Sunday, September 8, 2019

What do we want more than knowledge?

"Why should workers become intellectuals? I find it hard to imagine a less attractive prospect than a society made up of intellectuals," said Christopher Lasch.

Intellectual projects may not even be able to achieve what they set out to do. Knowledge is, first of all, not necessarily the final goal. Sometimes the goal of knowledge is to find a better goal.

"This, then," said Soren Kierkegaard, "is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.

Knowledge is also fragile and elusive. It dies a little bit in the process of coming into being.

"The forceps of our minds," said H. G. Wells, "are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it."

In which case, said Parker J. Palmer, we must reconnect with the truth as it is known before the mind even grasps it, as "every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who wants to lay a claim on our lives."

We may still have to engage in our intellectual projects, but at least we understand their proper limits — that is, where the academic exercise ends and where we begin.

"Many academic examinations fall into this category, in which it is psychologically healthier for the student to realize that he is required to take the examination and he doesn't like it, and to study for it with that realization in mind. The damage to his integrity comes," as Rollo May explained, "when he tries to persuade himself that he does like it."


Christopher Lasch. The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1984. p. 27.

Johannes Climacus (Soren Kierkegaard), Philosophical Fragments, ed. and trans. by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1985. p 37.

H. G. Wells, quoted in, quoted in The Week, June 14, 2013, p. 19.

Parker J. Palmer. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004. p. 19.

Rollo May, Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1972. p 103.

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