weight on democratic citizens. The social, political, and economic chaos of the past two years has profoundly disorienting. In the midst of such an unprecedented response, we are right to wonder about the very endurance of our modern liberal democratic regimes. The current crisis, however, is not the result of the pandemic. Rather, the general Western response to the pandemic has exacerbated certain social and political conditions present prior to the arrival of the virus. The pandemic has merely escalated an already existing form of disintegration. While there are many features of this present crisis, one that is most acutely felt and witnessed is a cultural condition which tends to incline citizens towards thoughtlessness.

What Is Wrong with the World?

“What’s wrong with the world?”  Countless thinkers have asked this question, especially over the past century-plus, and they have asked it over and over again; to the point that few in recent years seem to ask it any longer, even for the purpose of adopting the thinnest veneer of rhetorical posturing.  No. Today, almost everyone seems pretty well-decided about what is wrong in the world. As such, their questions aim at means to rectifying those wrongs rather than at understanding what they are.

Taking such an aim ignores, however, that most hold only opinions about what is wrong, for very few hold any knowledge about what is right.  Not knowing what is right—and by knowing is meant not merely “feeling” something to be right or wrong, but being able to articulate what causes the act or practice to be good or bad—we can only react to certain things as wrong.  The reaction might be correct (that is, appropriate) or incorrect (inappropriate).  Someone might react, for instance, with disgust at exposing children to sexually-suggestive performances.  Someone else might laud this exposure.  The former is correct; the latter, not.  But if the former reaction cannot be explained, cannot be grounded in a causal explanation, it will have difficulty justifying itself in a world where the sense of the natural has been evaporated in a cultural confusion, in a culture which has grown increasingly separated from the ordination of nature itself.

Aristotelian Revival

To ask, then, “what is wrong with the world?” one will receive a myriad of answers based on feelings—some of which answers may be correct, others which may be incorrect; but the grounds for both will appear almost equally instable in efforts at communication.  The only means of resolution, then—when confronted with the inevitable conflict between opposed reactions—becomes violent conflict.  But such a resolution is, at best, temporary.  New differences of reaction will arise, even under (perhaps especially under) the most totalitarian and authoritarian of regimes.

What then, are we to do?  Where does the answer lie for our cultural conflicts?  It lies, as suggested, in an understanding of the good (i.e., that in accordance with which a course of action is right).  We can do no better than to begin by returning to Aristotle. We must rediscover his wisdom, and strive as best we can to understand the truths he reveals as they illuminate our struggles today. Chiefly, Aristotle teaches us the necessity of virtue. This rediscovery of virtue should not, as some would understand it, require a “strategic retreat” from the world. Rather, the rediscovery teaches us how to live in a world that might hate us for our virtues—and love us in spite of that hatred.

Virtue of Community

Last year, I read (among many of his works), Byung-Chul Han’s Disappearance of Rituals. At the very outset of the text, Han writes:

Rituals are symbolic acts.  They represent, and pass on, the values and orders on which a community is based.  They bring forth a community without communication; today, however, communication without community prevails.

2020: Disappearance of Rituals, 1.

Doubtless, we can observe the absence of ritual readily in the prevalence of communication without community. Such communication, arguably, fails even to be communication in truth. Indeed, Han here evokes the specter of paradox. There cannot be community without communication. A community coalesces around something common, which does not come into being without communication.  But the exaggerated point remains valid: that distinct, particular acts of communication are not needed when there exist rituals which contain that commonality and communicate it to the community. Explicit linguistic communication finds itself required less when ritual has already established commonality.

Ritual requires definition, of course—and defense of such a definition exceeds the intent of this post. But succinctly, we might say that every ritual comprises an external habit. There may be private or internal elements as well, of course; but rituals are performed. As such, they concern a holding of oneself with respect to the world.

I believe it would do much good if we could see that good rituals result from virtue. Perhaps we can identify—causally—that the absence of true community constitutes something wrong with the world today. Perhaps, recovering virtue, we can recover true community.

Virtue: Ethics

What does it mean to be good as a human being? Modernity, all too often, has treated this as a problem to be solved. That is, we tend to view moral failings as simply in need of the right solution, the right education, the right program. Morality, however, is something that belongs to the individual. It is a matter of internal habit, not a matter of an external system.

A Vision of the Good

The following is a summary of key points raised in our weekly Philosophical Happy Hour discussion of 9 November 2022 during which we discussed the lacking vision of the good in our contemporary society.

Ideologies and False Idols

Why do left-leaning progressive politics seem ascendant in the Western world? One does not need to dig deep into the past to answer the question. Simply stated: progressive ideology presents a credible, albeit vague, image of the good. It is motivated by a final cause, and therefore provides a purpose for its adherents. By nature, material comforts and pleasures attract us. So, too, does the idea of self-determination seize us: the ideal of pursuing freely whatever goods we find desirable. Even as it touts values like diversity, equity, and inclusion—and authoritarian means to their realization—progressive ideology uses these words to paint a utopian image.

Conversely, those identifying themselves as “conservative” appear as uninspired, motivated by no vision of the good but, at best, ideals of governmental non-interference. At worst, they appear as reactionaries—in possession of no reasoned belief, but stimulated by threats against their comforts. In the short-term, this may gain adherents and even stoke enthusiasm. But it does not produce an enduring image and results in only a brief movement. (One can see this, I believe, in the “MAGA” phenomenon.) Others may point to God or the afterlife, but—more often than not—such beliefs seem divorced from the real world.

