There be dragons!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Anselm and the aim of education

In his Monologion Anselm states
The name “wisdom” does not suffice to show me that through which all things were made from nothing, and through which all things are preserved from returning to nothing. The name “essence” cannot express that which is far above...and beyond...all things. ...The supreme nature is ineffable, because it simply cannot be made known as it is by means of words. But a claim about the supreme nature, if one can be made that is dictated by reason and is stated indirectly –in a riddle, as it were- is not false.
On must work through something other than it. ...what one gets closest to knowledge of it through, is that which most closely resembles it...and the greater the resemblance and excellence, the more it helps and teaches.
Now... every essence is simliar to the supreme essence in so far as it exists... and...the rational mind (is) that which comes closest to the supreme essence in virtue of its natural essence. So then, the rational mind may be the only created thing that is able to rise to the task of investigating the supreme nature, but it itself is... that through which it may come closest to finding something out about it. ...the efficacy of the mind’s ascent to knowledge of the supreme nature is in direct proportion to the enthusiasm of its intent to learn about itself.
The mind, therefore, might be most appropriately called its own mirror. The mirror in which it
sees the reflection of that which famously, it cannot see “face to face.”
(Monologion 65 and 66)

Education is, then, like a mirror by which we see ourselves. Each study, whether it be math or science, language or history is not primarily to learn the subjects per se. Nor is it simply a practical exercise by which we perfect our skill to earn more. Rather, each study, contemplation, struggle with a discipline shows back to us something of who we are. We study science or math and learn our own limits and successes; our connection to scientific or mathematic principles; our place in them amidst the greater plan of the universe. We study language or history and learn our own facility for or weakness in each; the cultures of other men which reflect back to our culture; the capacity we have for loving or not loving a language, people or event; our own comprehension or lack thereof for language and history’s representational power and approximation of the truth. When we study anything we study ourselves. “Gnothi seauton,” said the Greeks, “Know Thyself.” Man is a riddle; a metaphor; a circumlocutory means by which we discover who God is. When we study ourselves we learn more about the source of our own being who is God. Thus by the struggle with subjects, even subjects we dislike or for which we have no natural propensity, we acquire a knowledge of who we are as individuals, and when we do this we peer into a mirror in which we see the reflection of Him Whom we cannot yet see “face to face.”

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