Monday, June 13, 2011

An Ancient Quarrel in Modern America

Hutchins and Adler–Sofphists, Grammarians and
Dialecticians–Cicero vs. John Dewey–
South vs. North–Athens to Chicago

THE BATTLE OF the books has broken out again. The splenetic interchanges of educators and scholars, beside which the wrath of Achilles or the ire of Republicans against the New Deal is a puerile business, are shrieking across the no-man's land of the curriculum. Hutchins, Adler, and Van Doran have made commando raids deep into enemy territory, and the rage of the immobilized battalions of standard and progressive education is uttering itself in howls against them as "reactionary," "obscurantist," "metaphysical," "unscientific."

Hutchins and Adler are news. Education is news. The great books are talked about, and the "great man's fat book club" (euphemism for "the fat man's great book club") numbers some prominent Chicago millionaires in the adult education division of the University of Chicago. Even the most innocent of bystanders might suppose that Hutchins has "got something" when he sees Midas and Croesus arriving for class with notebook in hand. The ancient Sophists promised to teach men how they could acquire wealth. What does Mr. Hutchins tell those who have already acquired it?

Viewed as an episode in a dispute which began in ancient Athens, the present quarrel over the Chicago Program becomes not only more interesting but more intelligible. I shall state briefly what seems to me to be the origin and history of this quarrel before proceeding to fill in the outline with a few facts which will enable the reader to investigate the business more completely than it can be shown here.

The end of education as described by Hutchins is the making of the citizen. The citizen is rational man equipped for social and political life by means of encyclopedic (non-specialized) training in the arts and sciences (the great books program). Special skill in the arts of reading and writing are paramount. The citizen must be fluent, even eloquent, on all subjects. The citizen must know all things which concern the welfare of the group.

The opponents of Hutchins, whether scientists, progressive educationalists, positivists, or experimentalists, (1) are all agreed in a specialist notion of human activity. Scientific knowledge and method are the ultimate bases of social and political authority for men like Professor Dewey. (2) Liberals like Alexander Meiklejohn working with Rousseau's basic assumption that the state is a moral person conclude that "Teacher and pupil are not isolated individuals. They are both agents of the state." (3)

Education as conceived by the liberal opponents of Hutchins is more concerned with making the individual useful to the state than with making the individual potentially a ruler of himself and of the state. Whereas Hutchins' program would make every citizen a potential ruler, the "liberals" conceive rather of the individual as a technologically functional unit in the state. Meiklejohn employs the analogy of the individual as a note in the musical score of society, whereas Hutchins thinks of each person as a complete musical work. Again, Hutchins adopts the classical view of man as a rational animal and hence a political animal. The state from this point of view is an association of autonomous persons. Opposed to this, a conventional representative of nineteenth-century social thought, such as Dewey or Meiklejohn, regards the collectivity as the basic thing. The individual has no nature which is not conferred on him by the collectivity. Man is not a rational animal.

Behind this contrast in basic postulates between Hutchins and his opponents there is a long history. What makes the explanation of the conflict rather difficult is the fact that while the position of Hutchins is recognizably that of Isocrates and Cicero, the position of men like Dewy is not like that of Plato and Aristotle. Nevertheless, I think it can be shown that Dewey and the experimentalists are lineally descended from Plato and Aristotle via William of Ockham and Peter Ramus. My explanation of the modern quarrel is in terms of the old quarrel between the grammarians and rhetoricians on the one hand and the dialecticians on the other hand. It is the quarrel begun by Socrates against the Sophists, from whose ranks he came. However, the Church Fathers, notably St. Jerome and St. Augustine, made Ciceronian humanism basic training for the exegetist of Scripture. Patristic humanism subordinated dialectics to grammar and rhetoric until this same quarrel broke out afresh in the twelfth century when Peter Abelard set up dialectics as the supreme method in theological discussion. Abelard's party was opposed by the great Ciceronian humanist John of Salisbury, whose Metalogicus, as the name implies, was aimed against the logicians, who were called the Schoolmen, or moderni. (4)

