Paideia High School/Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent, The
Column One[edit | edit source]
Exordium[edit | edit source]
The Exordium is the teacher's introduction to the work that is the subject of a Paideia Unit Plan. This introduction consists of both an oral and written presentation of the text. For longer works, the teacher may limit the oral presentation to key passages. The teacher should read the text live distinctly, accurately, and intelligently. In addition, the teacher should provide high quality recordings of the text if possible. Students should have a consumable written copy of the text both electronically and in hard-copy if possible.
Oral Presentation[edit | edit source]
The whole work can be presented orally by the teacher because it is relatively short. The teacher may choose to present only certain selections or passages aloud.
No recordings have been found for this work. You could help improve this page by finding an existing recording in the public domain or creating one.
Written Presentation[edit | edit source]
Original Publication in The Hibbert Journal, Vol. XI, p. 174-185
Text[edit | edit source]
"Read before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Amherst College, 17th April 1913."
If a wise man should ask, What are the modern virtues[word 1]? and should answer his own question by a summary of the things we admire; if he should discard as irrelevant the ideals which by tradition we profess, but which are not found outside of the tradition or the profession--ideals like meekness, humility, the renunciation of this world; if he should include only those excellences to which our hearts are daily given, and by which our conduct is motived,--in such an inventory what virtues would he name?[sentence 1]
This question is neither original nor very new. Our times await the reckoning up of our spiritual goods which is here suggested. We have at least this wisdom, that many of us are curious to know just what our virtues are. I wish I could offer myself as the wise man who brings the answer. But I raise this question merely to ask another--When the wise man brings his list of our genuine admirations, will intelligence be one of them? We might seem to be well within the old ideal of modesty if we claimed the virtue of intelligence. But before we claim the virtue, are we convinced that it is a virtue, not a peril?[passage 1]
The disposition to consider intelligence a peril is an old Anglo-Saxon inheritance. Our ancestors have celebrated this disposition in verse and prose. Splendid as our literature is, it has not voiced all the aspirations of humanity, nor could it be expected to voice an aspiration that has not characteristically belonged to the English race; the praise of intelligence is not one of its characteristic glories.
Here is the startling alternative which to the English, alone among great nations, has been not startling but a matter of course. Here is the casual assumption that a choice must be made between goodness and intelligence; that stupidity is first cousin to moral conduct, and cleverness the first step into mischief; that reason and God are not on good terms with each other; that the mind and the heart are rival buckets in the well of truth, inexorably balanced--full mind, starved heart--stout heart, weak head.
Kingsley's line is a convenient text, but to establish the point that English literature voices a traditional distrust of the mind we must go to the masters. In Shakspere's plays there are some highly intelligent men, but they are either villains or tragic victims. To be as intelligent as Richard or Iago or Edmund seems to involve some break with goodness; to be as wise as Prospero seems to imply some Faust-like traffic with the forbidden world; to be as thoughtful as Hamlet seems to be too thoughtful to live. In Shakspere the prizes of life go to such men as Bassanio, or Duke Orsino, or Florizel--men of good conduct and sound character, but of no particular intelligence. There might, indeed, appear to be one general exception to this sweeping statement: Shakspere does concede intelligence as a fortunate possession to some of his heroines. But upon even a slight examination those ladies, like Portia, turn out to have been among Shakspere's Italian importations--their wit was part and parcel of the story he borrowed; or, like Viola, they are English types of humility, patience, and loyalty, such as we find in the old ballads, with a bit of Euphuism added, a foreign cleverness of speech. After all, these are only a few of Shakspere's heroines; over against them are Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet, Desdemona, Hero, Cordelia, Miranda, Perdita--lovable for other qualities than intellect,--and in a sinister group, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Goneril, intelligent and wicked.
In Paradise Lost Milton attributes intelligence of the highest order to the devil. That this is an Anglo-Saxon reading of the infernal character may be shown by a reference to the book of Job, where Satan is simply a troublesome body, and the great wisdom of the story is from the voice of God in the whirlwind. But Milton makes his Satan so thoughtful, so persistent and liberty-loving, so magnanimous, and God so illogical, so heartless and repressive, that many perfectly moral readers fear lest Milton, like the modern novelists, may have known good and evil, but could not tell them apart. It is disconcerting to intelligence that it should be God's angel who cautions Adam not to wander in the earth, nor inquire concerning heaven's causes and ends, and that it should be Satan meanwhile who questions and explores. By Milton's reckoning of intelligence the theologian and the scientist to-day alike take after Satan.
