Monday, March 12, 2018

A Liberal Education

It is not because any one is profoundly versed in the records of ancient learning, or because he is familiar with the discoveries of modern art or science, that we deem him liberally educated. It is because he knows, of ancient literature, that which enables him to understand and to sympathize with those noble efforts of thought and imagination, by which Greece and Rome became, and have continued up to the present day, the mistresses and models of the civilized word: and again, because he has accompanied the course of those more recent triumphs of a severer intellectual power, in virtue of which the last two centuries must for all future ages continue to be the leaders and teachers of all nations in the knowledge of material nature. A liberal education is that which, so far as the progress of taste and thought and real knowledge are concerned, connects the past with the present and the future. And those who enjoy the inestimable advantages of such an education are the instruments, graced and honoured by their office, of diffusing through the present race of men, and transmitting to the next generation, all the best consequences of the intellectual exertions of man, from the first dawn of letters up to the present time.

William Whewell, Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, Sermon XXI. It's not immediately obvious from this passage (although it becomes more so later in the sermon), but Whewell is taking a position here in a larger debate about liberal education, although it wouldn't have been controversial in context because the position was the Cantabrigian one (in part due to Whewell himself): that a liberal education requires, in addition to the Classics, the Sciences.

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