Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Saturday, June 20, 2015

To Be Moral or To Be Intelligent? That is the Question.

It occurred to me that I have never written about an essay that I read at least once each year. The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent, by John Erskine. It is an essay that aligns and balances me in preparation for a new academic year filled with The Great Books of the Western World. Erskine's premise is that because of our English literary heritage, we suffer from a false assumption that The Good, the True and the Beautiful is not compatible to intelligence and that those who are intelligent must be evil or going towards it. His essay attempts to correct our thinking by strongly implying that intelligence and morality are inseparable.

Our inherited literature is to blame, he says. Shakespeare's King Richard is highly intelligent, but evil, as is Lady MacBeth, Iago and Edmund. On the other hand, "the prizes of life go to such men as Bassanio, or Duke Orsino, or Florizel—men of good conduct and sound character, but of no particular intelligence." In Paradise Lost, Milton places Satan on the highest pedestal of intellect as well as the most evil, of course. But of God and his goodness, Milton places him as "illogical, ...heartless and repressive." Dickens, Fielding, Scott or Thackeray do the same thing. Their good, well-intentioned characters flounder in a pool of careless blunders. It is no wonder that we associate intelligence with mischief or unintelligence with moral character. It is ingrained in us from our very foundation.

This idea begs me to contemplate some of my family members who have decidedly dropped the faith of their upbringing. I hadn't thought of this before writing my blog post today, but now it is clearer to me that it is quite possible my beloved family members believed the qualities set forth in Dickens, Shakespeare, Fielding, etc. without being discriminate and thus could not or cannot add morality to their lives if they wanted to remain intelligent. I digress...

Now, I said that I read this essay yearly to balance and align myself (and now I am even more interested in doing this after realizing the destructive idea in the last paragraph) in preparation to begin a new academic year. This essay helps me to remember that Morality and Intelligence must be inseparable.

One of my mentors, David R. Bednar, writes that intelligence is an action springing forth from the knowledge in the head that is understood in the heart. Wherefore, the action that proceeds from knowledge and understanding is an intelligent action or Intelligence.

My goal in academics is for me to learn and help my children learn all we can to become beautiful people in thought, word and deed. Erskine writes, "Through measureless time [the office of intelligence] has been to make of life an opportunity, to make goodness articulate, and to make virtue a fact." It is my goal again to re-align my knowledge in order to match Godly morality and to become just a little more intelligent this year.

—All quotes above are from the Essay in my Gateway to the Great Books, Volume 10.
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