Classical education has something to do with wisdom. It has something to do with becoming wise.
The classical scholars among you will undoubtedly recognize two litotes in that clever opener. Of course classical education has something to do with wisdom. Isn’t wisdom the very aim of a classical education? Why of course it is!
And so we continue a discussion of a very important matter concerning procedure, namely, concerning the pace which we should adopt towards wisdom. Should we race to wisdom as fast as we can? Should we run and leap towards wisdom like a greyhound pursuing a stag?
As it turns out, there are times when we need to go slow. There are times we need to go wisely and slow.
Today we will consider a fourth time (although the third in our list) that we should proceed wisely and slow, to wit,
Where there is a beginning small in size, but great in power.
Now this is an interesting thing to ponder. First of all, note the word “beginning.” That is a good English word. As a matter of fact it is a good Old English word.
Some of you would probably prefer to speak Latin when you are speaking English by using the word “principle” (principium, ii, n) or some other abstraction like “foundational concept” (conceptum, i, n) or “fundamental proposition.” (propositio, propositionis, f). Even though we (i.e. we at lionandox.com) have an attraction and a bias towards employing Latin whenever possible, we do think that one ought to avoid speaking Latin when one is in fact speaking English. Comprehendes-ne?
Therefore we will prefer good concrete English words (words like beginning rather than principle) that have soaked and marinated and stewed in our collective Anglo Saxon minds for centuries. What a beginning is, is clear to all of us English speakers. What a principle is, is just a little more murky.
A beginning is something that comes before something and nothing comes before it. A beginning is something from which something else proceeds; something else comes after.
Beginnings sometimes have very little to come after them. Other times a beginning might be the start of something very large, something very big.
Take the unit for example. That is a very powerful beginning. All number proceeds from one.
And the extraordinary thing about the unit is that the unit is not very big. No! The unit is actually quite small. As a matter of fact the unit is so small that it doesn’t even appear to have any size whatsoever. Whereas all of the numbers that proceed from the unit seem quite large in comparison.
Take 1,000,000 for example. How about 50,000,000! How about 100,000,000!
Now if all number proceeds from the unit, that is if one is the beginning of all number, then perhaps we ought to take some time to consider the unit very carefully.
We should proceed wisely and slow in our consideration of the unit.
Well quite simply if we make even a small mistake in the beginning our mistake will only be compounded and enlarged and magnified the further we proceed from the beginning. The philosopher, Duane Berquist writes,
Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas compare a little mistake in the beginning to taking the wrong way at a fork in the road. Although the mistake is small in the beginning, it becomes greater the further one proceeds.
Just imagine one who has not considered the unit carefully, what a piteous spectacle! Should he be mistaken about the unit and what it is, he must, perforce, spend an entire life dealing with all of those things called numbers which proceed from the unit being mistaken about every one of them. And as he counts he only adds one mistaken notion to another. Ugh!
Just such a piteous spectacle is the one who denies the unity of the unit and instead unwittingly, asserts its multiplicity by calling it (infandum!) a number!
But being mistaken about what the unit is and what numbers are will not necessarily interfere with his ability to calculate with extraordinary proficiency…should that be the sort of thing in which he finds delight! (O Tempora! O Mores!)
There are other important beginnings that we should consider carefully as well. Beginnings in our reason, beginnings in our will. Ignore them at your peril! Again Dr. Berquist:
Hence, one who does not consider a powerful beginning wisely and slowly will stumble more and more throughout all his subsequent thinking which is dependent on that beginning. Thus, the distinction of nature & reason and the distinction of nature & will underlie all or most of our knowledge. Hence, the misunderstanding of these beginnings in the modern philosophers has led to chaos in logic and in ethics, in our thinking and in our living.