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Logos [6-8-2010]

The position of the philosophic doctor and of his secular heir, the gentleman, was thus correct.  For them the highest knowledge concerned, respectively, the relation of men to God and the relation of men to men.  They did not expect to learn what they most needed to know by fleeing center, that is, by diving ever deeper into the mysteries of the physical world.  Such is escape and moral defeatism.  When Socrates declared in the Phaedrus that he learned not from the trees of the country but from the men of the city, he was exposing the fallacy of scientism.

At this point the student ceases to be a doctor of philosophy since he is no longer capable of philosophy.  He has made himself an essentially ridiculous figure, and this would have been perceived had not the public, undergoing the same process of debasement, found a different ground on which to venerate him.  Knowledge was power.  The very character of the new researches lent them to ad hoc purposes.  It was soon a banality that the scholar contributes to civilization by adding to its dominion over nature.  It is just as if Plato’s philosopher had left the city to look at the trees and then had abandoned speculative wisdom for dendrology.  The people who would urge just this course are legion among us today.  The facts on the periphery, they feel, are somehow more certain.

[From Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver]

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