Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Today's intellectually fragile college students could take a few lessons from the Middle Ages on how to deal with controversy

Bishop Robert Barron has something more to offer today's coddled and fragile college students than safe zones and trigger warnings:
Even great works of literature and philosophy—from Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness to, believe it or not, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—are now regularly accompanied by “trigger warnings” that alert prospective readers to the racism, sexism, homophobia, or classism contained therein. And popping up more and more at our colleges and universities are “safe spaces” where exquisitely sensitive students can retreat in the wake of jarring confrontations with points of view with which they don’t sympathize. My favorite example of this was at Brown University where school administrators provided retreat centers with play-doh, crayons, and videos of frolicking puppies to calm the nerves of their students even before a controversial debate commenced! 
It's kind of ironic that there was greater tolerance about what you could talk about in the Middle Ages than on a modern college campus:
If we consult Aquinas’s masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae, we find that he poses literally thousands of questions and that not even the most sacred issues are off the table, the best evidence of which is article three of question two of the first part of the Summa: “utrum Deus sit?” (whether there is a God). If a Dominican priest is permitted to ask even that question, everything is fair game; nothing is too dangerous to talk about.
St. Thomas not only listened to other people's arguments but when he responded to them, he gave them the best characterization he could so that he wouldn't be arguing against a straw man;
After stating the issue, Thomas then entertains a series of objections to the position that he will eventually take. In many cases, these represent a distillation of real counter-claims and queries that Aquinas would have heard during quaestiones disputatae. But for our purposes, the point to emphasize is that Thomas presents these objections in their most convincing form, often stating them better and more pithily than their advocates could.
It worked a lot better than today's adult version of day care. Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretend it is 1265. Someone publicaly states "I just read Thomas Aquinas' Summa and not only do I disagree with everything in it, I think that there is no God.". What would have happened to that person? Would Aquinas have approved of that person's fate?