Saturday, January 21, 2012

Socrates, Interrogation, and the Liberal Arts (by Robert P. George)

“. . . Socrates’ method of teaching was to question.  He is the great exemplar of what the late Allan Bloom labeled “the interrogatory attitude.”   The liberal arts ideal assumes, to be sure, that there are right answers to great moral and existential questions.  It is the enemy, not the friend, of moral relativism.  But liberal arts teaching is not fundamentally about telling students what the right answers are -- even when we are justifiably confident that we have the right answers.  Nor is liberal arts learning merely a matter of receiving and processing information, even if it’s great information, such as historical facts about the Western tradition or the American founding.  Nor is it merely a matter of reading Aristotle, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or Tocqueville and knowing what these great writers said.  Liberal arts education is about engaging with these things, wrestling with them and the questions they suggest.  It is about considering arguments and counter-arguments, examining competing points of view . . . The point of the interrogatory attitude, rather, is precisely to move from ignorance to truths -- truths that can be affirmed and acted on.”

Robert P. George, “Academic Freedom and What it Means Today,” in Roger Scruton (ed.) Liberty and Civilization (New York:  Encounter Books, 2010), pp. 86, 87

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