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    Book Club: Ideas Have Consequences

    July 2, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    A quick note before I begin my entry for today, and that is that I will be taking a blogging break all week. We have company in town, plus the holidays. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the saddle next week. I hope all of you had a lovely weekend.

    I was so excited when Mystie offered to host a book club on Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time now. I read the Introduction twice, and I’m still having trouble deciding where to focus. There is so much to think about on every page! I hope that some of you are joining us–it’s not too late to buy the book!

    I’ll have to post quotes later; there is so much worth adding to my Commonplace Book.

    I suppose the logical focus for me is education, since I am spending this month prepping to start the new school year. There is a lot in the chapter about the decline of the West in regard to morality and ethics, but nestled in the midst of that is a unique observation:

    Naturally everything depends on what we mean by knowledge. I shall adhere to the classic proposition that there is no knowledge at the level of sensation, that therefore knowledge is of universals, and that whatever we know as a truth enables us to predict. The process of learning involves interpretation, and the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization, the more apt pupils we are in the school of wisdom.

    The paragraphs that precede this statement question the assumption that we moderns really “know” more than our predecessors. We assume that we do because we have seemingly acquired more facts, but here Weaver draws a distinction between facts and knowledge, which he equates with ultimate reality. One can only be said to know when one has become wise, and wisdom comes through knowing truths rather than facts, and these truths must be organized into generalizations which allow the student to predict, for without prediction there is no prudence.

    If all of that is true, then the easiest test of whether our culture really “knows” more than those who have gone before would be our level of wisdom and prudence, and since we very obviously fail that test, we must have failed at knowing, which means nothing less than that we have failed at education.

    I was fascinated with the idea that “the fewer particulars we require in order to arrive at our generalization,” the better. I hope that Weaver fleshes that out in future chapters.

    For now, I took comfort in the word “fewer.” I am trying to pare down a bit this coming year, not so that we can learn less, but so we can learn more. I mentioned my desire to coach my oldest in writing using the progymnasmata. Something like that takes time, and our schedule is already cramped. I think that paring down is the only solution. I hope that this is what Weaver meant by “fewer,” that we spend more time thinking more deeply about less.

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  • Reply Mystie July 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I look forward to reading about what your plan ends up looking like and how it goes throughout the year. I think the less, but more deeply, is firmly part of the classical tradition.

  • Reply Kelly July 2, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    By “fewer particulars” I think he meant that you don’t have to encounter a hundred and one (or even a dozen and one) instances of something before you recognize the pattern they’re part of. For example, if you’ve read lots of stories and you have lots of different characters stored up in your imagination you’ll be quicker to recognize a Lady Catherine de Bourgh when you meet her in real life and know how to handle her than if you had to meet dozens of officious people before you began to realize that there’s actually a “type” and that lots of people fit it. If that makes sense.

    Aside from that, I think your Less Is More plan is a good one. I’ve listened to Selby’s talk once and am going to have to listen to it again. I’m interested in using his method with my younger children — it’s something my older ones completely missed out on, and I really regret that. I had a friend who was using Imitations in Writing when my oldest was about ten years old, but I really couldn’t see the point. 🙁

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