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Re-Thinking Education

I have, relative to my own age and experience, long been a critic of academia. Just the other week, a friend reminded me of a late-night frustrated rant delivered in graduate school about the seeming hopeless prospects laid before us. Not only our chances to find meaningful employment, I claimed, but the whole structure is crumbling. The problems are entrenched in its very structure: it has become irredeemably ordered toward expedience, technical training, empty credentialing, pseudo-professionalism, consumerism, and disdainful of the methods through which true intellectual habits are formed, for these all are inconvenient to its model.

But worst of all, the gears of academia’s modern mechanism grind down those who most love its true (if largely abandoned) purpose: the pursuit and teaching of the truth. Many good professors stay in their positions despite academia: they love teaching and seeing their students get it; discovering truths new to themselves; being in a community of the like-minded. But to see these goods realized often requires a Herculean effort. Burdened with apathetic students and bureaucratic headaches, they are left with too little time. Job security eludes many, and most attain it only by sacrificing even more time to tasks even more tedious.

What are we to do? Give up and allow ourselves finally to become naught but ground-down dust—or abandon the academic intent altogether? Or… might we do something else? I believe in the third alternative. Allow me to explain; and allow me to be so audacious as to use poetry in offering an explanation of re-thinking education.

The Purpose of Education

Controversy over the topic of academic freedom seems to arise every so often. In recent years, the controversy has mostly concerned the policing of language and adherence to ideologies concerning individual identities. Popular figures—mostly those who have suffered somehow at the hands of relevant censorship—have made names for themselves by railing against this restriction of intellectual freedom. But the proponents of academic freedom often champion it as a kind of absolute principle. Behind their advocation stands a belief that, on a level playing field, truth will win out over falsity, and, therefore, academia should be a place where any idea can be stated.

But the “level playing field” does not ever exist.  Culture shapes students long before they enter the university and tends to maintain a hold on their thought throughout as well.  Moreover, even in the university, we live not by intellect alone.  A professor may have weak arguments, but a cool, commanding air about him; and he may be handsome.  The other, meanwhile, might have the best reasoning, but be physically ailing, old, unrelatable.  To which will the typical eighteen-year-old be more drawn?

Many academics accepted (contrary to the spirit of intellectual inquiry) that the academy was a place in which they could freely pursue whatever theory they wished.  To be sure, intellectual inquiry demands a looseness with respect to restraint.  But it does not merit total absence of any restraint.  It requires an antecedent purposiveness: that of being-towards-truth.  Put otherwise, freedom without purpose is not really freedom; and academic freedom not ordered towards the pursuit of truth (and the willingness to admit fault or uncertainty) is not a freedom anyone should possess.

In the absence of this unifying pursuit (behind which absence there lies another story too long to tell here), the “university” (to which name it no longer merits a claim) turns to purposes inhuman and inhumane: primarily, the diversion of its resources into the training of functionaries.  This perversion of aim runs deep.  It infects university presidents and deans, board members and trustees, hiring and curriculum committees, and branches out systemically through every vein of the increasingly-bureaucratic institution.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats 1919: ”The Second Coming”

W.B. Yeats’ poem—perhaps his most famous—“The Second Coming” expresses this reality, most especially in its first stanza.  The university has lost its center and all culture falls apart.  If governments and corporations seem increasingly totalitarian, this comes as a response (a poor one) to an anarchy in the human soul: a loss of principle and a corresponding loss of order.  The world seems bleak… and we lack the education to make it right again.  Many, I think, anticipate the “rough beast”—war, plague, famine, destruction of all civil order; a purging fire—with trepidation, anxiety, but also a sense of relief.  Let it all be over.

Slow Build of a New Approach

Like many, I do not find myself often brimming with optimism about the world.  Things do, indeed, appear bleak.  But it is historically myopic to believe this bleakness an abnormality.  If we find the world seeming dark today, perhaps this is because we have never been able to see so much of it in so short a time.  All the worst news rains down upon us in a constant barrage.  Tragedy, strife, and suffering can be delivered instantaneously around the globe.

Good things, on the other hand—truly good things—take time for their fruits to ripen.  As such, we can seldom see them at an instant.  We must observe them closely and across months, years; perhaps even decades or centuries.  The immediacy of the bad and the long, slow unfolding of the good, no doubt, frustrates our contemporary minds.  Habits of immediate gratification have seized us all.  We lack the patience to wait and watch, to see the good through from seed to fruit.  But our impatience is unbecoming.  The realization of the good is and ought to be slow.

Why “ought”?  Perhaps that assertion evokes a knee-jerk reaction, an objection.  But from where?  What within us objects to the notion that the good ought to be slow?  Most likely, it arises from that aforementioned habit of immediate gratification.  Yet do we truly see the good of things gained immediately?  Or do we not, and rightly so, appreciate more the things hard-won?  Deep and abstruse philosophical questions emerge here: questions concerning act and potency, virtue and human habits.  We’ll not tackle them at the moment (for, indeed, they cannot be tackled at a moment—for understanding them is a true good).  Succinctly stated, however, the world which we inhabit requires toil by its nature.  It is fitting that we toil to bring forth the good.  We may not like this truth; but we will be much more at peace with the world if we recognize and accept it.

