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IN the course of an article in the last Advocate on the influence of the Nation in College, the writer has taken occasion to criticise rather sharply an essay which appeared in the last Crimson. As the author of that essay, I should be loath to occupy space in defending what was scarcely intended as an argumentative composition; but I feel it my due to call attention to some of the more glaring misrepresentations and inconsistencies of which the writer in the Advocate has made use in garbling the article in question. As he has employed a tone rather sarcastic than courteous, he will pardon me if the reply falls naturally in the same key.
Noticing the fact that indifference, though a momentary evil attendant on our first introduction to liberal thought, is by no means a permanent result, we pass to the passage reading: "His elaborate application of Mr. Spencer's doctrine would be only amusing, did it not result in such astounding conclusions . . . . the knowledge which considers such theories the legitimate outcome of the doctrine of evolution is certainly superficial." Superficial writings have certainly the merit of being easily understood, and if such were here the case, the epithet would indeed be welcome; but this profound specialist seems to have failed to comprehend the whole bearing of the argument. The "elaborate application of Mr. Spencer's doctrine" consisted in a passing reference, seven lines in length, to prove that a modern specialist needs a highly differentiated mind. The rest of the argument - maintaining that specialization was not the object of an academic course, and thus accounting for our collegiate indifference - was in no manner dependent on any knowledge, superficial or the reverse, of Mr. Spencer's theories.
The writer in the Advocate also accuses me of identifying "culture with superficial knowledge," and of affirming that "youthful indifference is necessary to the development of the best professional mind." It is most perplexing for the ordinary mind to attempt to follow the deep process of reasoning by which this truly "astounding" result was attained. To say that superficial knowledge, extended to all subjects, becomes culture, is correct, - otherwise, no one could be cultured, for no one can be an universal specialist - but when from this premise the conclusion is reached that "culture is superficial knowledge," the enthymeme of our critic should indeed be deeply hidden. Expanded, it becomes the following syllogism:-
General superficial knowledge is Culture.
Superficial knowledge is Culture.
Culture is Superficial knowledge.
It here becomes necessary to summon this spirit from its vasty deep into such shallow water as the elements of logic, where he will learn that affirmative propositions do not distribute their predicates, and that the middle term of a syllogism should be used univocally. It is also necessary to remind him of the generally acknowledged fact, that a cause is not identical with its result. Indifference, a momentary consequence of liberal training, is not the cause of proper mental development, except so far as, in the sense of an unbiassed mind, it is a prerequisite of liberal thought.
Leaving, however, the errors and misapprehensions of this thinker as regards the former article, let us consider such of his own as may lay claim to originality.
In his argument he reasons a posteriori, from a priori grounds, to put it paradoxically; for it is usually considered the first duty of an inductive reasoner to collect data, but this investigator shows a truly Spinozan disregard for mere facts. In order, therefore, to disentangle his argument from the maze of rhetorical rhapsody in which, like the fabled cuttle-fish of the deep, he shrouds his thought, an analysis is necessary. We find, then,
Assumed as a priori principles:-
Students' minds are generally very "low."
There is scarcely any real intellectual life.
We have no adequate ideas of culture.
Lofty morality is wholly unknown.
Those in College whose society is courted have shameful immoralities, rooms full of the foul odors of coarse thought, licentiousness, and drunkenness.
Deductions from the above:-
Reasons, a priori; or proof, a posteriori:-
It will be seen that the writer goes a step farther than the celebrated Spinoza; for, instead of assuming a proposition which involves the desired conclusion, he has hit upon the equally beautiful and simple method of stating at once, in ipsis verbis, the things to be proved. If this is the development of reason fished from the ultramarine depths of modern thought, we may save ourselves the trouble of classifying it; for it is an exceedingly nasty creature, and was known to our old-fogy ancestors under the name of gratuitous invective. However, such argument has the merit of being easily confuted. As the premises and the conclusions are identical, we suppress both by denying, with varying degrees of earnestness, all the former, - speaking comparatively, of course, with reference to any other secular college; for we should hesitate to predicate anything concerning the relation of our general morality with the high ideal standard of the writer.
It is then asserted that culture results from morality; the absurdity of which statement becomes evident in the necessary deduction that George III. and a Chinese bonze would both be men of high culture. If the writer will but allow me to invert his proposition, I can cordially agree; for it will ever be true that high moral character is the most perfect blossom of true culture. It is worthy of notice that the writer, after a peculiarly spiteful attack on Harvard men, defines culture as perfect sympathy "with every mood, passion, and failing in all ages and climes."
The remaining part of the article, which takes up the question of the evil influence of the Nation on the student mind, has so many of the peculiar faults of that journal, that it must necessarily have some of its excellences; but the argument is most curiously inconsistent. After condemning several student characteristics in a manner truly searching and Nationesque, the writer suddenly turns around and condemns that journal for the very faults which are most conspicious in his own article. He actually out Nations the Nation in pessimism, and then, probably remembering the Golden Rule, quotes the Nation's words, which deny any influence to scholars, but thank them for the inestimable service of keeping alive the conception of a better state of things. We can but take the hint, and while fearing that the article will have little effect in reforming degraded students, are deeply thankful that in one breast, at least, still glows that "lofty morality" which "keeps alive the conception of a better state of things." After a prayer for more earnest action and "enthusiasm of the idea," - one cannot help wishing that the writer had a little more enthusiasm for the facts, - we are told that.
There are numerous other ways in which the Nation exerts a bad influence. . . . . It is pessimistic, and accustoms us to an arrogant and self-sufficient style of thought; and we fall into the same habit from reading its columns."
All of which is so good that it deserves the most earnest consideration of the writer.
In conclusion, one cannot but be struck by the fundamental inconsistency of the argument. The object of intellectual life is to discover truth, - "the love of truth for the sake of truth." He admits that the Nation seeks and attains truth, both of fact and opinion, and then asserts that the influence of the Nation is bad, because, to act, we must delude ourselves into believing that things are better than they really are. He asserts that it is better to hold wrong opinions than to have our opinions corrected; in other words, the sole object of life is ideal truth, but the only safe way for us to life is in falsehood and voluntary blindness.
F. J. S.
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