Saturday, September 06, 2014


Is Learning of Any Use?

Evelyn Abbott and Lewis Campbell, The Life and Letters of Benjamin Jowett, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1897), pp. 132-133:
Yet there was nothing of which he spoke with so much bitterness as useless learning. 'How I hate learning!' he exclaimed. 'How sad it is to see a man who is learned and nothing else, incapable of making any use of his knowledge!' 'Is learning of any use?' he asks himself in one of his note-books; and the answer is: 'Men are often or always unable to use it. It keeps men quiet, it clogs their efforts, it is creditable, it gratifies curiosity, but, for progress or mental improvement, learning without thought or imagination is worse than useless.' To him knowledge was a means and not an end. He read at odd moments, 'picking the brains' of a book just as he picked the brains of any one who had special knowledge of a subject. He was sensible too of the burden which the accumulated knowledge of the past imposes on the present, and would point out how scholars, in their dread of ignorance, become so weighted with learning that they lose their elasticity and freedom of thought, their sense of the proportion and value of facts.

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