After four centuries of triumphant dialectics, the traditional patristic reaction, heralded by Petrarch, had gathered sufficient head under Erasmus to supplant a scholasticism weakened from within by bitter disputes. But by many channels mathematical, philosophical, theological, and scientific dialectics has persisted. Particularly strong was the scholastic current in New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where the influence of dialectics through Calvinistic theology made of Harvard a little Sorbonne. Meantime, the southern states had received a class of small English gentry which had been reared in the Ciceronian encyclopedism that was then standard training in all the secularized schools and colleges of England. Humanistic, legalistic, forensic, southern education has followed Ciceronian lines to this day, as the case of an eminent Kentuckian such as Robert Hutchins illustrates. On the other hand, the North has followed scholastic lines, showing more concern for abstract method and technology than for the res publica. It is no accident that nearly all American political thought is Southern. In short, the cultural cleavage of North and South reflects the broad divisions of the age-old quarrel between Socrates and the Sophists in the past and between science and "the great books program" in the present. (5)

Referring to Plato's account of Hippias of Elis, M. Robin observes: "He was an encyclopaedic virtuoso of the picturesque type produced by the Italian Renaissance." (6 ) My problem is to sketch in the historical facts which made it possible for a Greek Sophist to become the ideal of Renaissance humanist education. By so doing it is possible to highlight the significance of, and the opposition to, the great books program. The Sophists advertised for pupils by promising wealth and power, and they demonstrated their verbal and dialectical skill at great festivals. They gave oratorical displays on all the themes of art, science, and philosophy. To manipulate this encyclopedic knowledge it became necessary to organize it around basic "commonplaces" or loci of argument; and in order to retain this knowledge "Hippias' system of mnemonics was of great importance." (7) Naturally, the Sophists made logic subordinate to rhetoric or persuasion, since their end was political. And this it was which raised against them the opposition of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who were all agreed that dialectics should control rhetoric, that knowledge was superior even to prudential action. (8)

It is unfair to suppose that the Sophists were merely cynical power and money gluttons. They claimed also to teach the means to wisdom; for wisdom, as well as eloquence, was thought by them, as by Cicero, to be the by-product of erudition. It was this claim which most annoyed Plato and against which he directs his dialectical refutations in the Gorgias and elsewhere. (9) (I think that this is admittedly the claim of the Chicago program also.) But Plato and Aristotle were far from successful in severing rhetoric from wisdom. Isocrates proved a most formidable exponent of the doctrine that eloquence and wisdom are one, and he compelled Plato and Aristotle to make practical compromises. (10)

It is necessary to spend some time in showing how this identity of eloquence and wisdom enters into the work of Cicero, since he, more than any other individual, was responsible for the concepts of humanism which prevailed in the twelfth, the sixteenth, or the twentieth centuries. He who would understand how in the thought of Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, or in the great books program, all knowledge is subordinated to the development of political prudence, must understand the nature and influence of Cicero. When this is seen it is easy to define the opposition which always rises against the Ciceronian program from the camps of technology, science, or philosophy.

The origin of this important claim for the inseparable character of eloquence and wisdom would seem to lie in the familiar doctrine of the Logos, which may be supposed to have arisen with Heraclitus. (11) Society is a mirror or speculum of the Logos, as, indeed, are the external world, the mind of man and, above all, human speech. Society, ideally the cosmopolis or perfect world state, claimed the devotion of every virtuous man. And just as Zeno considered wisdom or prudence "not only as the first of the virtues, but as the foundation of all," so political prudence is the noblest sphere in which to exercise this virtue. (12) The Stoics deduced from this doctrine the corollary that "The bond of the state is the Logos (ratio atque oratio)." (13)

Viewed from the standpoint of the doctrine of the Logos, man is distinguished from the brutes by speech, and as he becomes more eloquent he becomes less brutish. (14) As he becomes less brutish he becomes more wise. There is thus no conflict between eloquence and wisdom; and since eloquence is the means to political power, the great orator, the great statesman, and the great philosopher are one and the same. (15) Boccaccio could hail Petrarch as "him whose heart was the abode of the Muses, and the sanctuary of philosophy and eloquence." (16)

If there is one word which is oftener used by Cicero, or one which better describes his position than another, it is humanitas. (17) When we speak of the humanities today as opposed to technology, the physical sciences, or highly specialized disciplines such as logic, we mean what Cicero and Scipio meant: "Scipio . . . introduced into Roman society the atmosphere of Stoicism, known as humanitas: this included an aversion to war and civil strife, an eagerness to appreciate the art and literature of Greece, and an admiration for the ideals depicted by Xenophon, of the ruler in Cyrus, and of the citizen in Socrates." (18) For Cicero the complete orator, the doctus orator, is the ideal philosopher, ruler, citizen. (19) Moreover, "whatever the theme, from whatever art of whatever branch of knowledge it be taken, the orator, just as if he had got up the case for a client, will state it better and more gracefully than the actual discoverer and the specialist." (20)

