The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education by Stratford Caldecott.
Education is our path to true humanity and wisdom. By this I do not mean simply what goes on in school and university—which all too often turns out to be a path in another direction entirely away from both humanity and reason. I mean the broader process that engages us all through life. To be alive is to be a learner. Much of the learning we do takes place at home, in the family, or after we leave both home and college and begin the struggle to survive in the wider world. Increasingly, in a society shaped by technology that is continually changing, we need to learn a new skill: how to keep learning. We must be flexible and adaptable enough to survive in any circumstances. Even more important than flexibility is a virtuous character and set of guiding principles that will enable us to keep track of goodness amid the moral and social chaos that surrounds us.
I believe it is possible to remain an active learner throughout life, and yet to maintain a moral compass in good working order. But vital though they are, adaptability and ethics are not enough by themselves. There is a structural flaw in our education that we need to overcome. It is related to a profound malaise in our civilization, which by progressive stages has slipped into a way of thinking and living that is dualistic in character. The divisions between arts and sciences, between faith and reason, between nature and grace, have a common root. In particular, our struggle to reconcile religious faith with modern science is symptomatic of a failure to understand the full scope of human reason and its true grandeur.
The classical “Liberal Arts” tradition of the West once offered a form of humane education that sought the integration of faith and reason, and that combined the arts and the sciences, before these things became separated, fragmented, and trivialized. We need to retrace our steps, to find the “wisdom we have lost in knowledge,” the “knowledge we have lost in information” (T. S. Eliot). The wisdom I am referring to can be traced back via Boethius and Augustine to Plato and Socrates; but before Socrates there was Pythagoras, and the Pythagorean contribution is just as important in helping us understand what was lost. This book is an attempt to discover and enter creatively into that Pythagorean spirit which lies at the root of Western civilization.
For every great change, every rebirth or renaissance in human culture, has been triggered by the retrieval of something valuable out of the past, making new, creative developments possible. The Italian Renaissance, for example, was triggered by the fifteenth-century re-discovery of the Classical Greek civilization. Similarly today, we may legitimately hope that ressourcement, a “return to sources,” and in particular to the pattern of humane learning as it was traditionally understood in the West, though expressed in new ways, will lead to a renaissance, the birth of a culture more appreciative of life and wisdom.