In a recent comment (here) the pseudonymous Jewish Atheist writes:
Basically, I’m suggesting you get a grounding in the facts before setting out to read what some very smart but relatively ignorant men wrote thousands of years ago.
(splutter) %&#@!!! (a “rant” follows below the fold).
In our age of technological wonders it is reflexive for the ignorant as well as the wise to assume that our great wealth is due to our superior wisdom and knowledge. All of those of us in the technologically advanced countries spend decade(s) of schooling learning facts galore. We learn chemistry, mathematics, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, how to “use” modern computer “application” suites, and more. We mostly learn facts and practice ways of patching them together. We have encyclopedic volumes of data available at our fingertips and stored in our short and long term memories. But facts are not the same as wisdom, insight, and do not lead to happiness.
The human condition has not altered. What it means to be a man, and the relationships between men (and women) has not fundamentally changed with the advent of our wealth. Instead the reverse has occurred. Our wealth blinds us to our human condition. Why do we need social interaction when we have the PS3, Wii, DVDs, home theater systems (Dolby 5.1 surround sound ‘natch). We have grand “theater”, of the NFL, NBA, MLB, plus our movie “stars”, movies not to mention the booming sex industry. Oh, behold our the wisdom of this age (and weep). Aristotle wrote of the virtues. More men today write of Barry Bonds then they do of virtue. We have gone the way of the worst of Rome. The later Caesars, whose debauchery and decadence was celebrated is being matched today in the excesses not of the few, but in massed numbers by our college children freed from parental restraint.
Compare this to long ago, especially those the ages have deemed wise, such as the author of Genesis, Plato, Aristotle, et. al. The men who thought about what it meant to be man, had more time to devote to such things than we do today. They had less distractions. Athens had the agora, celebrated the wise. Aeschylus, Sophocles won national prizes celebrated by the common citizens for their excellence in their wisdom. Few men today can name more than two living philosophers or even playwrights whose work is not aimed at the lowest common denominator. Excellence today means … not getting caught taking performance drugs.
Plato was “ignorant” but smart? What then do you call those men stalking the hallowed halls in the Beltway? or the scribes writing of their actions? Aristotle was “ignorant”? What do you call those we celebrate today, say for example Mr Pitt or Mr Trump? Epicurius wrote that moderation was the key to happiness. Today, epicure means something quite different because “we” are not so ignorant. “We” realize (not being ignorant) that excess is the route to happiness.
More seriously, specialization is the killer today. Branches of inquiry take decades to master. Few and far between are those whose expertise is broad and wide enough to make connections between fields of study. N.T. Wright (theology and history), Ed Witten (mathematics and physics) are two examples of men whose genius makes the leap across (albeit related) fields to contribute in both. Socrates (via Plato) notes famously the common fallacy that expertise in one field does not translate to expertise in others even though that is a common mistake. The error of our age is thinking our mastery of the transistor and electron, the reciprocating engine, and our grand gadgets does not give us any measure of wisdom when it comes to knowing what it means to be human. In fact, those things distract us from that (quite possibly) more important matter.
So … when a question about man’s state and nature comes up, who do we seek for answers first? Those whom millennia of study has deemed wise … or the hyper-specialized idiot-savants of today?