SUMMARY Brand Blanshard, a respected philosophy professor, published an essay entitled, The Uses of a Liberal Education, which accounts for a few arguments against a liberal education, but stresses the overwhelming advantages to the same education. According to Blanshard, liberal studies are “the sort of studies that are pursued for their own sake rather than for their utility.” (p. 121). The first step Blanshard takes in analyzing the usefulness of a liberal education is to highlight the opposing arguments. First, he examines the price one pays for an education in such subjects as philosophy, mathematics, or history. That price is that of freedom.
He enforces this with the idea that 18-year-olds are at the time in their lives where they are entranced by freedom. In studying these tedious subjects, they lose that freedom. His second point is that of the usefulness. He gives multiple examples of men who have changed the face of the earth without education, such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. For if it is our purpose to be educated to better our lives materialistically, a liberal education serves no purpose.
Thirdly, he highlights languages, explaining that when will any of us need French or Spanish to understand something. Can we not find information in English anywhere? The only worthy case of studying languages is if one intends to live in a foreign country. For the rest of the essay, Blanshard enforces the positives of a liberal education. First, he explores the meaning of usefulness, and comes to the conclusion that usefulness involves “comfort and quiet and richness of the mind, which is simply good.” (p. 125). Blanshard, then, highlights three reasons why a liberal education is useful.
First, it satisfies our human desire to know. Second, it is useful indirectly through our use of different perspectives. And finally, it “may permeate with its influence all our thought and feeling and action.” (p. 124). He concludes this essay by reminding us that “the Greek spirit still remains” (p.
134) and it remains through a liberal education. PLATO “The philosopher doesnt desire one part of wisdom rather than another, but desires the whole thing.” (Plato, p. 150). In other words, a liberal education, which enhances the minds capacity by making available knowledge of various fields of study, is the route the most educated must take. This is the road of the Philosopher King in Platos world.
Platos world was one where all humans strive for the ultimate from, Good. In this ultimate form one finds various ideas. For example, through the Good, one obtains knowledge of the Truth, Justice, Beauty, Humanness, and gives one the mind/soul, which is an object of knowledge. The first idea Blanshard brings forth in his essay is that “the liberal studies are the sort of studies that are pursued for their own sake rather than for their utility.” (p. 121).
This, beyond almost anything, coincides with Platos thoughts. In Book I of the Republic, Socrates, Platos teacher, discusses the idea of justice with his friends Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus. The most applicable to this particular situation is his conversation with Thrasymachus, where he concludes that justice is never the advantage of the stronger. Plato feels that a leader works for the sake of his servants. He pursues perfection for the sake of something other than self-gratification. If someone pursues a liberal education for its own sake, they are not pursuing it for more money, or to dominate anyone in any way.
Therefore, they will not use their power of knowledge in order to harm anyone. They will more or less be benevolent in their use of that knowledge, and use it for the greater good. Plato also highlights six subjects of study, which are reserved for the most educated, and so used in the development of tomorrows leaders, the Philosopher Kings. These subjects are arithmetics, geometry (2-D), solid geometry (3-D), astronomy, harmonics, and the most important of which is dialectics. In studying these particular subjects, Plato is able to develop a leader who is knowledgeable about all things. In Platos world, these subjects create an atmosphere very similar to that which Blanshard envisions.
Blanshard says, “They [men] philosophize because they want to understand the world they live in. I believe that, in some degree or other, everyone wants this.” (p. 126). In this he reflects the same sentiments as Plato, in that through certain studies, men seek something they have been driven to find through eternity, the truth. Now, Platos ideas in this case coincide to a certain extent. However, Plato feels that a person must be forced to turn completely around.
Once turned around, Platos ideal human appears similar to Blanshards in that he/she will not digress into an immature mindset. At this point, both Plato and Blanshard are agreeable. Once Platos ideal human is turned around, he/she strives to see all that is true, and obtain all knowledge. Another point of similarity is where Blanshard says, “many things simply remain invisible till we see them through others eyes.” (p. 130). In so, speaking to the fact that through liberal studies, one “not only borrows anothers sense of sight, but their sense of values, also.” (p.130).
In this, Blanshard speaks to a similar idea as to that of the cave according to Plato. Plato has an idea that we all must be led into the light, where truth and goodness await us in the light. We are led out of Platos cave and into the light, and shown truth, and so, because of the person who led us out of darkness, and into the light, we, in as sense, use others for our education in Platos world. In the same way, Blanshard, through the use of different studies and different authors, uses others to arrive at the truth. One idea, in particular, which I feel Plato would disagree with, is that “liberal studies satisfy some of our elemental hungers, the hunger to know.” (p.
125). Plato, in Book II of the Republic, describes a city based on the idea that “humans are not self-sufficient.” (Plato, p. 44). Plato also says that our “first need is for food, our second need is for shelter, and our third is for clothes.” (Plato, p. 44). Nowhere does Plato bring forth the idea that knowledge as an elemental hunger.
Now, the Philosopher King is all-knowledgeable, but the purpose of the city is not for all citizens to become more knowledgeable, but rather that they sustain life. Again, the city is formed because we are not self-sufficient, and therefore we need each other to help provide for our basic needs, none of which are knowledge. Knowledge does not sustain life. Food, shelter, and clothing help to sustain life in a basic sense. Overall, I feel that Plato definitely agrees with Blanshard that the liberal education is useful.
Blanshard, at the end of his essay says, “what is significant about a person or a people is the invisible things about them,” (p. 134) referring to the idea that the liberal education helps contribute to the entire person, and what kind of person we become. We borrow other peoples ideas, take their advice, and create a world of our own. Plato seeks knowledge, and truth, and through his own personal studies of philosophy, history, and mathematics, all of which are liberal studies, became a mind referenced by politicians, lawyers, and ethicists. In fact, Blanshard concludes his own essay by saying, “No doubt there were hardheaded practical men in Athens who stopped before the door of Platos Academy and asked what was the use of it all.
They and their names have vanished; the little Academy became a thousand academies among nations then unborn.” (p. 134). DESCARTES “I thought that book learning, at least the kind whose reasonings are merely probable and that do not have any demonstrations, having been composed and enlarged little by little from the opinions of many different persons, does not draw nearly so close to the truth as the simple reasonings that a man of good sense can naturally make about the things he encounters.” (Descartes, p. 7). Ren Descartes is a man who firmly believes in self-introspection.
His ideas are based on locking himself in a room completely separate from the rest of the world, and thinking. Descartes would definitely be opposed to Blanshards T …