Thursday, July 25, 2013


The Purpose of Education Revisited

Commenting on The Purpose of Education, Dave Berg writes about John Alexander Smith:
One would think that he might have based his statement on Aristotle, On the parts of animals, book I, 639a6-12.
In William Ogle's translation:
For an educated man should be able to form a fair off-hand judgement as to the goodness or badness of the method used by a professor in his exposition. To be educated is in fact to be able to do this; and even the man of universal education we deem to be such in virtue of his having this ability.
The Greek:
πεπαιδευμένου γάρ ἐστι κατὰ τρόπον τὸ δύνασθαι κρῖναι εὐστόχως τί καλῶς ἢ μὴ καλῶς ἀποδίδωσιν ὁ λέγων. τοιοῦτον γὰρ δή τινα καὶ τὸν ὅλως πεπαιδευμένον οἰόμεθ' εἶναι, καὶ τὸ πεπαιδεῦσθαι τὸ δύνασθαι ποιεῖν τὸ εἰρημένον.
Smith may well have had this passage in mind. From David Ross and C.A. Creffield, "Smith, John Alexander (1863–1939), philosopher and classical scholar," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
He was a fine Aristotelian scholar, and in 1908 succeeded Ingram Bywater as president of the Oxford Aristotelian Society. He worked for many years at an edition of the De anima, and translated this work for the Oxford translation of The Works of Aristotle (vol. 3, 1931); he was joint editor of the volumes published between 1908 and 1912. He lectured regularly on the Ethics, and in order to get to the bottom of Aristotle's theory of justice studied deeply in Greek law: the first volume (1920) of the Historical Jurisprudence of Sir Paul Vinogradoff owed much to Smith's learning and ingenuity. He made extensive preparations for an edition of the Poetics, which appealed to his literary as well as to his philosophical interest.
One of the volumes published between 1908 and 1912, when Smith was joint editor of the Oxford translation of Aristotle, was William Ogle's version of De Partibus Animalium (1911).

Tim Parkin writes:
I had vague memories of reading before the quotation from Smith – I read Jan Morris' Oxford book years ago, but I doubted it was that. Sure enough, a Google search revealed that I had read it on one of my very favourite sites not so many years ago:
The following quotation comes at second or third hand. John Alexander Smith (1863-1939), Waynflete Professor of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford, gave a lecture sometime before WWI, attended by Harold Macmillan. Macmillan reported Smith's words to Isaiah Berlin, and Isaiah Berlin told them to Ramin Jahanbegloo, who reproduced them in Conversations with Isaiah Berlin (London: Phoenix Press, 1993), p. 29:
All of you, gentlemen, will have different careers — some of you will be lawyers, some of you will be soldiers, some will be doctors or engineers, some will be government servants, some will be landowners or politicians. Let me tell you at once that nothing I say during these lectures will be of the slightest use to you in any of the fields in which you will attempt to exercise your skills. But one thing I can promise you: if you continue with this course of lectures to the end, you will always be able to know when men are talking rot.

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