Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Persuasion

Most of the people I know, self included, argue a lot, or perhaps even too much. For at least a few of us though, I think this must be a good thing. People who are given to aggressive discourse stand a better chance of offering a satisfactory account of themselves, if an account is ever called for, than people to whom the rule of deferrence denies the chance to cross propositions with a likely opponent. This much I gathered from living at a boarding house for a time long enough to realize that grace at times dwells even in division, even one as trivial as an argument on the theoretical application of the Mojo to the actual world of Men and Women. This is another point of knowledge I acquired at the Big Haus- that it is often more beneficial to devote a measure of mental energy to the trivial areas of life than to the Calamities of This Present Hour. This may be bias on my part, as most of the areas in which I am at all expert don't really mean that much. Fortunately, the atmosphere of the Big Haus fosters engagement with what Aristotle called "The Beautiful and the Useless." Very little, in all of the many arguments that there transpired, ever registered as a matter of any great importance. Most of E.W.'s philosophical expositions centered in the realm of proper valuation of the world and the things of the world, and then after having done so, casually dismisses all of them as objects of Futility. I am convinced, after having several years of attended his church and hanging out at his house that the reason anyone at all attends his church or hangs out at his house must owe itself to the fact that E.W. has the rare talent of making the proximity of the catastrophic sound sort of comfortable, provided one has an accomadating front porch and a good cohiba with which to enjoy it.

Among the other blessings of semicivil discourse is that, if I may state the obvious, it forces one to speak. A person's syntactical abilities tell as much, if not more about them than all the rest of their habits combined. Vocal expression is a better measure of intelligence than any standardized test could ever be, and it provides an opportunity to judge not just how much a person knows, but how much of what he knows he also as successfully arranged in a web of interrelation, and more importantly, what is the order of valuation in which he has placed it.
The ability to judge the latter of these is, I believe, the shortcoming of the Christian Classical movement, and the root of the development why relatively few students who graduate from any of its schools use their classical education for anything. They can teach grammar, logic and rhetoric year in and year out, and teach them effectively, but still not point a student toward a proper regard, specifically a proper aesthetic regard for the Order of Things, the attainment of which is, or ought to be one of the chiefest goals of any sound theory of education; we listen to the turn of a man's arguments, we can guess with some accuracy how closely he has gauged the optimal valuation.

Sorry to end on a dogmatic note, but I need to take off. Will post more on this in a bit.


Lincoln Davis said...

Well said. As to your first point, an intellectual struggle with the trivial is one of the best ways to prepare one's mind for the eventual intellectual struggle with the important, at least to the extent that one realizes the former prefigures the latter.

Concerning your second point, I agree with you, but I wonder if a hierarchy of valuation can be taught. Information and means of achieving tasks can be taught, but desire cannot be literally taught. A teacher can set forth the strata of the universe on the blackboard such that a student will reproduce the information on a test, but this does not mean the student values things according to the strata chart he has been taught. A student must learn to want these things according to their ordinate values. Here the student need not be taught - perhaps rather persuaded.


Thomas Banks said...

I am not that sure that valuation and desire are one in the same. Here appreciation rears its ugly head; a person can recognize the value of a thing, and implement it in the accordant area of their life without it meaning much to them on the emotional gradient.

Here's an off the cuff example: I recognize the value of good health, but that doesn't prevent me from smoking a stogie at a rate that would give Twain and Churchill a run for their money.

Thomas Banks said...

To sum up, I think it is possible, albeit not necessarily desireable to teach "Appreciation." I think the challenge is implementing methods coersive enough to make a set of students not only recognize the inherent worth in a given discipline without moralizing; i.e., if teachers were to do this, they should approach it along the lines of "If you do not appreciate Caravaggio, you have substandard tastes," rather than "If you do not appreciate Caravaggio, you have immoral tastes."

You're probably right as far as thinking that it may not realistically merit a place in any school's curriculum; however, if an educational program is successful, maybe it doesn't have to.



Jeff Moss said...

A thought: Valuation and desire (which are different, but not really separate) have to be modeled by the teacher in order to be truly learned.

The Silmarillion marked me with an indelible desire for wisdom because Tolkien himself so clearly loved wisdom and valued it, and because he made it lovely in the life histories of his characters.