Wisdom leading to virtue is the only liberal art

posted in: classical | 3

I am making slow, slow progress through The Great Tradition: Classical Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being is a collection of the writings about education from Plato to the modern era, the writings that have informed the development of western civilization and classical education.

Today is one final quote from Seneca, Roman statesman living in the time of Christ and Nero, whom the medievals and John Calvin read with respect.

Liberty requires wisdom.

But there is only one really liberal study – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom.

In our talk of classical education or a liberal arts education, we must keep our definitions and our aim in view. The liberal arts boil down to studying wisdom. Wisdom comes to us in many forms, and the liberal arts are concerned with wisdom in all its forms – not mere information or raw skills. It is knowledge with purpose, knowledge with application for all of life.

We want to possess wisdom and act on it. That brings liberty of mind and conscience.

Charlotte Mason agreed – gasp• – with this classical educator. She wrote in *School Education that we should perhaps find a new word for education which means ‘applied wisdom.’ And what is wisdom?

wisdom is the science of relations and the thing we have to do for a young human being is to put him in touch, so far as we can, with all the relations proper to him. – Charlotte Mason

And what is the result of the pursuit of wisdom?

Fulness of living, joy in life, depend, far more than we know, upon the establishment of these relations. – Charlotte Mason

Seneca developed this aspect in its opposite form, and described those who pursue the liberal arts for the information and skills alone (the Poll-Parrots, perhaps?):

This unseemly pursuit of the liberal arts makes men troublesome, wordy, tactless, self-satisfied bores; who fail to learn the essentials just because they have learned the non-essentials. – Seneca

Charlotte Mason likewise wrote:

It cannot be too often said that information is not education.

It cannot be too often said that information is not education. –Charlotte Mason
The result of an education in wisdom is a resilient integrity which knows what should be done and has the strength of mind and body to do it.

It is not information, but applied knowledge. With this sort of education in wisdom, rather than a student who is tactless and troublesome, we will have a vital and vigorous youth:

We want him till he is twelve or fourteen, if we may not have him longer. You may do what you like with him afterwards. Given this period for the establishing of relations, we may undertake to prepare for the world a man, vital and vigorous, full of living interests, available and serviceable. I think we may warrant him even to pass examinations, because he will know how to put living interest into the dullest tasks. –Charlotte Mason

Likewise, Seneca wrote:

It is at the cost of a vast outlay of time and of vast discomfort to the ears of others that we win such praise as this: “What a learned man you are!” Let us be content with this recommendation, less citified though it be: “What a good man you are!”

After all, virtue is the goal of education.

I’d love for you to share your thoughts on these quotes in the comments.

But there is only one really liberal study – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom. –Seneca
Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.

My Book Bag


GTYAWYLSWB
* A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson
* The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble + Start Here: A Journey Through Charolotte Mason’s 20 Principles by Brandy Vencel with an online book group
* You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith (hardback)
* The History of the Ancient World by Susan Wise Bauer (Audible audio)
* Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Get more great quotes & recommendations at ladydusk’s Wednesday with Words!

3 Responses

  1. Allison
    |

    Mystie,
    I’ve loved your series this year (and have found myself replaying some of the nuggets throughout the week). Thanks so much for helping guide us through these deep waters!
    Allison

  2. Catie
    |

    I think it’s interesting that Mason said, “We want him till he is twelve or fourteen, if we may not have him longer.” I feel like nowadays and especially in our culture, we expect less and less of our younger children in terms of what ideas they can grasp–which is so wrong, obviously! It’s one of the many things I love about a CM education; the idea that children are much more capable than we tend to think!

    I, too, am enjoying this series. :)

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