Saturday, August 21, 2010


An Overweening Conceit of Ourselves

William Hazlitt, On Reading New Books:
One age cannot understand how another could subsist without its lights, as one country thinks every other must be poor for want of its physical productions. This is a narrow and superficial view of the subject: we should by all means rise above it. I am not for devoting the whole of our time to the study of the classics, or of any other set of writers, to the exclusion and neglect of nature; but I think we should turn our thoughts enough that way to convince us of the existence of genius and learning before our time, and to cure us of an overweening conceit of ourselves, and of a contemptuous opinion of the world at large.
Owen Barfield, History in English Words (London: Faber, 1953), p. 164:
Possibly the Middle Ages would have been equally bewildered at the facility with which twentieth-century minds are brought to believe that, intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century.
Duncan Williams, Trousered Apes (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1972), p. 81:
Contemporary ideas need to be weighed not against others of the same period but against those of the past, and it is here that the average, modern student is defenceless. His interests and leisure reading are confined to an alarming extent to contemporary writers and thinkers who, despite their apparent individualism, are all really working in the same direction. It is ironic that the current demand at universities is for more relevance (that is to say, contemporaneity) in the curriculum. If acceded to, this will result in a still larger degree of temporal provincialism and an even more profound ignorance of the history of ideas than now prevails.

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