Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Norms & Nobility, chapter 1, IV

The conclusion to chapter 1 is so rich, I could happily write more pages about my thoughts on it than David Hicks wrote in the first place. But that would be a bad idea. Instead, I'll focus again on one key thought because it meshes almost exactly with something that Charlotte Mason tells us.

David Hicks defines "dialectic" thinking in this way: "Dialectic is simply the form of the activity of thinking: the mind's habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating inside and outside itself and of engaging in a desultory dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved."

He's going to say a lot more about it later, but you get the picture--an internal dialogue in which the mind proposes questions, or discovers them elsewhere, and asks itself to work out an answer, going back and forth internally, seeking a resolution of ideas.

And in more than one place, Charlotte Mason tells us, "the mind can know nothing but what it can produce in the form of an answer to a question put by the mind to itself. ..." She said that she received the quote from a "philosophical old friend," but was unable to trace it to its source. I've never found a source, either, but she says that she became more and more convinced of the truth of that statement. And what is it, but a slight variation of Hicks' definition of dialectic? Classical inquiry requires this kind of thinking to become deliberate, and it is through this kind of thinking that the question will arise, "what ought I to do?" about the knowledge thus acquired, and only from there can the possibility of right action resulting from right thinking begin.

There's a lot more in this little section, of course, but I can't resist the opportunity of calling attention to CM's grasp of this oh-so-classical way of thinking.


Okay, one more thought, because I am a little concerned that my latin-is-not-a-prerequisite-for-education-in-the-classical-tradition stance is causing distress where I don't want it to. David Hicks points out at the end of this section that although the classical educators agreed on the purpose of education, they were divided as to how it should be carried out. There were two basic positions, and Hicks points out that each made use of the strengths of the opposition in their own case. But he says this: "Philosophical and rhetorical learning--as two rival approaches to education--enriched classical culture without disturbing its profound unity." There are essentials, and there are non-essentials. Classical education has room for various approaches.

For instance, here is one of my favorite quotes from Augustine's "On Christian Doctrine," from the section in which he is discussing the value of classical training (oratorical training, as the Romans viewed it) to Christians.

And, therefore, as infants cannot learn to speak except by learning words and phrases from those who do speak, why should not men become eloquent without being taught any art of speech, simply by reading and learning the speeches of eloquent men, and by imitating them as far as they can? And what do we find from the examples themselves to be the case in this respect? We know numbers who, without acquaintance with rhetorical rules, are more eloquent than many who have learnt these; but we know no one who is eloquent without having read and listened to the speeches and debates of eloquent men. For even the art of grammar, which teaches correctness of speech, need not be learnt by boys, if they have the advantage of growing up and living among men who speak correctly. For without knowing the names of any of the faults, they will, from being accustomed to correct speech, lay hold upon whatever is faulty in the speech of any one they listen to, and avoid it; just as city-bred men, even when illiterate, seize upon the faults of rustics.

Isn't that great? He is saying that continual exposure to the best use of language allows us to acquire the talent of using language both correctly and eloquently, without even studying the minutia of grammar. Augustine was both classically educated, and an educator himself--his observations led him to believe that exposure to excellent speech would result in eloquence, without formal training. The same principle may be applied to writing--excellent writers may be developed from continual exposure to the best writing, coupled with deliberate attempts at imitation. This isn't "traditional" classical education, but it is a legitimate approach to classical education, which can be supported by authors like Augustine and Erasmus. Oh...and Charlotte Mason. ;-)


At 8:18 PM , Blogger Jami M. said...


I'm so glad that you've been blogging about N&N along with Cindy. I am particularly enjoying how you see Charlotte Mason's ideas mirroring Hicks'. I do not think I would have made these connections on my own. And I'm looking forward to digging into Mason's books again once we finish with N&N.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home