If there were time, we might trace this valuation of intelligence through the English novel. We should see how often the writers have distinguished between intelligence and goodness, and have enlisted our affections for a kind of inexpert virtue. In Fielding or Scott, Thackeray or Dickens, the hero of the English novel is a well-meaning blunderer who in the last chapter is temporarily rescued by the grace of God from the mess he has made of his life. Unless he also dies in the last chapter, he will probably need rescue again. The dear woman whom the hero marries is, with a few notable exceptions, rather less intelligent than himself. When David Copperfield marries Agnes, his prospects of happiness, to the eyes of intelligence, look not very exhilarating. Agnes has more sense than Dora, but it is not even for that slight distinction that we must admire her; her great qualities are of the heart--patience, humility, faithfulness. These are the qualities also of Thackeray's good heroines, like Laura or Lady Castlewood. Beatrice Esmond and Becky Sharp, both highly intelligent, are of course a bad lot.
No less significant is the kind of emotion the English novelist invites towards his secondary or lower-class heroes--toward Mr. Boffin in Our Mutual Friend, for example, or Harry Foker in Pendennis. These characters amuse us, and we feel pleasantly superior to them, but we agree with the novelist that they are wholly admirable in their station. Yet if a Frenchman--let us say Balzac--were presenting such types, he would make us feel, as in Père Goriot or Eugénie Grandet, not only admiration for the stable, loyal nature, but also deep pity that such goodness should be so tragically bound in unintelligence or vulgarity. This comparison of racial temperaments helps us to understand ourselves. We may continue the method at our leisure. What would Socrates have thought of Mr. Pickwick, or the Vicar of Wakefield, or David Copperfield, or Arthur Pendennis? For that matter, would he have felt admiration or pity for Colonel Newcome?
I hardly need confess that this is not an adequate account of English literature. Let me hasten to say that I know the reader is resenting this somewhat cavalier handling of the noble writers he loves. He probably is wondering how I can expect to increase his love of literature by such unsympathetic remarks. But just now I am not concerned about our love of literature; I take it for granted, and use it as an instrument to prod us with. If we love Shakspere and Milton and Scott and Dickens and Thackeray, and yet do not know what qualities their books hold out for our admiration, then--let me say it as delicately as possible--our admiration is not discriminating; and if we neither have discrimination nor are disturbed by our lack of it, then perhaps that wise man could not list intelligence among our virtues. Certainly it would be but a silly account of English literature to say only that it set little store by the things of the mind. I am aware that for the sake of my argument I have exaggerated, by insisting upon only one aspect of English literature. But our history betrays a peculiar warfare between character and intellect, such as to the Greek, for example, would have been incomprehensible. The great Englishman, like the most famous Greeks, had intelligence as well as character, and was at ease with them both. But whereas the notable Greek seems typical of his race, the notable Englishman usually seems an exception to his own people, and is often best appreciated in other lands. What is more singular--in spite of the happy combination in himself of character and intelligence, he often fails to recognize the value of that combination in his neighbors. When Shakspere portrayed such amateurish statesmen as the Duke in Measure for Measure, Burleigh was guiding Elizabeth I of England empire, and Francis Bacon was soon to be King James's counsellor. It was the young Milton who pictured the life of reason in L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, the most spiritual fruit of philosophy in Comus; and when he wrote his epic he was probably England's most notable example of that intellectual inquiry and independence which in his great poem he discouraged. There remain several well-known figures in our literary history who have both possessed and believed in intelligence-- Byron and Shelley in what seems our own day, Edmund Spenser before Shakspere's time. England has more or less neglected all three, but they must in fairness be counted to her credit. Some excuse might be offered for the neglect of Byron and Shelley by a nation that likes the proprieties; but the gentle Spenser, the noblest philosopher and most chivalrous gentleman in our literature, seems to be unread only because he demands a mind as well as a heart used to high things.
