Together, there are now three great histories we should
If we know where these ideas come from we are in a far more
now have at least an outline of in our mind: The history of
powerful position of choice. If we know what is guiding us we
the physical universe, the history of life and the history of
also know that we could, like those before us, choose to live out
humanity. What is extraordinary in our time is that they are
of a different set of ideas.
one history. If you read the great German Enlightenment philosopher Humanity’s impact on life is so great that this era of the
Immanuel Kant and sense passion in throwing off the authority of
physical universe has already been named by geologists as
priests and princes then you truly appreciate why ‘freedom’ and
‘reason’ have a magnetic appeal to the modern mind. He may be as much a parent of our minds as those who raised you from a
The Value of a Liberal Arts and Sciences Education What then do we gain from understanding these three great histories? We gain vital underpinnings for making a more civilized world: choice, perspective and judgement, meaning, creativity, excellence and literacy. Choice and Plurality Let us begin with choice and plurality. The story of life with its central drama of evolution has much to say about why we are programmed the way we are. But we also know it is not just genes but ideas that shape our behaviour. We readily recognise how our early lives and distinctive experiences shape who we are. However, our personal experiences only account for a limited portion of the ideas we develop and that shape who we are. Ideas like genes also come from our distant ancestors. They are passed on to us through the language we use and the stories we learn.
child. Not knowing our cultural past is like not having a memory of our growing up. Our loss of cultural knowledge is probably a lot worse than that. Imagine how little you would know about yourself if your memory only went back a week. Also, knowing we could live based on a different set of ideas or world views is what secures a peaceful plurality, which is the foundation of civilized society. We live in a time where plurality is under threat from all sides. There are forms of political correctness, some very present on university campuses, especially in the United States, that seek to limit the perspective available. Equally there is authoritarian popularism hostile to the voices of a diverse society. Perspective and Judgment With the knowledge that we could choose differently comes perspective. The triumph of freedom and reason as the cornerstone of government is not a law of physics, it is just an idea that has captured our minds for a tiny period of human history. There is no certainty it will continue to do so unless we choose to argue for its value and ensure that we pass it on as it was passed on to us, hard won from authoritarian rule of many forms.
No.94 JUNE 2017