Liberal Education and Responsibility

"Liberal Education and Responsibility," Education: The Challenge Ahead, ed. C. Scott Fletcher, Norton, 1962.  Reprinted in Liberalism Ancient and Modern.


In the light of philosophy, liberal education takes on a new meaning: liberal education, especially education in the liberal arts, comes to sight as a preparation for philosophy.  This means that philosophy transcends gentlemanship.  The gentleman as gentleman accepts on trust certain most weighty things which for the philosopher are the themes of investigation and of questioning.  Hence the gentleman’s virtue is not entirely the same as the philosopher’s virtue.  A sign of this difference is the fact that whereas the gentleman must be wealthy in order to do his proper work, the philosopher may be poor.  Socrates lived in tenthousandfold poverty.  Once he saw many people following a horse and looking at it, and he heard some of them conversing much about it.  In his surprise he approached the groom with the question whether the horse was rich.  The groom looked at him as if he were not only grossly ignorant but not even sane: “How can a horse have any property?”  At that Socrates understandably recovered, for he thus learned that it is lawful for a horse which is a pauper to become good provided it possesses a naturally good soul: it may then be lawful for Socrates to become a good man in spite of his poverty.  Since it is not necessary for the philosopher to be wealthy, he does not need the entirely lawful arts by which one defends one’s property, for example, forensically; nor does he have to develop the habit of self-assertion in this or other respects–a habit which necessarily enters into the gentleman’s virtue.  Despite these differences, the gentleman’s virtue is a reflection of the philosopher’s virtue; one may say it is its political reflection.

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