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Justifying Philosophy and Paideia in the Modern World

Satisfactory Essays
Justifying Philosophy and Paideia in the Modern World

ABSTRACT: If Paideia means education in the classical sense, that is, education of the whole person, then authentically justifying such education in the modern world is extremely problematic. We are first drawn to practical defenses of a liberal education, that it is in itself of service and useful, both to society and to the individual. However, a practical defense of Paideia in the classical sense simply comes across as feeble and even a bit desperate (that is, if it escapes sounding pompous) and every savvy student knows it. Far better, it seems, to take courses aimed at general problem solving, or at honing critical thinking skills, or at developing socio-political sophistication, than to read Shakespeare or Plato.

If Paideia means education in the classical sense, that is, education of the whole person, then authentically justifying such education in the modern world is extremely problematic. We are first drawn to practical defenses of a liberal education, that it is in itself of service and useful, both to society and to the individual. However, a practical defense of Paideia in the classical sense simply comes across as feeble and even a bit desperate (that is, if it escapes sounding pompous) and every savvy student knows it. Far better, it seems, to take courses aimed at general problem solving, or at honing critical thinking skills, or at developing socio-political sophistication, than to read Shakespeare and Plato.

A similar problem plagues the justification of the pursuit of philosophy itself, and this is where the fundamental motivations behind both Paideia and philosophy converge. What is in fact the purpose of philosophy? One basic function of philosophy appears to be a kind of service of clarification and justification. Yet this cannot be philosophy's only purpose, any more than the mere development of skills and professional acumen are the primary goals of a liberal education. Yet similar notions of service to the state are given as primary justifications for becoming educated, beyond simple material gain. Surely this does not justify even very much of what we put students through in humanities classes around the world. Why, then, philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom, and why, then, Paideia?

The answer, I think, is that the justification for both philosophy and Paideia has an ethical grounding, and can only really be articulated, if indeed it still can be, in virtue-based terms.
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