Just precisely what is implied in this last statement can best be found in the pioneer investigation done by M. Marrou on the education and work of St. Augustine. (21) Even earlier, de Labriolle had shown how the encyclopedic equipment of the classical grammarian who was competent to give an explication of a poet (22) was likewise required by the exegetist of Scripture. (23) Confronted with the inexhaustible riches of a passage of Scripture, St. Augustine wishes for an ideal theologian who combines all the virtues of Quintilian's grammarian and Cicero's orator: O utinam doctissimum aliquem, neque id tantum, sed etiam eloquentissimum . . . de hoc ambo (de vi et potentia animae) interrogare possemus! (24)

St. Augustine, who was the educator of the entire Middle Ages, was himself just this sort of writer. He wrote treatises on the liberal arts. He had become acquainted with the beauty of philosophy by reading the Hortensius, the lost treatise of Cicero. There was no eloquence without philosophy in St. Augustine. He also became an historian in the best tradition in his De Civitate Dei; and his De Doctrina Christiana is the charter of Christian education, laying down a Ciceronian basis for all teaching in the next centuries. (25)

After this brief indication of the opposition of Plato and Aristotle to the ideal of knowledge subordinated to the service of action or political prudence, followed by a reference to Cicero's consolidation of the political ideal, and the way in which Cicero's program became the basis of patristic humanism, it remains to sketch quickly the subsequent stages of this development.

The cultivation of rhetoric and eloquence in the Middle Ages was primarily for exegesis and homiletics, but increasingly it became associated with the law faculties. (26) The authoritative statement of L. J. Paetow will clarify the confused notions which are generally held on these subjects: "There is abroad a generally erroneous notion about religious instruction in the Middle Ages. Any close inspection of the work of medieval schools reveals the rather startling fact that they offered extremely little religious instruction. It is equally surprising to find that theology was taught in comparatively few universities of the Middle Ages, whereas a faculty of law was lacking in not a single one of them." (27)

An important fact for the history of the Ciceronian tradition is that grammar and rhetoric (everything we today know as "humanism") were not supplanted by dialectics in Italy as they were in France, Germany, and England. Italy's great legal tradition kept grammar and rhetoric in the foreground, so that there is nothing strange in the fact that Petrarch got his literary training at the Bologna law school. (28) However, most of the Italian monks who would ordinarily have been studying Cicero and Quintilian at Monte Cassino and such places, had gone off to Paris to study logic. Thus Petrarch's complaint about the state of classical studies in Italy at this time was well founded. (29)

Thus the Goths and Huns of learning (of whom Petrarch and Erasmus never tire to speak) were the logicians of the Sorbonne and Oxford. The logicians were the moderni. The humanists called themselves the antiqui theologi, because they were sponsoring the revival of the old patristic methods in exegesis against the new speculative and systematic theology. (30)

In traversing so many centuries with a view to setting up fingerposts for those interested in the ancient quarrel of rhetoric and dialectics, only the sketchiest methods are feasible. I must now assume that the existence, at least, of this quarrel between humanism and something which has been variously designated as "scholastic philosophy," "dialectics," and the "scientific spirit," has been indicated. For the purpose of rounding off the paper it is necessary to observe that stage of the battle which occurred in the sixteenth century, since every historian of modern literature and thought is accustomed to take his bearings from that century. No more impressive evidence of the continuity of the "Ciceronian" tradition could be given here than that of L. K. Born in his preface to Erasmus' Education of a Christian Prince. Discussing the numerous manuals of this class, he says: "That there is a continuous line of succession at least from the time of Isocrates with his Ad Nicoclem to the twentieth century is beyond question." (31) The Gargantua of Rabelais is likewise a treatise on humanistic education for the prince just as much as More's Utopia, Castiglione's Courtier, Aschams's Scholemaster, and Spenser's Faerie Queene. (32)

As one reads the early eighteenth-century Byrd of Westover (33) one is in contact with a Ciceronian humanist who began every day with reading in Greek and Latin, a man whose training was legalistic and whose interests were political. "For some reason," says L. B. Wright, "Southern colonists were less introspective . . . than their contemporaries in New England." (34) The reason for this dichotomy lies in the divergent education of the two sections of America. Whereas the Southerner pursued the linguistic and legalistic learning of sixteenth-century humanism, the New Englander was nourished on logic and speculative or systematic theology. (35) Whereas the Southerner had the practical political and social bias of the Renaissance gentleman and tended to study letters and law, the New England was absorbed in the most recondite theological problems of human depravity, grace, foreknowledge, and free will. The stages by which he made the transition from high theology to high finance have analyzed in R. H. Tawney's classic Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. (36)

