Part 2, Notes on “The Liberal Arts Tradition” by Clark and Jain – “Piety”

(Notes on previous chapter.)  (Link to book on Goodreads.) (Notes on next chapter.)

The authors begin the next chapter discussing the first part of PGMAPT – piety, a word they admit is difficult to define precisely.  But they suggest that,

Though it is a word eluding simple definition, piety signifies the duty, love, and respect owed to God, parents, and communal authorities.  It connotes the cultivation of faithfulness in relationships and commitment to one’s tradition as historically situated in place and time.

And indeed they go on to suggest that a lack of piety, thus defined, may be the problem of modern times, quoting Richard Weaver in Ideas Have Consequences:

“Modern civilization, having lost all sense of obligation, is brought up against the fact that it does not know what is due anything; consequently its affirmations grow weaker.”

I have said many times that I find absolutely shocking the speed with which ideas progress in the public discourse today.  An idea is invented yesterday, you are condemned for not endorsing it wholeheartedly today, and the government attempts to mandate it upon everyone tomorrow.  Wisdom would recognize how very short a time even a decade, say, is to truly test an idea, but now if it survives six months it has Permanently Changed Humanity. There is no great desire to pay attention to the wisdom of our ancestors because we are convinced we are just so much smarter than anyone who has ever lived.

But the authors do discuss the importance of transmitting piety, not just by explicit teaching, but also culturally, which I appreciated.

Education in the West since the Ancient Greeks had centered on enculturation.  Paideia, as they called it, meant transmitting the entire culture.


The contemporary educational project, which tries to educate in a value-neutral way, is not sustainable.

I would reply… although we are massively inconsistent about this, increasingly the contemporary educational project does NOT try to educate in a value-neutral way.  Try giving a lecture at a public school where you suggest that believing that homosexuality is a sin against God is a position of equal value to believing it is morally acceptable (or even preferable by some measures) and you will quickly have a righteous mob on your hands.  But perhaps this just goes to show that indeed, value-neutral education is NOT sustainable, it will HAVE to turn into something else.  A bigger problem for modern education is that it rejects any transcendent source for moral claims but then tries to make them with great ferocity anyway – now that isn’t sustainable.

And finally, a nice little bit about manners as teachers of piety:

Consider the role that “manners” play in ordering the actions of children toward one another and how bound these are to inherited cultural norms.  These practices curb individual autonomy, the pervasive malady of modernity, and situate the student in space and time, or better yet, in place and history.

I appreciated that little blurb, since manners is one of those characteristics almost everyone says they want in children (and adults), but many would find it difficult to explain why.  And indeed, there are those today who will intentionally do that which is rude, or intentionally and quite unnecessarily be profane (a new store just opened in Lansing whose entire purpose seems to be to sell products with profanity on them) – why?  Perhaps consciously or unconsciously, they want to reject the curb on individual autonomy which manners and refined discourse provides.


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