Wisdom is Liberal

Well I hate to say it, but the second (or third) characteristic of wisdom is that it is liberal. But of course we don’t mean ‘liberal’ as in ‘Teddy Kennedy liberal.’ We mean liberal as opposed to servile or what we would call today ‘mechanical.’

McBryde Hall

Wisdom is knowledge that is pursued for its own sake. One ought to repeat that idea in his head until it rolls out of the mouth with perfect ease- and not even a trace of embarrassed hesitation.

We Americans have many many virtues not the least of which is our national work ethic. Americans are known for their industry. Their rugged individualism and practicality. We are known for our enterprising and entrepreneurial-business-minded-get-things-done-efficiently attitude.

“The business of America is business”

quoth Calvin Coolidge – and even if he did say it on the eve of The Great Depression, nonetheless, I think he captures something of the American character.

Needless to say, coming from such a powerful American custom which places pragmatism as a priority and a chief value to be inculcated, I need hardly mention that the concept of doing something “for its own sake” is something of an embarrassment to red blooded Americans like me.

We tend to equate doing something for its own sake either with some sort of recreation (which is fine on the weekends or during a holiday), or with simply doing nothing at all (which is much to be frowned upon unless when sleeping).

The idea of seeking knowledge for its own sake appears to be an extravagance that perhaps is justifiable for the very wealthy, but certainly not for the middle class and by no means for the poor.

We mutter to ourselves “How does improving the mind for its own sake benefit anyone? How does it make the world a better place? What sort of amelioration to suffering mankind does it promote?”

Nonetheless, when I was growing up I was always taught to seek wisdom, like Solomon of old, and it turns out that wisdom is a kind of knowledge which is for its own sake.

A slave by definition is one who exists for the sake of someone beyond himself-the master (we simply allude to the fact and not to the morality of slavery), whereas a master is one who exists for his own sake. This is why every kind of knowledge which is ordered to something beyond itself is called “servile.”

Knowledge which exists for its own sake is liberal- and this is the kind of knowledge that wisdom is.

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in classical education, education, slavery, truth for its own sake, Uncategorized, Wisdom and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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