This will be sufficient qualification of any disparagement of English literature; no people and no literature can be great that are not intelligent, and England has produced not only statesmen and scientists of the first order, but also poets in whom the soul was fitly mated with a lofty intellect. But I am asking you to reconsider your reading in history and fiction, to reflect whether our race has usually thought highly of the intelligence by which it has been great; I suggest these non-intellectual aspects of our literature as commentary upon my question--and all this with the hope of pressing upon you the question as to what you think of intelligence.
Those of us who frankly prefer character to intelligence are therefore not without precedent. If we look beneath the history of the English people, beneath the ideas expressed in our literature, we find in the temper of our remotest ancestors a certain bias which still prescribes our ethics and still prejudices us against the mind. The beginnings of our conscience can be geographically located. It began in the German forests, and it gave its allegiance not to the intellect but to the will. Whether or not the severity of life in a hard climate raised the value of that persistence by which alone life could be preserved, the Germans as Tacitus knew them, and the Saxons as they landed in England, held as their chief virtue that will-power which makes character. For craft or strategy they had no use; they were already a bulldog race; they liked fighting, and they liked best to settle the matter hand to hand. The admiration for brute force which naturally accompanied this ideal of self-reliance, drew with it as naturally a certain moral sanction. A man was as good as his word, and he was ready to back up his word with a blow. No German, Tacitus says, would enter into a treaty of public or private business without his sword in his hand. When this emphasis upon the will became a social emphasis, it gave the direction to ethical feeling. Honor lay in a man's integrity, in his willingness and ability to keep his word; therefore the man became more important than his word or deed. Words and deeds were then easily interpreted, not in terms of absolute good and evil, but in terms of the man behind them. The deeds of a bad man were bad; the deeds of a good man were good. Fielding wrote Tom Jones to show that a good man sometimes does a bad action, consciously or unconsciously, and a bad man sometimes does good, intentionally or unintentionally. From the fact that Tom Jones is still popularly supposed to be as wicked as it is coarse, we may judge that Fielding did not convert all his readers. Some progress certainly has been made; we do not insist that the more saintly of two surgeons shall operate on us for appendicitis. But as a race we seem as far as possible from realising that an action can intelligently be called good only if it contributes to a good end; that it is the moral obligation of an intelligent creature to find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end; and that any system of ethics that excuses him from that obligation is vicious. If I give you poison, meaning to give you wholesome food, I have--to say the least--not done a good act; and unless I intend to throw overboard all pretence to intelligence, I must feel some responsibility for that trifling neglect to find out whether what I gave you was food or poison.
Obvious as the matter is in this academic illustration, it ought to have been still more obvious in Matthew Arnold's famous plea for culture. The purpose of culture, he said, is "to make reason and the will of God prevail." This formula he quoted from an Englishman. Differently stated, the purpose of culture, he said, is "to make an intelligent being yet more intelligent." This formula he borrowed from a Frenchman. The basis culture must have in character, the English resolution to make reason and the will of God prevail, Arnold took for granted; no man ever set a higher price on character--so far as character by itself will go. But he spent his life trying to sow a little suspicion that before we can make the will of God prevail we must find out what is the will of God.
I doubt if Arnold taught us much. He merely embarrassed us temporarily. Our race has often been so embarrassed when it has turned a sudden corner and come upon intelligence. Charles Kingsley himself, who would rather be good than clever,--and had his wish,--was temporarily embarrassed when in the consciousness of his own upright character he publicly called Newman a liar. Newman happened to be intelligent as well as good, and Kingsley's discomfiture is well known. But we discovered long ago how to evade the sudden embarrassments of intelligence. "Toll for the brave," sings the poet for those who went down in the Royal George. They were brave. But he might have sung, "Toll for the stupid." In order to clean the hull, brave Kempenfelt and his eight hundred heroes took the serious risk of laying the vessel well over on its side, while most of the crew were below. Having made the error, they all died bravely; and our memory passes easily over the lack of a virtue we never did think much of, and dwells on the English virtues of courage and discipline. So we forget the shocking blunder of the charge of the Light Brigade, and proudly sing the heroism of the victims. Lest we flatter ourselves that this trick of defence has departed with our fathers--this reading of stupidity in terms of the tragic courage that endures its results--let us reflect that recently, after full warning, we drove a ship at top speed through a field of icebergs. When we were thrilled to read how superbly those hundreds died, in the great English way, a man pointed out that they did indeed die in the English way, and that our pride was therefore ill-timed; that all that bravery was wasted; that the tragedy was in the shipwreck of intelligence. That discouraging person was an Irishman.