Ideologies—whether enduring, as on the progressive side, or transitory, as on the conservative—draw adherents who lack integral habits of purposive living. This lack of purposive life makes itself felt most keenly in the experience of loneliness. As our ability to communicate declines, so too do our relationships with others. Increasingly, conditions of isolation envelope the Western individual (and perhaps especially the American). Simple ideological mantras, which do not require careful thinking, allow groups to feel united without having to communicate. Numbers of close friends decline; ideologies sweep up the lonely.

Discovering the Good in Speech

What can we do? There is no magic bullet. There is no easy solution. What we face is not a technological shortcoming, but an essentially human difficulty. Loneliness is not new. Arguably, everyone experiences it at some time, and in some degree. What resolves loneliness is being-with others in a properly human manner. This manner requires conversation: listening to one another, speaking to one another; writing to one another, reading one another. Real conversation attends to more than just the words, even as the words make it properly human. It attends to the person.

In our digital age, we must learn new habits for attending to persons. The screen reduces the reality of the other to a two-dimensional abstraction. We talk at one another, instead of with. Anything truly good is a good to be shared. It requires community. Atrophied linguistic abilities undermine our ability to form community, and therefore to discover the good. Think: when you receive good news, your first impulse is, most likely, to share it with others. If you cannot find anyone with whom that news can be shared, disappointment follows.

We at the Lyceum Institute talk often of community. While most of us possess some meaningful associations—family, religion, perhaps a few close friends—in close geographical proximity, we nonetheless recognize that we benefit from one another’s presence (even digitally). This benefit consists in our real conversation. We share ideas, humor, beliefs, struggles, and—most of all—a desire to grow in knowledge, understanding, and the love of wisdom.

It’s not perfect. But it is good.

This Week [5/24-5/29]

First: Summer Seminars are open! 

Science: On Being, Language and Reason, and Cause in Aristotle’s Organon

This seminar treats Aristotle’s methodology for coming to know reality in two parts. In the first part, to be led by Dr. Daniel Wagner, students will gain understanding of the primary terms for defining (Topics), the classification of the most general concepts of the intellect (Categories), and the method of reasoning used for defining beings, which Aristotle calls induction (ἐπαγωγή/epagoge) and division (διαίρεσις/diairesis and ἀνάλῠσις/analusis) (Posterior Analytics). In the second part, to be led by Dr. John Boyer, students will gain understanding of Aristotle’s method of deductive demonstrative reasoning and explanation by proper cause (αἰτία/aitia), which constitutes scientific understanding (Posterior Analytics).
[Click here for more]

Semiotics: An Introduction

Among the specific goals for the seminar are to understand the general theory of semiotics—as the study of the action of signs—which was founded in Charles Peirce and has since been developed; though we cannot truly grasp this notion of signs unless we first understand the categorical basis of Peirce’s thought, or his “phaneroscopy”; and by grasping this phaneroscopy, along with the general notion of “sign”, we will further pursue the goal of understanding how signs play a role in specifically human thinking.
[Click here for more]

Thomistic Psychology: World and Passions

Contrary to both [an extreme Stoicism and a libertine Humeanism], the Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective sees in the intellect and human body a hierarchical complementarity, for the passions are a means of receipt and response to the world—and especially the specifically human world—in which we live and by which we pursue our proper ends. Thus, understanding the dynamism of world and passions is essential to understanding the rectitude, and failures, of our passionate dispositions.
[Click here for more]

5/24 Monday

  • Quaestiones Disputatae – Inquirere (9:30-11am ET).  First of two May Inquirere sessions.  These sessions, lasting anywhere from 30-90 minutes, allow us to work out our questions communally in a live chat.  There are three ways in which someone may participate in an Inquirere session: as an Inquirer, as a Responder, or as an Observer. An Inquirer is seeking to define and develop a question.  A Responder brings updates to their question and works in a live dialectic on what updates have been brought.  Observers listen and comment on the inquiries and responses given.
  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.

5/25 Tuesday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (10:00-10:30am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!
  • Philosophical Happy Hour (5:30-7:00pm ET). Join us for drinks, conversation, lively debates, and get to know the Lyceum Institute and its members!  Open to the public: use the “Send Us a Message” form here (write “Happy Hour” in the message box) to join us on Teams!

5/26 Wednesday

  • Exercitium Linguae Latinae (2:00-2:30pm ET). Legemus ex Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata ut melioremus nostrum locutionem et augeamus familiaritatem vocabulis.
  • Quaestiones Disputatae – Inquirere (3:00-4:30pm ET).  The second of two May Inquirere sessions.

5/27 Thursday

  • Ex Sancto Thoma Legimus (10:00-10:30am ET).  Legemus ex Sancto Thoma et convertit in linguam Anglicam; practicum bonum et utile est!

5/28 Friday

  • Open Chat (9:30-10:30am ET). Our regular Friday-morning open chat, allowing conversation between those in the West and those in the East–bridging the international community of the Lyceum Institute.
  • Exercitium in Lingua Latina (11pm-12am ET).  Etiam exercitium in Lingua Latina!  Ista hora conveniens Orientalibus est (11am Manila time).

5/29 Saturday

  • Latin Class (10-11am ET).  Remanemus magistro et discipulis in ludo, dum docet et discunt… eh… alius discit sed alius queritur.  O puer improbus!