Without proceeding into the kind of detail possible only in a book, I have done what I could to suggest that behind the immediate controversy about the great books program lies not only the basic cleavage of American culture but a quarrel whose roots are in ancient Greece. Between the speculative dialectician and scientist who says that "the glory of man is to know the truth by my methods," and the eloquent moralist who says that "the bliss of man is good government carried on by copiously eloquent and wise citizens," there need be no conflict. Conflict, however, will inevitably arise between these parties when either attempts to capture the entire education of an age or a country. It would seem to be a matter of distributing time for these studies. The Ciceronian, particularly in a democracy, could reasonably have charge of all education until graduation from college (whether that occurs at eighteen or twenty-one). Intimate association with the scientific spirit, whether inculcated by logic and dialectics or by the physical sciences, can very well afford to be postponed to the stage of graduate study. It would seem, however, that some knowledge of the history of the present dispute would serve to diminish the fog and the passions aroused at present, and would substitute some light for much heat. Of course, no human difficulties ever seem inevitable to the historical gaze. Reasonable inquiry would deprive us of that major distraction from boredom which is invariably sought in hasty accusation and warm rejoinder where both parties raise convenient inconsequence to the level of an intellectual virtue.


1 The attack of Sidney Hook on the Hutchins-Van Doren program puts the objections of the experimentalist camp in the conventional way. ("God, Geometry, and the Good Society." Partisan Review [Spring, 1944] 161-167).

2 Sidney Hook: John Dewey (New York, 1939), 155, 175, 220. "The process and method of constructing goods is the only thing that can be called the good." (180)

3 Education Between Two Worlds (New York, 1942), 279. On p. 84 Meiklejohn shows that not the individual but the state is personal. Hence all men have their freedom not in their own natures but in and from and by the state.

4 Basic for an understanding of how the classical disciplines were focused for subsequent centuries is Saint Augustin et la Fin de la Culture Antique by H. I. Marrow (Paris, 1930). Lectures given by Etienne Gilson at the University of Toronto (1939-40) traced the Ciceronian tradition to the time of Erasmus, explaining the precise nature of the quarrel between the rhetoricians and dialecticians from the twelfth century onwards. The quarrel between Abelard and St. Bernard, between Petrarch and the Huns of the Sorbonne, between Erasmus and the Schoolmen, between Swift and the "moderns," is basically the quarrel.

5 The curious way in which this dichotomy illuminates the work of Poe in contrast to the work of the New England literati I have tried to show in "Edgar Poe's Tradition" (Sewanee Review, Winter 1944, 24-33).

6 Leon Robin, Greek Thought and the Origins of the Scientific Spirit (London, 1928), 136. CF. Werner Jaeger's Paideia (New York, 1939), 294.

7 Robin, op. cit. (see not 6), 139.

8 Robin, 143. Since everybody is familiar with the claims of Socrates and Plato for dialectics, I give here the less well-known text of Aristotle from the Topics (101a). Dialectics "has a further use in relation to the ultimate bases of the principles used in the several sciences. For it is impossible to discuss them at all from the principles proper to the particular science in hand, seeing that the principles are the prius of everything else: . . . dialectics is a process of criticism wherein lies the path to the principles of all inquiries." (Trans. of W. A. Pickard-Cambridge.)

9 Richard Robinson, Plato's Earlier Dialectic (New York, 1941), 73-74.

10 W. Rhys Roberts, Greek Rhetoric and Literary Criticism (New York, 1928), 46. Cf. Cicero's De Oratore 3.35, and Orator 51.172.

11The best account is that of E. V. Arnold in Roman Stoicism (Cambridge, 1911), 37 et passim.

12 Ibid., 275.

13 Ibid., 306. Cf. Jaeger, op. cit. (see note 6), 274, 318, 323.

14 De Oratore 1.8.

15 It was not until the time of Seneca that the Stoics turned their back on the world and abandoned the burdens of political office, Arnold, op. cit. (see note 11), 116.

