On Teaching

CF: St. Thomas, De Veritate, Q. 11, (the 'De Magistro'), a. 1

1. St. Thomas points out that a man acquires science because of the certain seeds of knowledge that are in him. These are the first concepts and first principles. These seeds contain in their power all other actual and more particular knowledges. Whence from this potency, knowledge is led into act in a man.

2. However, St. Thomas compares this acquisition of knowledge to a doctor and health. In this comparison, the acquisition of knowledge, or learning, happens in two ways.

2.a. First, the way that health is regained naturally by the body, i.e. by it "healing itself." This St. Thomas compares the way of teaching oneself or the inventio of knowledge.

2.b. Second, the way that a doctor using the medical arts assists the body in healing itself. This is the way a man teaches another man, by reducing the potential knowledge in him to act by leading the learner along the way of inventio in the best route possible. This way is called disciplina.

3. Whence, it seems to me, given that "teaching" most properly said is in the second way (2.b), that the reduction of potential knowledge to actual knowledge in the learner is what all other analogous, metaphorical, and corrupt uses of the term "teach" are ordered towards this meaning.

3.b. Thus teaching has this respect to truth, that it leads a mind from potency to act with respect to the intellect's object of truth.

4. Two corollaries can be drawn regarding the "ethical realm" of teaching and learning. The first corollary uses this proper sense of teaching with respect to the ethics of disciplina; the second uses this proper sense with respect to inventio.

5. First corollary. Premise: to know propositional truth is the proper (natural) operation,proper good, and hence perfection, of the human intellect. Whence anything opposed to this is unnatural, bad, and an imperfection. A teacher, when using his authority in his office as teaching with respect to a student, in proposing something for them to learn, must pay attention to this standard. This is especially true when he, in his pedagogical method, invokes the authority of another, e.g., "As Aristotle says," or even the strongest example of quotation, claiming that someone is actually "teaching" and hence claiming a true reduction of potential knowledge to actual knowledge, and so a teacher might say "As 'so-and-so' teaches." In this way a teacher is to be compared to a doctor, who (as Mr. Berquist teaches often in Junior philosophy) makes the best murderer, because he knows the human body insofar as it is a composite and corruptible whole, and hence knows best how to decompose it and reduce it to perfect corruption. Just as a doctor would abuse his art and commit an evil by harming or killing his patient, so a teacher commits an evil (to varying degrees) if he harms the intellects of his learners by ignorance or falsity. "Teaching" must be measured against its proper sense, and if it fails this standard, the proposed disciplina is somewhere between folly and ignorance (the use of authority in place of true knowledge, or lack of knowledge and recourse to a sort of boasting) and dogmatism or pernicious lies. This is the gamut between sophistry and ideological tyranny, the organon of the dictator.

6. Second corollary. Same premise. Whence, in the way of inventio, a man must evaluate all sources of 'disciplina' professing to lead him on the way of learning or the way of discovery against this standard. This allows for an ordering of the uses of "teaching" when attributed to someone by way of authority, i.e., it indicates degrees among the proper use of "teach" while respecting the fact that (again, as Mr. Berquist is fond of pointing out) it is very hard to be all wrong. Whence, "As Descartes teaches," or "As Kant teaches," or "As Plato teaches," or "As Aristotle teaches," or "As St. Thomas teaches," or "As Jesus teaching in the Gospels," are all statements that require a certain order and judgment (taken in the sense of the second act of the intellect, with the mutatis mutandis for the Faith and grace). This evaluation takes the form of, in one's own via inventionis, of finding and following a master from whom to accept a via disciplinae.


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