Four Reasons Why “Does Nature Act For An End?” Is A Very Good Question

Today I mean to simply to go straight to the point. There will be no interruptions and I won’t even be taking questions! I find that this is the only way to really get things done. Sometimes we like to defend the excellence of the Socratic method and the effectiveness of the seminar or discussion method in learning. But let’s face it. These methods are not really that effective when the object is merely to get things done. There is simply no greater obstacle to progressing through a text or a curriculum plan than allowing students to ask questions or examine one’s argument premise by premise. Well I suppose a tornado or an earthquake might cause significant interruptions, but these things are not half so threatening to a teacher’s sense of “getting things done” as eight or nine students who feel free to speak their minds when they please.

Photos: Tornadoes wreak havoc in Midwest | CNN

After rebuilding the school, I bet I could still get through more text, turn more pages and “cover more material” if we just jettisoned the discussion method! Sure maybe the discussion method is an effective way for a student to become actively engaged in his own education. Maybe allowing a student to speak and ask questions and make comments (relevant or even irrelevant) is an effective way to provoke his enthusiasm for knowledge and perhaps provoke deeper understanding and even real learning. Nonetheless, I still maintain that it is a very poor method for getting things done. And the terrible irony is this: After allowing students to speak freely and engage in discussion and intelligent “back and forth” and “two-way learning” (to use Adler’s expression) and Socratic-like debate, after provoking authentic interest in their minds for a subject by long examinations of even minor points and perhaps even trivial matters (of course “trivial matters” are arguably what an education in the Trivium and the liberal arts is all about!), after all this I say, students will be the first to point out at the end of the Fall semester,

“Hey… isn’t this a class on the Sacraments?… Well how are we supposed to get through all seven if we are still only half way through Baptism?

Isn’t this just the way of it? I almost blush to think how fast a student will “turn his back” on his poor teacher in pointing out the lack of progress-through-the-text simply because the teacher was suckered into the idea of provoking real learning! And is the student ashamed to draw attention to this “lack of progress” to his parents? No! How many students have carefully pointed out to their parents

Mom…Dad…the reason why our American History Class never made it past the North’s violent attempt to resupply Fort Sumter in 1861, was that we were really trying to understand step by step from a careful reading of the “Declaration” and the Constitution, and all relevant primary source material …of course all the time with spirited but amicable debate and discussion ….how the North could so brazenly betray the very principles of their own independence.”

No instead who gets crucified for what appears to be sheer incompetence in “making progress?” You guessed it. The poor teacher. Not that I am complaining or anything, I am simply pointing out the  fact that allowing students the intellectual liberty to speak at all is inimical to covering material! I have known some teachers who disagree. They say things like

“well one can have it both ways, in discussions, the teacher must be very vigilant in only allowing relevant points to advance. There must be a firm discipline in directing students to speak to the point succinctly etc… etc…”

Obviously this teacher knows nothing about real classroom discussions. “Relevant points”…”Succinct” … ha! or sometimes teachers will say

“I spend the first 35 minutes lecturing on important material that I want to cover and then I allow 5 minutes for a lively and spirited debate.”

Well that is just shameless. As if a discussion could happen in five minutes. In my experience it takes at least 30 minutes to simply make a question arise. To even make and issue seem discussable… worth discussing…interesting…arguable…this takes loads and loads of time.  The mind of the student, you must remember, is sort of like the mind of a bear in hibernation.

Study Shows How Bears Hibernate: What It Means for Science - TIME

And it certainly takes more than five minutes to provoke such a mind to vibrant discussion. But it is much easier to make progress when one is simply writing things down in a blog post such as this. The fact of the matter is that one gets to control the flow of the “discussion” more closely. As a result the flow of ideas, the thread of thought is easier to follow than in a real-time discussion, and, frankly, the ability to use images to advance a point can be a very powerful aid…like that bear for instance…isn’t “he” just like what you might imagine the mind of a student might look like, say, in the morning during those first period classes? About those four reasons… I would like to address this rather quickly, but now that I have considered it, I think it might be a mistake to attempt to present all four reasons simultaneously, and therefore I will attempt to only present maybe one or at most two reasons at a time.  But I will go ahead and mention that the reasons why “Does nature act for an end?” is an excellent question will be arranged as follows

  1. It is an extremely important question for the student of nature (i.e. the one who would like to know something about nature….maybe even the person that we call these days “the scientist!”
  2. It is an absolutely significant question for the Ethicist and for anyone who is living. (I suppose that would apply to all of us)
  3. It is a very good question for those who practice one of the arts that “aid nature” (e.g. doctors, midwives, logicians)
  4. It is an excellent question for the Theologian.

But this needs to be discussed at more length and certainly “wisely and slowly” as Friar Lawrence would advise.

About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www., former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
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11 Responses to Four Reasons Why “Does Nature Act For An End?” Is A Very Good Question

  1. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    Hmmm….that’s funny. I seem to recall that the Southern rebels (who had betrayed their own principles of democracy) fired on the Northern ships first. Traditionally whoever fires first is considered the aggressor.

    • Mark Langley says:

      And if a guest occupies my armchair and after some time refuses to leave when I request…and further invites two of his friends to join him and sit on my couch…and I take steps to prevent his friends from entering…does that make me the aggressor?

  2. Samster says:

    Gah! Those treacherous students! They have innate knowledge that the silver bullet in the battle against their own education is telling Mom and Dad “we haven’t flipped enough pages.” Send in the reinforcements!