16 T. Campbell, Life of Petrarch (second ed., London, 1843), vol. II, 315.

17 De Oratore 2.37. One of the most interesting things in the De Oratore is Cicero's history of philosophy (3.15-23). His aim is to show how it came about that Socrates and the rest could ever have claimed that there was any separation between eloquence and wisdom. Cicero says this began as a division of the heart and head. Francis Bacon repeats these arguments from Cicero in his Novum Organum (1.63-88). Both Cicero and Bacon evaluate arts and knowledge in utilitarian or political terms.

18 Arnold, op. cit. (see note 11), 381

19 De Oratore 3.25.

20 Ibid., 1.12. Quintilian (2.21) gives a lengthy development and illustration of this position. This ideal dominated the humanism of the Renaissance as can be seen in Castiglione's Courtier, Elyot's Governour, and in such Shakespearean portraits as Hamlet and Henry the Fifth. See especially the latter play, Act I, sc. i. Early Christion piety sculpturally represented Christus orator, (Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe [New York, 1938], 64.)

21 H. I. Marrow, op. cit. (see note 4), 11ff.

22 Quintilian 1.4.6; 2.1.4-7

23 Pierre de Labriolle, History and Literature of Christianity (New York, 1925), 6.

24 De Quantitate Animi, Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. xxxii, c. 1075. Book vi of Clement of Alexandria's Miscellanies contains a discussion of the true gnostic's need for encyclopedic learning in approaching the Scriptures.

25 Of its four books, three are given over to the linguistic and liberal arts necessary to the interpreter of Scripture. The fourth book is devoted to persuasion, rhetoric, and style. He quotes (4.12) Cicero's dictum that the eloquent man must teach, delight, and persuade. (Oratore 21.) See also E. K. Rand's Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Mass., 1928), 49-64, 102-134).

26 R. P. McKeon's "Rhetoic in the Middle Ages," Speculum 17.1-32. This highly compressed study supplants C. S. Baldwin's work. 27 The Battle of the Seven Arts (Berkeley, 1914), 19-20. Paetow's preface to this remarkable poem is as basic for these matters as his Arts Course at Medieval Universities (Urbana-Champaign, 1910). Henri D'Andeli's French poem about the battle of the arts at Paris in the twelfth century describes the war between the logicians and the humanists that is, between the Schoolmen and the grammarians and rhetoricians. It is the same quarrel which occurred in fifth-century Athens, seventeenth-century France, and twentieth-century America.

28 President Hutchins complains that the only place in America where one can get a humanistic training in the arts of speech is a law school, Education for Freedom (Baton Rouge, 1943). It is true that in the past century the abstract cadres of German scholasticism have completely disoriented American school and college organization away from humanistic ends, bringing our education into line with industrial technology. All industrialist organization of society is necessarily technological and abstract. New England and the northern states embraced abstractions readily. The southern tradition, however, is resistant with legalistic humanism.

29 Paetow, op. cit. (see note 27), 12: "Now the lowest ebb in the study of ancient classical literature occurred in the century which preceded Petrarch. So low it was that he and his contemporaries believed that the dry and barren period on which they had fallen must have extended back for centuries to the last days of classic Latin literature."

30 Erasmus refers to Colet, his inspirer, as "the vindicator and assertor of the old theology" against "this modern school of theologians who spend all their time in mere quibbling." J. J. Mangan, Life of Desiderius Erasmus (New York, two vols., 1927), 1.109, 114-115..

31 Education of a Christian Prince (New York, 1934), 99. See also the Italian treatises published by W. H. Woodward in Vittorino da Feltre and Other Humanist Educators (Cambridge, 1921).

32 Cf. Ruth Kelso's Doctrine of the English Gentleman in the Sixteenth Century (Urbana, 1929). This work gives a complete picture of the primarily political aims of humanistic education which so strongly influenced English education and also southern education in America. Thomas Jefferson is the virtuoso of the Italian Renaissance in eighteenth-century dress. He is Ciceronian in all respects.

33 The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-12 (Richmond, 1941), ed. L. B. Wright and Marion Tinling.

34 Ibid., p.v.

35 Perry Miller's The New England Mind (New York, 1939) is the book which fully reveals the scholastic and dialectical bias of Calvinist theology as pursued in England, France, and New England.

36 Perhaps even more important as showing the basis of the economic as well as the cultural cleavage between North and South is the well-known work of Werner Sombart in the history of capitalism. He derives both industrial technology and the capitalist spirit from the great scholastic effort of abstraction during the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries.

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