The First Steps Towards an Appreciation of Liberal Arts

From my Touchstone article ‘More than Schooling: The Perils of Pragmatism in Christian Attitudes Toward the Liberal Arts

Appreciating that some artifacts are good in themselves, and not merely because of what they do for us, is the first step towards a proper appropriation of the liberal arts. The best argument for teaching children to love Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Hopkins is simply that these authors wrote things that are beautiful. Just as the best reason for smelling a rose is that it has a lovely fragrance, so the best reason for learning Latin is that Virgil’s Aeneid is beautiful. Again, the template for this approach is creation itself.

Christian worldview education is in danger of being hijacked by pragmatists who think that non-utilitarian approaches somehow depart from the imperative to bring all things under Christ. This is ironic since the Bible itself reveals a better way….

The exclusively pragmatic approach does a particularly great disservice to the teaching of literature since it orients us to adopt a didactic and utilitarian approach to texts. We may start to think that the value of a text lies in the worldview lessons we are able to draw out of it and completely overlook the aesthetic considerations. Many, for instance, have the idea that the primary purpose of learning Shakespeare is to understand allusions and figures of speech, or that memorizing poems is mainly good as an exercise to develop memory skills, or that the value of learning Latin is to understand word origins, and so forth. The idea that learning Virgil in the original Latin has a value not tied to any practical benefit strikes them as odd.

When students are trained to think in strictly pragmatic ways, they will find it difficult to enjoy, say, a Shakespeare play if they can’t derive a specific worldview lesson from it. They may become so over-active in finding worldview lessons that they discern some Shakespeare never intended. How much better it would be to get them to enjoy Shakespeare plays simply for their masterly use of language and compelling plots and characters. How much better for students to come to love things that are noble and praiseworthy even when they do not have a specific use. As Flannery O’Connor put it in Mystery and Manners, “The fact is, people don’t know what they are expected to do with a novel, believing, as so many do, that art must be utilitarian, that it must do something, rather than be something.”

Brain Fitness Interview

Interview-with-GrahamI recently had the honor of being interviewed by Dr. Graham Taylor of the Taylor Study Method. The topic of our interview was brain fitness but our conversation ended being all over the map. We talked about educational reform, having focus amidst distractions, the importance of thinking outside the box, Common Core, emotional intelligence, ancient and modern memory techniques, the psychological insight of Homer, and much much more. Here are some observations I made during the interview.

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American Pragmatism Comes to Roost in Donald Trump

Donald_TrumpIn an article on the anatomy of Trumpism, my friend Brad Littlejohn makes some trenchant observations about the anti-intellectual and anti-establishment message embodied by the disgruntled radicalism behind Donald Trump’s political ascendancy.

The movement that has given Trump his momentum has invested the Common Man with a kind of salvific significance at a time when Americans are deeply distrustful of intellectual and institutional authorities, including the media, academic scholars, economists and scientists. “In place of these discredited authorities,” Littlejohn observes, “the Movement embraces the wisdom of the common man and the neophyte.” He continued:


Dr. Brad Littlejohn

“With the center clearly corrupted, one must look to the periphery for purity; experience is a liability, and inexperience an asset. The most trusted figures of all are those who, untainted by prior experience in government or credentialed expertise, can articulate in the most fearless and undiluted terms the common sense of the common man, heightening as much as possible its contrast with the voice of the Establishment. Around such trusted figures, promising to clean house and govern autocratically by their own individual vigor and insight, personality cults rapidly develop, fuelled by the invigorating language of liberty even while quietly evacuating it of much of its traditional meaning. The personal leadership of the demagogue, who speaks after all for the common man, is in many cases to replace the heavy-handed, inefficient, and compromise-ridden rule of law.”

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American Pragmatism and Mathematics


In Japanese classrooms, the emphasis is more on conceptual understanding than simply memorizing skills

In their book The Teaching Gap, James Stigler and James Hiebert discuss the differences between how math is taught in American classrooms vs. Japanese classrooms. Their observations were based on extensive video footage of eight-grade classrooms in both countries (plus Germany) in research aimed to identify general teaching patterns and differences. Was there a specifically American way of teaching that might help to explain why American is lagging behind other nations in math scores?

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Donald Trump

donald-trumpSince I stopped working for Christian Voice earlier this year I completely lost interest in politics. Politics is important, so maybe I should be more interested in it, but I’m just not (with the exception of what’s happening in the Middle East and with Russia). Because of this, I haven’t been keeping up with the election news, and that meant that I came in for a big shock a few weeks ago.

You see, at the beginning of the campaigning I heard that Donald Trump was running for President as a joke. I thought that was funny. The shock came when I recently found out that Trump is in the lead and actually has a good chance of winning the Republican nomination. The joke has turned serious.

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Reading Habits of a Recovering Pragmatist

Paul Johnson makes reading history feel like reading gossip.

Paul Johnson makes reading history feel like reading gossip.

I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend some good novels that have recently blessed me.

But first, a few words about my approach to reading in general.

As far as my reading habits are concerned, I’m a recovering pragmatist. That is, I used to choose which books to read based on a rational calculation of how they would benefit me, rather like someone whose eating habits are based entirely on calorie counting and health considerations. So instead of reading Paul Johnson’s enjoyable books in which history comes alive and almost feels a bit naughty (he makes history seem like gossip) I might read a boring monograph instead.

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Marriage Between Humans and Robots (full series)

marriage to robotsThe technology of social robotics is advancing so fast that there could soon be robots that are virtually indistinguishable from human beings, both in how they look and also in how they act. In the picture on the right it is obvious that the object on the left is a robot, but with the pace of technology being what it is, we may soon have robots that look (and even act) like the human on the right. When this day arrives, inevitably people will want to know if they will be allowed to marry their robots. Believe it or not, lawyers and academics are already discussing the ethics and legality of human-robot marriages.

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Marriage Between Humans and Robots (Part 4): customized intimacy and social narcisism

Dr. David Levy told LiveScience that around 2050, Massachusetts will probably be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots.

Would you exchange your boyfriend for a robot if he was better able to meet your needs?

One final piece of the puzzle must be put in place to understand our imminent psychological readiness to begin marrying our machines. In this post I will suggest that our online interactions are already priming us for the type of disembodied and narcissistic relationships necessary for marriage to robots to seem normal. I will argue that as our digital networks continue to weaken our emotional intelligence, sociable robots may soon answer the need of our narcissistic moment.
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Marriage Between Humans and Robots (Part 3)

robot lovePart 1 of this ongoing series on human-robot marriage explored how popular opinion is gradually shifting from considering anthropological robots to be potentially hazardous to considering them as help-meets towards greater human flourishing. Far from being a matter only of science fiction, many serious thinkers see human-robot relationships as the next stage in our evolutionary development.

Part 2 continued this discussion by looking at some of the legal issues that scholars around the world are exploring as they are seeking to discover whether the legal infrastructure is already in place to legitimize the principle of marriage to mechanical humanoids.

This post continues that discussion by showing that our society already entertains a number of assumptions about ourselves and our world that could enable machine-human marriages to achieve widespread acceptance in the near future.

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Marriage Between Humans and Robots (part 2)

Dr. David Levy told LiveScience that around 2050, Massachusetts will probably be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots.

Dr. David Levy told LiveScience that around 2050, Massachusetts will probably be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots.

Romancing Robots: Legal Ramifications

Three years ago when I first came across the idea of humans marrying robots, I thought it was little more than the latest gimmick of the sex industry. But I knew I had to take the issue seriously when I began to see law publications discussing the legal ramifications of machine-people marriages.
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