  3. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    It’s not about guests. It’s about legitimate authority. If there are strangers shadowing you and following you around, then you might be justified in taking some action against them, depending on the circumstances. But if you are suspected of committing a crime and the police are shadowing you, and you shoot the policemen then you cannot justify your action because the police represent a legitimate authority (regardless of whether you are guilty of the suspected crime or not).

    • Mark Langley says:

      Yes indeed. It’s about legitimate authority. State sovereignty. The great American principle of “subsidiarity.” The ultimate right that each state retains, and never surrendered, to determine its own course as directed by the citizens of that state in whom sovereignty ultimately rests.

  4. Joseph Gonzalez says:

    The states determining their own destiny has nothing to do with the matter. The southern states rebelled because they heard that Lincoln won the presidential election. They believed that Lincoln would abolish slavery in their states despite the fact that Lincoln made it very clear that he would merely exclude slavery from the new territories. So basically the civil war happened because the southerners were sore losers and wanted to win the white house so that they could have as much slavery as they pleased. As I said, it was “betrayal of their principles of democracy.”

    • Mark Langley says:


      Tain’t true!

      And it wasn’t a rebellion!!

      And this discussion make my point clear about why it is unwise for any teacher to attempt teaching American History in a single year.

      My ideal is:

      Semester 1- Columbus to the end of the Revolution (approximately 1492 to 1783 or perhaps even 1785)
      Semester 2 – The seventy two year period when America existed under a constitution (1789 – 1861)


  5. An Educated Barbarian with well-formed Children says:

    Love that bear! I have a question, if the issue concerned enslaved men, would the aggressive actions of those citizens (since rebels is not a favored word selection of yours) after almost a century finally be seen in the light as brazenly betraying the very principles of their own Declaration of Independence?

    • Mark Langley says:

      Yes I would agree with that absolutely (i.e. Slavery definitely contradicts principles set forth in the Declaration)

      But does this mean that it belongs to a large Federal Power to correct the evil and thereby overstep the limits of its own very limited power and squash the sovereignty of the states?

      As an example of what I mean: What if the British Empire or the Spanish or French decided to invade the South in order to put down slavery?

      I think what happens in most people’s minds about this issue is that they are inclined to think that issues regarding an individual state’s authority and sovereignty are irrelevant when it comes to squashing an evil like slavery. And so we are ready to lean in favor of the one who oversteps his authority.

      The problem with this, in my view, is that we have to remember that the power by which a Federal Authority imposed its will on the states with respect to slavery is the very same power by which it can impose Education…Health Care…new and interesting definitions of Marriage… and need I say, may guarantee the “right to choose”…all contrary to what the citizens of this or that state might themselves prefer.

      Is this why the Revolution was fought? To exchange one great far away monolithic power for another far away monolithic power ?

      So at any rate…this is why I assert that the original idea of American government had something to do with “self rule” by a bunch of independently sovereign and free states but nonetheless united by some limited common interests under an extremely limited form of Government set forth in a very brief constitution that contained in explicit language the limited powers of the Federal Government.

  6. An educated barbarian with well-formed children says:

    Considering the problem in your view, “… the power by which a Federal Authority imposed its will on the states with respect to slavery is the very same power by which it can impose Education…Health Care…new and interesting definitions of Marriage… and need I say, may guarantee the “right to choose”…all contrary to what the citizens of this or that state might themselves prefer…” with my poorly phrased question, I would continue to assert that freedom from enslavement, is the original idea of American government, liberty being second only to life. But, a federal government imposing education/healthcare/new definitions of marriage all contrary to what the citizens of this or that state might preference, is government overstepping and leading to a fresh form of enslavement, but only a form, not a true enslavement.

    Additionally, you ask if a foreign power (i.e, England, France, Spain) decided to invade and put down slavery, what then? Then, would it not have placed the federal government at odds with itself? For example, if 40 of our 50 states decided not to defend against foreign invasion of those who know abortion and contraception are evil, when a foreign power threatened to “squash those supporting the evil”…would that be more in line with the original principles established in our Declaration of Independence?

    It, in my view, is not so clear cut about the legitimate sovereignty of the states because there was a breech in principles from the declaration’s inception.

  7. Mark Langley says:

    Well, after contemplating your intelligent reply and thinking about this some more, I guess I would challenge you about whether your statement that the original American idea was escaping from slavery or enslavement.

    I ask you to think about that again. It sounds good especially in hindsight … particularly with the hindsight after the Civil War which if nothing else did color our view of what America is.

    I have always maintained – and maybe this needs to be re-examined, because I don’t want to be accused of an inability to be convinced otherwise- that the original colonists and settlers were motivated by various motivations like land, “a better life,” the ability to practice one’s religion in the particular way that this or that group wants.

    I mean take a look at the pilgrims on the Mayflower…it was not as if they practiced a completely easy going kind of religion that did not make tough impositions on people… Or the colonists at Jamestown were not – as it seems to me – chiefly motivated by the desire to be free from slavery. To my knowledge none of them were slaves in the first place.

    But to be able to live in a community of one’s own making, governed by one’s own laws and regulations seemed to be an idea that steadily grew. I think the American idea is more something like “We don’t want to be governed by some far away power that doesn’t know the specific circumstances of our community.” Or ideas of “rugged individualism” …”independence” …”subsidiarity”

    Granted that slavery as an institution is opposed to these ideas!

    But is it conceivable to you that the Civil War was not primarily about slavery (though perhaps secondarily or certainly one big reason) but rather the war may have been fought because of those original ideas about self rule and about the idea of the states maintaining their own culture and institutions, laws, mores, and customs without outside interference (granted that at least one of these institutions was abominable)

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