28 January 2009

Norms & Nobility, I

I'm currently rereading Norms & Nobilityas part of my plan to continue to educate and challenge myself regarding the specific vocations to which the Lord has called me.

It's going slowly, but that's a good thing.  I'm taking more time to contemplate what I'm reading - multum non multa, deeper instead of more.  A few years ago, I found it quite helpful to blog through my notes from CiRCE and I think I'll do the same for N&N.  This isn't an overtly Christian book, but much can be gleaned.  

From Chapter 1: 'Virtue is the Fruit of Learning':
The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and to act in accordance with what one knows.
While Mr. Hicks has just quoted Aristotle, I'm reminded of 'be ye doers of the word, not hearers only,' and 'for him who knows what to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.' 

Later on, as he develops the idea of the purpose of education by comparing the life of pleasure, the practical life, and the theoretic life (or the life of the mind):
The life of pleasure eventually fades and exasperates the pleasure-seeker because it is not a life that is sufficient unto itself.  Pleasure demands a never-ending list of luxurious accessories, the acquisition of which wears man down with work and worry.  In the end, the pleasure seeker becomes preoccupied with what he lacks to complete his picture of happiness; gratification never catches up with his desire, and consumption consumes the consumer.  By the same token, the practical life falls short of completeness.  The wealth one acquires in a business is a useful thing, but as such, it exists for the sake of something else. […]
Dr. Hicks then goes on to elaborate on the theoretical life, or the life of the mind.
So we arrive at the theoretic life - not to be confused, as Professor Burnet (1976) warns, with the contemplative or passive life.
'What Aristotle calls theoria is emphatically an activity.  The fact is that he includes a good many things in it which we are too apt to regard as wholly different, things of which we fail to realize as he did the fundamental identity.  In the first place, scientific research is theoria, and no doubt Aristotle was thinking chiefly of that.  But so too is the artist's life, so far as he is not a mere artificer, and so is all enjoyment of art and literature. So too is the life of the religious man who sees all things in God.'
Aristotle defends the theoretic life as the true end of education and the source of happiness.  One does not require more than the bare necessities in life to achieve happiness in thought, nor is the active life of the mind dependent upon inherently unequal endowments of nature.  One need be neither strong nor handsome, well-born nor gregarious, nay, not even brilliant to participate happily in the theoretic life. […] [T]he theoretic life is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek arete expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and reproduces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things.
I would add to that last paragraph: 'by the power of the Holy Spirit, because of gratitude for the Gospel of Christ, and to the glory of God'.  His definition of virtue reminds me of biblical fruitfulness.

I must keep reminding myself that it's not about how much I can cram into my children's heads, rather that I teach them (through example and precept) to act on what they know to be true, starting with the gospel from which everything flows.

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education


  1. I remember discussing this with A. K. when I first read this book, and we were outlining/discussing it on ClassEd. I made a similar comment about Hicks not coming from a Christian perspective per se, and A. K. was aghast, and assured me that Dr. Hicks would be horrified if he thought we thought that. :-) He encouraged me to stick with his argument: he lays groundwork first, and closes the deal in the following chapters :-) What a great book! Maybe I need to read it again, too!

  2. Chris,

    When I wrote that the book isn't 'overtly Christian', I didn't mean it wasn't written from a Biblical perspective, but that it wasn't written according to a specific and nowadays common structure: a presentation of the gospel, building self-consciously and overtly on that foundation to its conclusion.

    I do think it's Christian in that Hicks's underlying assumptions and presuppositions regarding the nature of man and thus the nature of educating that man are solidly biblical.

    The reason I included that comment above is that we seem, as a culture, to have lost our subtlety. If something isn't spelled out, we assume it's not there at all. (I've certainly been guilty of this in the past!) Instead we should think through the author's ideas, their implications and extensions, and draw conclusions from that mental activity.

    Since most books written from a Christian perspective are written according to that overt structure, I didn't want someone to pick up the book on my recommendation and then be shocked that the expected structure (which may provide comfort and an excuse not to think as deeply) was missing.

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