I have spoken of our social inheritance as though it were entirely English. Once more let me qualify my terms. Even those ancestors of ours who never left Great Britain were heirs of many civilizations--Roman, French, Italian, Greek. With each world-tide some love of pure intelligence was washed up on English shores, and enriched the soil, and here and there the old stock marvelled at its own progeny. But to America, much as we may sentimentally deplore it, England seems destined to be less and less the source of culture, of religion and learning. Our land assimilates all races; with every ship in the harbor our old English ways of thought must crowd a little closer to make room for a new tradition. If some of us do not greatly err, these newcomers are chiefly driving to the wall our inherited criticism of the intellect. As surely as the severe northern climate taught our forefathers the value of the will, the social conditions from which these new citizens have escaped have taught them the power of the mind. They differ from each other, but against the Anglo-Saxon they are confederated in a Greek love of knowledge, in a Greek assurance that sin and misery are the fruit of ignorance, and that to know is to achieve virtue. They join forces at once with that earlier arrival from Greece, the scientific spirit, which like all the immigrants has done our hard work and put up with our contempt. Between this rising host that follow intelligence, and the old camp that put their trust in a stout heart, a firm will, and a strong hand, the fight is on. Our college men will be in the thick of it. If they do not take sides, they will at least be battered in the scuffle. At this moment they are readily divided into those who wish to be men--whatever that means--and those who wish to be intelligent men, and those who, unconscious of blasphemy or humor, prefer not to be intelligent, but to do the will of God.
When we consider the nature of the problems to be solved in our day, it seems--to many of us, at least--that these un-English arrivals are correct, that intelligence is the virtue we particularly need. Courage and steadfastness we cannot do without, so long as two men dwell on the earth; but it is time to discriminate in our praise of these virtues. If you want to get out of prison, what you need is the key to the lock. If you cannot get that, have courage and steadfastness. Perhaps the modern world has got into a kind of prison, and what is needed is the key to the lock. If none of the old virtues exactly fits, why should it seem ignoble to admit it? England for centuries has got on better by sheer character than some other nations by sheer intelligence, but there is after all a relation between the kind of problem and the means we should select to solve it. Not all problems are solved by willpower. When England overthrew Bonaparte, it was not his intelligence she overthrew; the contest involved other things besides intelligence, and she wore him out in the matter of physical endurance. The enemy that comes to her as a visible host or armada she can still close with and throttle; but when the foe arrives as an arrow that flieth by night, what avail the old sinews, the old stoutness of heart! We Americans face the same problems, and are too much inclined to oppose to them similar obsolete armor. We make a moral issue of an economic or social question, because it seems ignoble to admit it is simply a question for intelligence. Like the medicine-man, we use oratory and invoke our hereditary divinities, when the patient needs only a little quiet, or permission to get out of bed. We applaud those leaders who warm to their work--who, when they cannot open a door, threaten to kick it in. In the philosopher's words, we curse the obstacles of life as though they were devils. But they are not devils. They are obstacles.
Perhaps my question as to what you think of intelligence has been pushed far enough. But I cannot leave the subject without a confession of faith.
None of the reasons here suggested will quite explain the true worship of intelligence, whether we worship it as the scientific spirit, or as scholarship, or as any other reliance upon the mind. We really seek intelligence not for the answers it may suggest to the problems of life, but because we believe it is life,--not for aid in making the will of God prevail, but because we believe it is the will of God. We love it, as we love virtue, for its own sake, and we believe it is only virtue's other and more precise name. We believe that the virtues wait upon intelligence--literally wait, in the history of the race. Whatever is elemental in man--love, hunger, fear--has obeyed from the beginning the discipline of intelligence. We are told that to kill one's aging parents was once a demonstration of solicitude; about the same time, men hungered for raw meat and feared the sun's eclipse. Filial love, hunger, and fear are still motives to conduct, but intelligence has directed them to other ends. If we no longer hang the thief or flog the school-boy, it is not that we think less harshly of theft or laziness, but that intelligence has found a better persuasion to honesty and enterprise.
