Liberal justifications of liberal education are no longer effective. Teachers of humanities need another way of defending what we do. The Renaissance can teach us how argue for the study of old books in a way that upholds the values of a pluralist society. https://t.co/PcXf07SrlJ— Public Discourse (@PublicDiscourse) June 14, 2020
A reminder of the original liberal inspiration behind the "Great Books." If "Great Books" are such because they transmit and explain a particular moral tradition, then separating them from those traditions in order to support a different tradition (liberalism) is to ignore or distort the meaning of those texts. Moreover, one passes on the tradition not merely because it is tradition but because one believes that conveys truths, not because of some liberal pseudo-virtue of "thoughtfulness."
"Thoughtfulness built on the natural desire to know, but cultivated a kind of skepticism that was not purely negative, not driven merely by the desire to tear down received beliefs. It sought to reconstruct our true beliefs on a sounder basis to fulfill the promise of the desire to know by finding truth."
This sort of moral epistemology is proper to liberalism and rationalism but it is not so for the great classical Greek and Latin moral works, or of the great Christian texts...."
Hankins' attempt to appropriate a justification for a "humanities" education in Renaissance humanism may not conflict with his liberal commitments, but Renaissance humanism, as he characterizes it in his essay, was erroneous in its claims about moral education.
I don't know if Renaissance Humanism was influenced by Platonism in this regard, but the belief that study (of the humanities) alone could produce virtue was wrong. While there may have been serious flaws with later with medieval scholastic education, the main reasons why people remained sinful despite having received a university education lay not with the universities so much as with the Christian paideia (or lack thereof) they had received up to that point.
While some form of higher education may be needed for a few in the future, recovering and preserving an appropriate paideia is even more impotant.