Doubtless, we find ourselves frustrated with the state today of academia.  We want a quick solution—just as we might wish to become healthy or virtuous or more learned ourselves tomorrow.  Perhaps it seems the most expedient path to recovery lies with the already-extant institutions.  Universities have buildings, of course, and funding, and faculty; accreditation and curricula, degrees and name-recognition.  But they no longer have credibility because they no longer have purpose.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas 1947: “Do not go gentle into that good night”

And purpose, of course, is also a true good.  We cannot “hand it back” to the university, held as it is by the perverse order entrenched in every level of its existence.  Purpose in education must be grown again, slowly, painstakingly, day by day, month by month, year by year.

Put otherwise, the answer is not, as Dylan Thomas would have it, to “rage against the dying of the light”; but neither is it to “go gentle into that good night”.  The sun is setting on the university, and it may be a long darkness to follow. But there will be a dawn, and we, in the meantime, may hold a candle.  One flame may beget another, and that second beget a third, and so on—but we should not try burning down the house just to make a briefer, brighter light.  An educational institution cannot be created in a single day. We have our purpose. But we will build that fire slowly.

Help Keep the Flame

Alright—just as I am not often brimming with optimism, neither am I often this melodramatic.  The flame is a metaphor, of course, for what I hope the Lyceum Institute is, and will be.  And, of course, I hope that you will help keep it going: either by donating or, even better, by supporting us through enrollment (or purchasing our “manifesto”). Re-thinking education requires a slow building of habit. We are planting the seeds. We hope you will help us bear the fruits: this year and next, this decade and the following, throughout this century and beyond.

[2022 Summer] An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture

As the world grew into and through modernity, and technology shrank the distances between centers of civilization, the very nature of culture itself became an explicit philosophical question: most especially when technology produced in the wider reaches of communication something akin to a “global consciousness”: an awareness of people and their cultures all across the world. But all too often, this awareness of culture has not resulted in an understanding of culture—and thus, this has extended into a mistreatment of cultural goods.

A new civilisation is always being made: the state of affairs that we enjoy today illustrates what happens to the aspirations of each age for a better one. The most important question that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own. We have to admit, in comparing one civilisation with another, and in comparing the different stages of our own, that no one society and no one age of it realises all the values of civilisation. Not all of these values may be compatible with each other: what is at least as certain is that in realising some we lose the appreciation of others. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression. We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.

T.S. Eliot 1948: Notes Toward a Definition of Culture.

In this seminar, we shall introduce the philosophy of culture, defining what culture is and where the study of culture fits into philosophy. We will then explore how there exists a speculative dimension to the philosophy of culture (i.e., explaining how culture exists in reality through human subjectivity and how it is determined by human nature), as well as a practical dimension (i.e., cultural values). After establishing the principles of this study, we will then look to its application to Western culture, in particular, the transition between the three major epochs of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity. We will then analyze modern culture in particular with an eye toward its trajectory into the next age. Finally, we shall conclude with a practical examination of what the philosophy of culture (as we have studied throughout the course) tells us about the present age and our expectations in this life.

June 4—30 July
Saturdays, 2:00-3:00pm ET /
6:00-7:00pm UTC

Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will engage a broad range of literature discussing the nature, praxis, and historical epochs of culture in the Western world as well as cast an eye toward its future. The instructor for this seminar is Francisco Plaza, PhD, Faculty Fellow of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Plaza here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.


IO2S Deely – Marginal Spaces of the City

On 2 April 2022, Olga Lavrenova presented on “Marginal Spaces of the City: Structures and Images”. Olga Lavrenova (1969), is a Russian geographer, philosopher, historian. She is a leading researcher of the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (INION RAN, in Russian), professor at the National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) and at the GITR Film and Television School. She is also Deputy Director for Science at the Nicholas Roerich Museum of the International Centre of the Roerichs, President of the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time (IASSp+T, Switzerland), and Honorary Member of the Russian Academy of Arts. Recipient of a Fulbright (2021) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Texas at Austin. Author of over 180 publications, including the monograph: Spaces and Meanings: Semantics of the Cultural Landscape (Springer, 2019). She is the author of the long-term interdisciplinary scientific project “The Geography of Art” (since 1992, 10 collections published and 7 conferences held). The project considers the territorial problems of culture and art, reflected in the art of the geographical space, the role of regional factors in the formation of art schools and artworks. Particular attention is given to topics such as artistic perception of the cultural landscape, the place of art in shaping the cultural landscape and the image of the territory, as well as the concepts of space in works of art. She is also the author of the long-term interdisciplinary scientific project “Russia and the East: the interaction in art” (since 2018, 2 conferences held and 1 collection published).

Commentary is provided by Tiit Remm, researcher in semiotics and director of curricula in semiotics at the University of Tartu.

2022 International Open Seminar on Semiotics (IO2S) | Website

This collaborative international open scientific initiative and celebration is jointly organized by the Institute for Philosophical Studies of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the University of Coimbra, the Lyceum Institute, the Deely Project, Saint Vincent College, the Iranian Society for Phenomenology at the Iranian Political Science Association, the International Association for Semiotics of Space and Time, the Institute for Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Semiotic Society of America, the American Maritain Association, the International Association for Semiotic Studies, the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies and the Mansarda Acesa with the support of the FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of the Government of Portugal under the UID/FIL/00010/2020 project.