Saturday, January 18, 2020


Useful Knowledge

Thucydides, Book II. Edited by E.C. Marchant (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1931), pp. x-xi:
To sharpen the intellect, to purify the taste, and to humanise the character — these are the true ends of education. At least, such was the opinion of Milton, beyond doubt the greatest scholar, and probably the greatest man, of his age. For what else did he intend, though he clothed his thought in the language most congenial to him? 'The end of learning,' he says, 'is to repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him.'

To-day quite other views of the end of learning are making way; according to which views, if I understand them, education ought to teach one kind of thing, and one only, that is to say, that kind of thing which will help the learner to make money. The supporters of these views hold that literature may be advantageously neglected, and something called 'useful knowledge' substituted for it. It is unlikely that any one who shares the new views on education will read these pages, because Greek is not placed by the apostles of this New Learning in the category of 'useful knowledge,' the omission seeming to involve the conclusion that the Renaissance, the former revival of learning, and especially of Greek learning, was a great mistake, a delusion of foolish men who did not understand what was 'useful knowledge.' But if any who use this book are drifting about in uncertainty, and asking themselves, 'To what end?' they will do well to ponder those words of Milton.

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