Friday, February 8, 2013

Worries Incompatible With Wisdom

Here is a thought-provoking perspective on the value and aims of studying the liberal arts.  Imagine a university promoting itself in this way today, saying, in effect, "You should study the liberal arts, and most likely this will help you not to worry about the wrong things."

“While there are many sorts of arts, the first to proffer their services to the natural abilities of those who philosophize are the liberal arts….The liberal arts are said to have become so efficacious among our ancestors, who studied them diligently, that they enabled them to comprehend everything they read, elevated their understanding to all things, and empowered them to cut through the knots of all problems possible of solution….They are called “liberal” either because the ancients took care to have their children [liberos] instructed in them; or because their object is to effect man’s liberation, so that, freed from cares, he may devote himself to wisdom. More often than not, they liberate us from cares incompatible with wisdom. They often even free us from worry about [material] necessities, so that the mind may have still greater liberty to apply itself to philosophy.”*
Photo by David O'Hara
This is one of the things you don't need to worry about.


It may not be immediately obvious that there are cares that are "incompatible with wisdom," but it doesn't take too much reflection to see that there are certain kinds of worries that we really are unwise to cling to.
Photo by David O'Hara
My dog worries about hot-air balloons. I do not know why, but that's okay.


I don't think that "cares incompatible with wisdom" means "foolish cares." John is not simply being polite; he is also being compassionate, and acknowledging that we do not generally choose our troubles, and it can take training, and hard work, not to worry about them.  Sometimes, worrying isn't even a choice, and we should be slow to damn those who worry uncontrollably.

*John of Salisbury, The Metalogicon. Daniel D. McGarry, trans. (Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2009) Book I, ch 12. P. 37.

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