Tue 8 Jan 2008
Professor Alan White provides this discussion of the Introduction (pdf) for Education’s End by Anthony Kronman ’68. Today is the first meeting of our CGCL. The next meeting will be Thursday. Let the conversation begin!
I suggest the following questions for the ephblog discussion of Kronman’s Introduction:
(1) Must life have a meaning? Or might it be that life has no meaning, but lives can and perhaps even must have meanings?
(2) What could it mean to lead “a life with no meaning at all” (3)?
(3) Does living a meaningful life presuppose that there be an answer to “the question what living is for”?
(4) Assume that I am among the “people [who] make discoveries that help them to say, ‘My life has a value I recognize and cherish’” (6); does it follow that my life is meaningful, in any important sense?
(5) Assume that life has no meaning; does it follow that it is not worth living?
(6) Was the question of life’s meaning once central to the humanities? What evidence supports the thesis that it once was?
(7) What are “the humanities”?
At Williams, we don’t have them. Our divisions are I. Literature and the Arts, II. Social Studies, and III. Science and Mathematics. Somewhat paradoxically, we classify Political Science and Cognitive Science as Social Studies, and Maritime Studies and Environmental Studies under Science and Mathematics (that we have Social Studies, plural, but Science, singular, is also interesting – as is the fact that Math isn’t a science, but Computer Science is). When I was an undergrad at Tulane, Math was in the Humanities division. (For the basis of an argument that philosophy, as the universal science, has a transdivisional status, see here.)
(7) What does it mean to have the “authority to lead the search for an answer to the question of life’s purpose and value” (8)? Is this the same “authority” that “our churches now monopolize” (7)? If not, how do the two differ?
(8) Are great philosophical works best described as “great works of … philosophical imagination” (6)? Are there no great works of philosophical reason – or, if there are, are they less deserving of “careful but critical reading”?
(9) Should “the exploration of life’s mystery and meaning through the careful but critical of the great works of literary and philosophical imagination” be restricted to those works “that we have inherited from the past”? If so, how old should works have to be in order to qualify as “past”?
Thanks to Professor White for this contribution.
1) The Introduction (linked to above) provides a good overview of Kronman’s argument. Even if you don’t have time to read the whole book, you will find those 8 pages interesting, not least for their specific mentions of Williams. Perhaps an even better overview of the book is this interview with Kronman.
2) My initial thoughts, based on just the publishers description, are here.
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