We believe that even in religion, in the most intimate room of the spirit, intelligence long ago proved itself the master-virtue. Its inward office from the beginning was to decrease fear and increase opportunity; its outward effect was to rob the altar of its sacrifice and the priest of his mysteries. Little wonder that from the beginning the disinterestedness of the accredited custodians of all temples has been tested by the kind of welcome they gave to intelligence. How many hecatombs were offered on more shores than that of Aulis, by seamen waiting for a favorable wind, before intelligence found out a boat that could tack! The altar was deserted, the religion revised--fear of the uncontrollable changing into delight in the knowledge that is power. We contemplate with satisfaction the law by which in our long history one religion has driven out another, as one hypothesis supplants another in astronomy or mathematics. The faith that needs the fewest altars, the hypothesis that leaves least unexplained, survives; and the intelligence that changes most fears into opportunity is most divine.
We believe this beneficent operation of intelligence was swerving not one degree from its ancient course when under the name of the scientific spirit it once more laid its influence upon religion. If the shock here seemed too violent, if the purpose of intelligence here seemed to be not revision but contradiction, it was only because religion was invited to digest an unusually large amount of intelligence all at once. Moreover, it is not certain that devout people were more shocked by Darwinism than the pious mariners were by the first boat that could tack. Perhaps the sacrifices were not abandoned all at once.
But the lover of intelligence must be patient with those who cannot readily share his passion. Some pangs the mind will inflict upon the heart. It is a mistake to think that men are united by elemental affections. Our affections divide us. We strike roots in immediate time and space, and fall in love with our locality, the customs and the language in which we were brought up. Intelligence unites us with mankind, by leading us in sympathy to other times, other places, other customs; but first the prejudiced roots of affection must be pulled up. These are the old pangs of intelligence, which still comes to set a man at variance against his father, saying, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."
Yet, if intelligence begins in a pang, it proceeds to a vision. Through measureless time its office has been to make of life an opportunity, to make goodness articulate, to make virtue a fact. In history at least, if not yet in the individual, Plato's faith has come true, that sin is but ignorance, and knowledge and virtue are one. But all that intelligence has accomplished dwindles in comparison with the vision it suggests and warrants. Beholding this long liberation of the human spirit, we foresee, in every new light of the mind, one unifying mind, wherein the human race shall know its destiny and proceed to it with satisfaction, as an idea moves to its proper conclusion; we conceive of intelligence at last as the infinite order, wherein man, when he enters it, shall find himself.
Meanwhile he continues to find his virtues by successive insights into his needs. Let us cultivate insight.
- "O Wisdom of the Most High,
- That reachest from the beginning to the end,
- And dost order all things in strength and grace,
- Teach us now the way of understanding."
Interpretation[edit | edit source]
Level of Words[edit | edit source]
Definitions of Key Terms[edit | edit source]
- virtue: good habit.
General Vocabulary[edit | edit source]
Level of Sentences[edit | edit source]
- Note the length and parallel construction of this sentence. The parallelism is achieved by use of punctuation. Erskine uses the semicolon (;) to construct the main parallel structures.
Between this rising host that follow intelligence, and the old camp that put their trust in a stout heart, a firm will, and a strong hand, the fight is on
Parse this sentence to clearly draw the lines. Pay particular attention to stout heart, firm will, strong hand and how those concepts connect back to the Anglo-Saxon/Germanic heritage as Erskine references them in earlier sections. This sets up the rest of the paragraph, which is also highlighted in the level of passages section below.
Level of Passages[edit | edit source]
- These first two paragraphs comprise the introduction to the essay.
“The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent” Section III Reading Guide Questions
1. In paragraph one of section III, Erskine is conceding that his depiction of English literature is in some ways unfair, but he goes on to enlarge upon how his examples demonstrate his original point. Although the English authors themselves were obviously intelligent, in their writings they tend to divide goodness of heart and intelligence, and by example say that a person can only have one or the other—even though in real life this obviously isn’t true of historical figures who existed at the time the fictional characters were created, and again of the authors themselves. Go back and see if you can see how he makes this point. Now, look at paragraph two. He says he is making one point to bring up another. What are the two points?
a. The first point that he is making:
b. The question he is asking you as the reader (in the second paragraph):
2. In paragraph three of section III, Erskine begins to analyze where this traditional English separation of the moral and the intellectual came from. He goes to the forests of Germany. There he details a split between the intellect and another quality—the will. Looking at how he describes the German character in this paragraph, give your best description of the meaning of “will” as Erskine is using the word.
