A few striking quotes from Mary Midgley's book Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing follow. (See the 10 May 2000 ^zhurnal entry for other Midgley comments.)
From Chapter 5, "The Use and Uselessness of Learning", on the value of a broad education:
... Gaining knowledge is not just collecting and storing facts, but becoming trained in handling them. We need practice in using may different methods, so that an effective education needs to mention whole ranges of facts that are quite different from those among which a student is liable to live and work. The reason why those in their final years at school may be asked to study Othello and the differential calculus and the geography of the Antarctic is not that anyone expects them to confront Renaissance Italians doing mathematics at the South Pole, but to develop their general understanding of the world they live in. They are being supplied with a set of rough maps --- physical, emotional and intellectual --- of central ranges of human experience, maps which they will later extend, refine and fill in for themselves.
When shortages loom, educational authorities naturally try to prune away all teaching that is not part of a direct training for work, work that society will value enough to pay wages for. But if the general development of people's faculties is neglected beyond a certain point, they often become too depressed, alienated and discouraged to take in even the narrow training that can make them fit for this work. The general power of receiving particular trainings constructively is itself something which needs its own kind of training and cherishing.
Adolescents who have not managed to develop these faculties in the course of education will develop them on their own, and will insist on finding a meaning for their lives on lines which may indeed be valuable, but may also range from soccer hooliganism through bizarre religious and political movements to drug-taking, despair and suicide. Less dramatically, they may just give up and retreat into dull inertia. Although there are limits to what education can do to put meaning into people's lives, it must surely be part of the business of educators to help people to make sense of the world around them, and so to find ways of life that are acceptable to others and also worthwhile for themselves. To treat this function as a mere luxury would imply a very strange idea of usefulness.
From the same chapter, on the "Two Cultures" tiff between the sciences and the humanities:
This whole feud has been doubly disastrous. Scientists have tended to lose confidence and interest in the studies which might have linked their own work to the rest of life such as the history of science. Humanists meanwhile, by remaining ignorant of science, have lost an apprehension and admiration of the physical world which ought, by their own standards, to form at least as central a part of their equipment for life as the knowledge of human history. Human history itself cannot be properly understood without some grasp of the workings of the physical world in which its dramas are played out. But beyond this (as philosophers as well as scientists have stressed), natural science is for its students an enlightening vision, a form of contemplation which, equally with the arts, can properly serve as the centre of a full human life. Goethe was --- deservedly --- as famous in his own day for his pioneering work in comparative anatomy as for his poetry. Aristotle, Descartes and Kant shared this wider vision with Darwin and Einstein, and its loss from our local humanistic tradition has been a disaster.
And from Chapter 7, "Freedom, Feminism and War", in commenting on "...the easy game of blaming men..." for the unhealthy hyper-competitive nature of our society:
Another trouble about blame is that, even where it is entirely appropriate and even necessary, it is inclined to be a barren, counter-productive proceeding. Blaming is an addictive habit and addiction to it is depressingly bad for the character. No doubt it serves to soothe cognitive dissonance, as other rousing group activities do. But we do not want just to soothe that dissonance. We want to sort out the issues which underlie it.
Thursday, June 01, 2000 at 15:11:21 (EDT) = Datetag20000601