Restlessness

Almost all of the philosophical arguments I get in with intellectual-types are characterized by restlessness. As soon as anything gets proposed, people start immediately looking for counter- examples. I haven’t lived long enough to know how much of this is simply human nature and how much of it is a habit that modern schools, culture, TV, etc. have actively fostered. I suspect, however, that a large part of this is new- since other forms of education, the classical Liberal Arts, and the Greek Paideia, boasted that they would teach the student the sort of things he could rest in as certain, and the things he could not rest in as certain. The modern system seems to regard the educated man as the one who does not rest at all, but who rather can “see through” everyones pretense to knowledge: he is the debunker, the muckraker, the “author of the revolutionary new study that turns everything upside down…”, the “one who re-invents the whole discipline”, etc.

The irony of extreme criticism is that it is so extremely easy to critique: it can suffer a devastating refutation from the mouth of almost anyone who can speak. A smart ten year old can refute the liar paradox involved in “doubting everything”- and a high schooler can understand what C.S. Lewis is refuting when he points out that “to see through everything is the same as not to see”. But as soon as we refute the mode of thought so typical of modern times, we are left with the Greek Paideia or the Classical liberal arts: for from that point, the whole purpose of education is to distinguish what we know, and can rest in, from what we do not know, and therefore cannot rest in.

2 Comments

  1. February 22, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    Perhaps because what we rest in is not that restful.

  2. kodiak said,

    February 23, 2006 at 1:12 am

    I think there is a lot of truth to that.

    Tocqueville has much of worth to say on this score–but I’ll say that there is something intrinsically restless to democracy, because it makes no bones about the fact that it is not all there is. There is no rest in the regime. There is something fitting to this in that it makes us turn elsewhere–we don’t often make the mistake of thinking that we can rest in politics or in our country in order to satisfy our deepest longings. Heh.

    So we are left looking elsewhere, and since teachers teach lies and falsehoods these days, and accepting revelation is considered willful assertion and reason is considered irrational, we simply chip away at whatever stones we ought to be building with.

    Or distract ourselves into the oblivion of material things and stupid entertainment.


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