3. According to the author in paragraph four of section III, what did Arnold (referring here to Matthew Arnold the English poet) believe was the highest purpose of intelligence?
4. Does the author believe that Arnold successfully convinced most people of English descent? (quote the line that gave you your answer)
“The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent” by John Erskine Section IV analysis questions
1. In paragraph one of section IV, Erskine says that the English heritage is being diluted in America. What does he say is diluting it, and why?
2. In paragraph one, he makes the analogy that a battle is going on between two groups of people with two rival sets of beliefs. Who are those two groups?
3. According to the author in paragraph two of section IV, what should determine the solution to any given problem?
4. What mistake does the author suggest we Americans are making when we seek to solve or deal with economic or social problems?
“The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent” Section V
1. In paragraph one of section V, Erskine says he is going to finish with a “confession of faith.” What does he mean by this phrase?
2. In paragraph two, what does the author say those who worship intelligence really love about it?
3. Is the author someone who worships intelligence? Support your answer from the text.
4. At the beginning of paragraph six, the author states that, “. . .if intelligence begins in a pang, in proceeds in a vision.” This is a reference to a point he makes in paragraph five. What is the “pang”?
A good passage to parse in class with the students, in part because so much history is assumed and alluded to in the examples, is:
So we forget the shocking blunder of the charge of the Light Brigade, and proudly sing the heroism of the victims. Lest we flatter ourselves that this trick of defence has departed with our fathers--this reading of stupidity in terms of the tragic courage that endures its results--let us reflect that recently, after full warning, we drove a ship at top speed through a field of icebergs. When we were thrilled to read how superbly those hundreds died, in the great English way, a man pointed out that they did indeed die in the English way, and that our pride was therefore ill-timed; that all that bravery was wasted; that the tragedy was in the shipwreck of intelligence. (These last sentences are a reference to the sinking of the Titanic--a current event when the speech was originally authored and delivered.)
A key passage for understanding the essay is:
Between this rising host that follow intelligence, and the old camp that put their trust in a stout heart, a firm will, and a strong hand, the fight is on. Our college men will be in the thick of it. If they do not take sides, they will at least be battered in the scuffle. At this moment they are readily divided into those who wish to be men--whatever that means--and those who wish to be intelligent men, and those who, unconscious of blasphemy or humor, prefer not to be intelligent, but to do the will of God.
Some passages to further consider, in preparation for, or as a part of, a seminar:
We believe that even in religion, in the most intimate room of the spirit, intelligence long ago proved itself the master-virtue. Its inward office from the beginning was to decrease fear and increase opportunity
Meanwhile he continues to find his virtues by successive insights into his needs. Let us cultivate insight.
"O Wisdom of the Most High, That reachest from the beginning to the end, And dost order all things in strength and grace, Teach us now the way of understanding."
Erudition[edit | edit source]
Biographical References[edit | edit source]
Erskine, John was a U.S. educator and author who lived from October 5, 1879 – June 2, 1951.
- Erskine, John: Additional information on John Erskine
- Erskine, John: Columbia University's profile of John Erskine
- Erskine, John: Additional information on the author from Columbia University
Geographical References[edit | edit source]
Historical References[edit | edit source]
Literary References[edit | edit source]
Arnold, Matthew was a British poet
Arnold is clearly admired by the author as an example of a man who lauds the intellect as a means to holiness. One of his most famous poems is "Dover Beach"
By Matthew Arnold
The sea is calm tonight,
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Agean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Study of this poem is an excellent adjunct to this essay. First time, I used the poem after the seminar as an enrichment of the themes from the seminar.
Balzac, Honoré de; was a French novelist and playwright author of such pieces as Le Père Goriot and Eugénie Grandet
Byron; also known as Lord Byron; was a British poet
Dickens, Charles; author of such novels as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, and others.
