Welcome to The Digital Symposium. We are a group of individuals with an interest in the liberal arts who are committed to seeking a depth of understanding in all that we do and think. We have launched this blog to begin a conversation about ideas, for like Richard Weaver, we emphatically assert that “ideas have consequences.” This blog is a means for us to sharpen our thinking through the art of writing, to engage in conversation/dialectic to “rightfully divide the truth,” and to spark anew (or rekindle) in our readers a passion for the good, the true, and the beautiful.
Like Aristophanes’ caricature of Socrates, many individuals claim that devotion to the life of the mind necessarily leads to one being lost in the clouds — wholly out of touch with the “human world.” To this, we reply that intellectual growth need not be pedantic nor esoteric. We aim to be philosophers in the truest sense of the word: “lovers of wisdom.” That being said, we remain human, so we would appreciate grace should we lapse into sophism, for our ultimate goal is to stumble upon wisdom, and specifically that wisdom which leads to virtue, or right living. ‘Writing in the 1st Century A.D., Seneca clearly noted the difference between learning for the sake of learning and learning for the sake of cultivating virtue:
What, in your opinion, I say, would be the point in trying to determine the respective ages of Achilles and Patroclus? Do you raise the question, ‘Through what regions did Ulysses stray?’ instead of trying to prevent ourselves from going astray at all times? We have no leisure to hear lectures on the question whether [Ulysses] was sea-tossed between Italy and Sicily, or outside our unknown world…; we ourselves encounter storms of the spirit, which toss us daily, and our depravity drives us into all the ills which troubled Ulysses…. Show me rather, by the example of Ulysses, how I am to love my country, my wife, my father, and how, even after suffering shipwreck, I am to sail toward these ends, honorable as they are.
It is toward these ends that we pursue learning. If ever we think we are learned, let us judge and be judged by the fruit we bear and the degree of virtue we embody. If not exactly ‘practical,’ virtue is at least ‘practicable’ — and we should utilize our resources to develop selflessness and magnanimity. In doing so, we may be making the ultimate rebellion against modern society. Irving Babbitt, the (in)famous proponent of American Humanism, seems to have caught on to this theme when he wrote, “Even though the whole world seems bent on living the quantitative life, the college should remember that its business is to make of its graduates men of quality in the real and not the conventional meaning of the term. In this way it will do its share toward creating that aristocracy of character and intelligence that is needed in a community like ours to take the place of an aristocracy of birth, and to counteract the tendency toward an aristocracy of money.” In so far as we seek excellence, it is only in character and wisdom; this should be the ultimate goal of education.
Here at The Digital Symposium, we make no claims to novelty, for, indeed, I would suggest, originality is far too prevalent in the modern world. Here we seek to accumulate and incorporate the wisdom of the ages into a sensible, thoughtful, and, most importantly, truthful method of living. Truth should always take precedence over novelty, a fact which all too often forgotten. Mortimer Adler reminds us this proper hierarchy, saying:
No higher commendation can be given any work of the human mind than to praise it for the measure of truth it has achieved; by the same token, to criticize it adversely for its failure in this respect is to treat it with the seriousness that a serious work deserves. Yet, strangely enough, in recent years, for the first time in Western history, there is a dwindling concern with this criterion of excellence. Books win the plaudits of the critics and gain widespread popular attention almost to the extent that they flout the truth – the more outrageously they do so, the better. Many readers…employ other standards for judging, and praising or condemning, the books they read – their novelty, their sensationalism, their seductiveness, their force, and even their power to bemuse or befuddle the mind, but not their truth, their clarity or their power to enlighten.
If we tend toward anything, it will be proclivity toward that which is ancient. This is not because we seek Eden in the annals of history, but because we seek to free ourselves from what I refer to as ‘the tyranny of the present’ — or, in Burke’s phrase, we seek to take advantage of the wisdom of the species. C.S. Lewis beautifully described this mindset in his little known essay On the Reading of Old Books, in which he said, “The only palliative [against the tyranny of the present] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” By reading and writing we hope to reveal, understand, and correct the errors that are so prevalent in the culture around us.
As we christen The Digital Symposium (and lives devoted to intellectual excellence and virtue), may it be said of us as was once recounted of Basil the Great, that the galleons of our lives be “laden with all the learning attainable by the nature of man.”