Saintly Thoughts

Musings Concerning a Liberal Education

I cannot help but wonder what lies at the heart of a general liberal education--by which I mean, of course, a liberal arts education.  What is it that we are trying to discover about ourselves?  To an extent, the question contains its own answer, that is the nature of the selves that we must discover.  But this answer is itself an elusive tautology, and insomuch as it tells us anything, tells us very little.  I wish to suggest something radical, which is likely to unsettle both the supporters and detractors of a general liberal education.  I wish to suggest that the ontology of a general liberal education...perhaps I should say something concerning such an education before I unveil my answer to the question of its ontological end (if you will allow me to speak in such terms).  I take a liberal education to be that which attempts to give, in broad strokes, an overview of the primary common trends driving the development of human civilization.  It will span the humanities and the sciences, require both empirical and speculative work, and engage the student in a rigorous dialectical process forcing them to face the truth of their own false foundations concerning the nature of existence.  So, with that brief description out of the way, I wish to suggest that the foundational principle of knowledge which we seek when we engage in this type of an educational regime is the nature of evil itself.  Do not misunderstand me, I do not mean to suggest that a liberal education itself is evil, far from it.  It is precisely because such an education is not evil that it is able to consider evil as such, for I suspect that one of the primary characteristics of evil itself is that it is not able to recognize itself as such.  Evil, of necessity, perceives itself as, if not good, then at least contingently necessary.  For evil to recognize itself without the veneer of human justification would be to despair of itself, and (perhaps) to despair of being itself, which is a state that is in and of itself evil.  If this surprises and unsettles you, remember that it is the first step into the knowledge of the self for many world religions and ethical systems to recognize the nature of evil or of imperfection in the self.  This process of education simply expands the search for the sources of sin (if I may be allowed to employ such an image) beyond the self and attempts to trace the paths of imperfection through the whole of human existence.  If you believe that this is a course of study that would better be left unconsidered, then you are a fool.  While I do not suggest that this is a path of study to which every human being should be urged, it is the most necessary course of studies for human beings because it is the basis of our primary selves (I do not mean to suggest that humanity is at its base fundamentally depraved and evil--though that is a logical possibility--only that evil {whatever said evil might be and whatever its ultimate source} is inextricably mixed in with all of our endeavors).  We may not--at least as yet--escape the grasp of this evil even if we tried, thus we must be trained to recognize its subtleties.  This is the nature of education in its purest mode...God help us all!