Fielding, Henry; author of the novel Tom Jones
Kingsley, Charles was an English clergyman, university professor, historian and novelist
Milton, John; author of Paradise Lost
Scott, Sir Walter; author of such novels as Ivanhoe and Rob Roy
Shakespere, despite the differences in spelling, refers to William Shakespeare
Shelley, Percy Bysshe; a major English Romantic poet
Spenser, Edmund; English poet best known for his work The Faerie Queene
Thackeray, William Makepeace; author of the novel Vanity Fair
Religious References[edit | edit source]
A Reference to Ancient Greek Sacrifice
A Reference to the Gospel of Matthew
"He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me" is a portion of Matthew 10:37. The translation is identical in both the King James and the Douay-Rheims versions of the Bible, both of which can be searched at Biola University's Unbound Bible site.
A Reference to Advent Liturgy in the Christian Tradition
English Version Used by Erskine:
- O Wisdom of the Most High,
- That reachest from the beginning to the end,
- And dost order all things in strength and grace,
- Teach us now the way of understanding.
- O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
- attingens a fine usque ad finem,
- fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
- veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
A More Common English Version:
- O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
- reaching from one end to the other mightily,
- and sweetly ordering all things:
- Come and teach us the way of prudence.
"O Sapientia. -- The name marks that on this day began the special Antiphons to the Magnificat, continued up to December 23rd. They were a series of hymns to Our Lord, beginning successively 'O Wisdom,' 'O Adonai,' 'O Root of Jesse,' 'O Key of David,' 'O Dawning Light,' 'O King and desire of all nations,' 'O Emmanuel.' -- December 16th" 
- Additional References to "O Wisdom" or "O Sapientia"
- Relationship to Advent Hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel with Latin and English
Scientific References[edit | edit source]
Column Two[edit | edit source]
Column Three[edit | edit source]
Potential Seminar Questions[edit | edit source]
The following table serves to guide teachers in understanding the types of questions that could guide a good seminar on Erskine's The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent. In addition, the table may serve to trigger additional question ideas and offer a guide to writing good questions. Good seminars follow the general structure given by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren in their classic How to Read a Book published by Simon & Schuster in 1972. Column one gives the four main questions that a demanding reader should ask of any book. These questions guide the types of questions and the purpose of each type used in good seminars. The last column serves to illustrate questions that might be asked of Erskine's The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent.
Again, the questions in the last common are examples. A good seminar will not use all of these questions. A quality seminar plan should be built around one or two questions from the first row, one question from the last row, and one to three questions from the middle two rows.
|From How to Read a Book
Adler & Van Doren (1972)
|Question Type||Purpose of Question Type||Sample Seminar Questions
Answers to Be Supported from the Text
|What is the book (work) about as a whole?||Opening||Identify main ideas (and "great ideas")||
What is the single most important word that Erskine uses in The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent? Why? How is this word used throughout the essay?
What would be an appropriate alternate title for The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent? Why?
|What is being said in detail and how?||Analytical||Root out main ideas, assertions, and arguments||
How does one determine whether something is a virtue?
How does Erskine determine whether an action can be called virtuous or good? See Section III 3b. Why might we be morally obligated to find whether an action leads to a good or bad end?
Is there a single fountainhead of virtue from which other virtues flow? Does Erskine think that there is such a virtue? See Section V, paragraph two.
How are culture and virtue related?
|Is the book (work) true, in whole or part?||Evaluative||Make and support judgments||
In Section IV, paragraph one, Erskine says, ...to know is to achieve virtue. Do you agree that this is true? Why?
In Section V, paragraph two, Erskine says, We really seek intelligence not for the answers it may suggest to the problems of life, but because we believe it is life,--not for aid in making the will of God prevail, but because we believe it is the will of God.
Where does Erskine understand wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to come from? See Section V, paragraph eight.
|What of it?||Closing||Relate judgments about ideas to one's own life||
What role do obstacles (Section IV, paragraph 2b) play in growing intelligence?
Do you feel that you should pursue intelligence personally? Why or why not?
What sort of benefits could intelligence have in your life?
