“Thought that has been thought out”

Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else’s; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.

— The Common Man (1950).

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Published in: on February 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm  Comments (2)  

“A great man”

To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, all of the posts in April will make reference to Shakespeare in one way or another. Chesterton had a lot to say about the Bard.

What alone can make a literary man in the ultimate sense great … is ideas; the power of generating and making vivid an incessant output of ideas. It is untrue to say that what matters is quality and not quantity. Most men have made one good joke in their lives; but to make jokes as Dickens made them is to be a great man. Many forgotten poets have let fall a lyric with one really perfect image; but when we open any play of Shakespeare, good or bad, at any page, important or unimportant, with the practical certainty of finding some imagery that at least arrests the eye and probably enriches the memory, we are putting our trust in a great man.

The Common Man (posthumous, 1950).

Published in: on April 6, 2016 at 7:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Modern education

The truth is that the modern world has committed itself to two totally different and inconsistent conceptions about education. It is always trying to expand the scope of education; and always trying to exclude from it all religion and philosophy. But this is sheer nonsense. You can have an education that teaches atheism because atheism is true, and it can be, from its own point of view, a complete education. But you cannot have an education claiming to teach all truth, and then refusing to discuss whether atheism is true.

Since the coming of the more ambitious psychological education, our schools have claimed to develop all sides of human nature; that is, to produce a complete human being. You cannot do this and totally ignore a great living tradition, which teaches that a complete human being must be a Christian or Catholic human being. You must either persecute it out of existence or allow it to make its own education complete.

When schooling was supposed to consist of spelling, of counting and making pothooks and hangers, you might make out some kind of case for saying that it could be taught indifferently by a Baptist or Buddhist. But what in the world is the sense of having an education which includes lessons in “citizenship”, for instance; and then pretending not to include anything like a moral theory, and ignoring all those who happen to hold that a moral theory depends on a moral theology.

The Common Man (posth.; 1950).

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 6:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Catholic education

Those who refuse to understand that Catholic children must have an entirely Catholic school are back in the bad old days, as they would express it, when nobody wanted education but only instruction. They are relics of the dead time when it was thought enough to drill pupils in two or three dull and detached lessons that were supposed to be quite mechanical. They descend from the original Philistine who first talked about “The Three R.s”; and the joke about him is very symbolic of his type or time. For he was the sort of man who insists very literally on literacy, and, even in doing so, shows himself illiterate.

They were very uneducated rich men who loudly demanded education. And among the marks of their ignorance and stupidity was the particular mark that they regarded letters and figures as dead things, quite separate from each other and from a general view of life. They thought of a boy learning his letters as something quite cut off, for instance, from what is meant by a man of letters. They thought a calculating boy could be made like a calculating machine.

When somebody said to them, therefore, “These things must be taught in a spiritual atmosphere”, they thought it was nonsense; they had a vague idea that it meant that a child could only do a simple addition sum when surrounded with the smell of incense. But they thought simple addition much more simple than it is. When the Catholic controversialist said to them, “Even the alphabet can be learnt in a Catholic way”, they thought he was a raving bigot, they thought he meant that nobody must ever read anything but a Latin missal.

But he meant what he said, and what he said is thoroughly sound psychology. There is a Catholic view of learning the alphabet; for instance, it prevents you from thinking that the only thing that matters is learning the alphabet; or from despising better people than yourself, if they do not happen to have learnt the alphabet.

The old unpsychological school of instructors used to say: “What possible sense can there be in mixing up arithmetic with religion?” But arithmetic is mixed up with religion, or at the worst with philosophy. It does make a great deal of difference whether the instructor implies that truth is real, or relative, or changeable, or an illusion. The man who said, “Two and two may make five in the fixed stars”, was teaching arithmetic in an anti-rational way, and, therefore, in an anti-Catholic way. The Catholic is much more certain about the fixed truths than about the fixed stars.

But I am not now arguing which philosophy is the better; I am only pointing out that every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not education at all.

The Common Man (posth.; 1950)

Published in: on November 10, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Comments (1)  

“Fierce and free”

He is a terrible creature, the unicorn; and though he seems to live rather vaguely in Africa, I could never be surprised if he came walking up one of the four white roads that lead to Beaconsfield; the monster whiter than the roads, with his horn higher than a church spire. For all these mystical animals were imagined as enormously big as well as incalculably fierce and free. The stamping of the awful unicorn would shake the endless deserts in which it dwelt; and the wings of the vast griffin went over one’s head in heaven with the thunder of a thousand cherubim. And yet the fact remains that if you had asked a medieval man what the unicorn was supposed to mean, he would have replied, ‘chastity’.

When we have understood that fact we shall understand a great many other things, but above all the civilization out of which we come. Christianity did not conceive Christian virtues as tame, timid, and respectable things. It did conceive of these virtues as vast, defiant, and even destructive things, scorning the yoke of this world, dwelling in the desert, and seeking their meat from God.

The Common Man (posth.; 1950).

Published in: on December 5, 2007 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  

“Everything by something”

Man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else’s; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he never heard of; thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.

The Common Man (posth.; 1950).

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 3:31 pm  Leave a Comment