Classical Education’s Delight (Norms & Nobility Notes, ch. 1, II)

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Summary Narration of chapter 1, section II

The purpose of education is clearly expressed by Aristotle, for whom knowledge is an activity that makes us happy as we participate in truth, goodness, and beauty; all other activities support this theoretic life, a life of leisure.


Did you know that, historically, not only were the ideals of education and virtue intimately linked, but so was the ideal of happiness?

When our founders wrote that we have a right to the pursuit of happiness, they were drawing on the classical tradition, which firmly believed that happiness was tied to virtue, not to consumer goods.

Stating that the first true source for classical education is Aristotle, Hicks quotes him thus:

[pullquote align=”center”]Happiness is believed to depend on leisure, for the aim of all our business is leisure just as the aim of war is peace.


And, we must remember, that the Greek word for leisure is scholé and our word school comes from this root. School is where we learn to scholé, to use our leisure rightly, and thus learn true happiness.

Is that what’s going on in our homeschools? In our own lives?

Then follows the most-quoted and beloved sentence in the whole of Norms & Nobility:

[pullquote align=”center”]The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.


Read that through, slowly, several times.

Think first not of your kids and their math or spelling. Think first of yourself. What would you and I be like if only we acted in accordance to what we knew was good and right?

We, too, need to be educated.

The more we are educated, the more readily and habitually we should apply what we know, should do what we ought. If that’s not the direction we’re growing, we might gain information, but we’re not educated in the classical sense.

Continuing the delve into classical thought, we learn that the ancients connected education and its outcome – virtue – with happiness.

Virtue brings real happiness.

Unfortunately, our modern conception of happiness falls much short of the ancient (and medieval). In a materialist world, the only kind of happiness is pleasure, which is shallow and superficial.

[pullquote align=”center”]Pleasure demands a never-ending list of luxurious accessories, the acquisition of which wears man down with work and worry […] consumption consumes the consumer.


The educated life of virtue, however, gives us true happiness: The happiness of fulfilling our telos, our end, our purpose.

[pullquote align=”center”]The theoretic life is the life of virtue, so long as we mean by virtue all that the Greek aerie expresses: the life that knows and reveres, speculates and acts upon the Good, that loves and reproduces the Beautiful, and that pursues excellence and moderation in all things.


Our education should enable us to enjoy free time as true leisure (scholé) time rather than seeking momentary pleasure with frivolous entertainment or fun gadgets.

[pullquote align=”center”]The life of virtue has nothing to do with one’s prospective pleasures, possessions, or practical affairs, but concerns the manner in which one is prepared to spend one’s leisure hours.


Thus, a classical education will benefit us (and our children), regardless of the wealth, social status, or situation we find ourselves in.

[pullquote align=”center”]The self-improvement flowing from this life, as pursued passionately in pastimes, redounds to the benefit of the community, the pleasure of the individual, and the true happiness and harmony of both.


Discuss: What do you think of when you think of happiness? Can you connect education and happiness in your own experience or as a thought experiment?

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