A Sample High School Seminar[edit | edit source]
Introduction to the Seminar
Seminars are “conversations, conducted in an orderly manner by the teacher who acts as leader or moderator of the discussion”.  The purpose of seminars is for participants to deepen their understanding of the great ideas that shape us as human persons and citizens. Through discussion we learn, share, and deepen our grasp of concepts. Rather than simply seeking to remember information which we are likely to forget, we form our understanding in ways that will last the rest of our lives when we engage each other in dialogue.
Participating well in a seminar requires effort and skill. The effort is a choice, and skills develop with practice. In this seminar, your two leaders will press you to express yourself clearly at three levels: words, sentences, and arguments. If we press you to make clear what you mean by a particular word, take it in stride. Do not feel pressured or "put on the spot." We're merely trying to help you practice an important skill, namely using words well to express your thoughts. We may also ask you to repeat yourself or to say the same thing in a different way. We may stick with you, press you, insist on greater clarity of expression. Again, we're your teachers, and we're trying to help you develop excellent communication skills. Smile, and work with us. Finally, we will ask that you make your points and draw conclusions logically. We'll ask that you think about your points and the premises they rest on. Do your points have reasons? Are your assumptions plausible? We ask that you work with us in a conversational spirit while understanding that there is method to our madness :-). We want to help you learn.
Introduction to the Work
Welcome to today's seminar on The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent by John Erskine. Erskine was a professor at Columbia University and was the first President of the Julliard School of Music, but is most well known for this work that was written in 1915. By studying this we seek to enlarge our understanding of a number of great ideas. Within the scope of one seminar, however, we must limit ourselves because time will not permit us to delve deeply into all of the ideas in this important work.
Erskine's The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent includes a number of the great ideas. These include the ideas of COURAGE, EVOLUTION, KNOWLEDGE, GOD, RELIGION, GOOD AND EVIL and VIRTUE AND VICE among others. It is relevant to note that as students who, we hope, will spend the rest of their lives as life-long learners, Erskine has a great deal to say about intelligence.
1. Having read through The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent and examined a number of the key words and terms, some of which were new to you, I want you to answer a question that should take no further time to deliberate. What is the single most important word in The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent? I will give you ten seconds to think, but the first word that comes to your mind is probably a good answer. Once everyone has stated their word, you will be allowed to explain why you chose your word.
2. If I was forced to come up with a different title for this essay, I would choose, The Virtue of Intelligence. a.:What is a virtue? Wikipedia defines virtue as follows, "Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being." Or, something that is right and good. b. :How does one determine whether something is a virtue? i::Must it be actively pursued? ii::Must or should art and literature reflect virtue? iii::What is the primary tool that Erskine uses to support his argument?
3:How does Erskine determine whether an action can be called virtuous or good? See Section III 3b. Why might we be morally obligated to find whether an action leads to a good or bad end?
4:Is there a single fountainhead of virtue from which other virtues flow? Does Erskine think that there is such a virtue? See Section V, paragraph two.
5:How are culture and virtue related?
a.::Does a culture dictate what is virtuous and what is vicious OR does virtue function as the foundation for building a culture? b.::What is the purpose of culture? See Section III paragraph 4.
6. In Section IV, paragraph one, Erskine says, ...to know is to achieve virtue. Do you agree that this is true? Why?
7. In Section V, paragraph two, Erskine says, We really seek intelligence not for the answers it may suggest to the problems of life, but because we believe it is life,--not for aid in making the will of God prevail, but because we believe it is the will of God. Can this be proved to be true?
X. (Not used in first seminar) Where does Erskine understand wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to come from? See Section V, paragraph eight.
8. What role do obstacles (Section IV, paragraph 2b) play in growing intelligence?
9. Does this essay encourage you to should pursue intelligence personally? Are you convinced by this argument? Why or why not?
10. The author believes that growing in intelligence will improve your life and the culture around you. Do you agree?
References[edit | edit source]
- "The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent," The Hibbert Journal, Vol. XI, pp. 174-185
- Erskine, John (1915). The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent and Other Essays, Duffield and Company, New York.
- "The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent," The Hibbert Journal, Vol. XI, p. 174
- O Sapientia, Anglican Book of Common Prayer, 1662, "Some Notes on the Festivals"
- Henry, Hugh. "O Antiphons." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 20 Feb. 2011 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11173b.htm>.
- Adler, Mortimer, (1982). Paideia Proposal, p. 17