Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture (Volume 1) by Werner Jaeger – Introduction [bumped, edited]

Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture (Volume 1) by Werner Jaeger (2nd edition), translation by Gilbert Highet (New York: Oxford University Press)

I'm bumping this to the top to keep the posts in this series close together. I know this series won't interest everyone but I find Jaeger's work fascinating.
Every nation which has reached a certain stage of development is instinctively impelled to practice education . Education is the process by which a community preserves and transmits its physical and intellectual character. For the individual passes away, but the type remains. The natural process of transmission from one generation to another ensures the perpetuations of the physical characteristics of animals and men; but men can transmit their social and intellectual nature only by exercising the qualities through which they created it—reason and conscious will. … By deliberate training even the physical nature of the human race can alter, and can acquire a higher range of abilities. But the human mind has infinitely richer potentialities of development. As man becomes increasingly aware of his own powers, he strives by learning more of the two worlds, the world without him and the world within, to create for himself the best kind of life. His peculiar nature, a combination of body and mind, creates special conditions governing the maintenance and transmission of his type, and imposes on him a special set of formative processes, physical and mental, which we denote as a whole by the name of education. Education, as practised by man, is inspired by the same creative and directive vital force which impels every natural species to maintain and preserve its own type; but it is raised to a far higher power by the deliberate effort of human knowledge and will to attain a known end.

From these facts certain general conclusions follow. To begin with, education is not a practice which concerns the individual alone: it is essentially a function of the community. The character of the community is expressed in the individuals who compose it; and for man, … far more than for any animal species, the community is the source of all behaviour. The formative influence of the community on its members is most constantly active in its deliberate endeavour to educate each new generation of individuals so as to make them in its own image. The structure of every society is based on the written or unwritten laws which bind it and its members. Therefore, education in any human community (be it a family, a social class, a profession, or some wider complex such as a race or a state) is the direct expression of its active awareness of a standard.

Now, education keeps pace with the life and growth of the community, and is altered both by changes imposed on it from without and by transformations in its internal structure and intellectual development. And, since the gasis of education is a general consciousness of the values which govern human life, its history is affected by changes in the values current within the community. When these values are stable, education is firmly based; when they are displaced or destroyed, the educational process is weakened until it becomes inoperative. (xiii - xiv)

Forgive me for the lengthy quote but there was no good way to summarize Jaeger’s opening points in his introduction, titled “The Place of the Greeks in the History of Education,” other than to quote him. Now a summary for the rest of the intro...

Under the model the Greeks set up, education formed the basis for paideia, intertwining their values, culture, and community in the process. Jaeger credits the Greeks as creating new principals for communal life that focused on the pursuit of an ideal.

Jaeger’s purpose with the book Paideia was to give an account of Greek culture by looking at paideia’s character and development. As Greek city/states developed, they focused their usage of culture to create a "higher type of man." Education would need to embody and justify this goal. The Greeks looked at the role of the individual and the community and how each formed the other. This outlook was a part of their greater view of nature, where nothing was separate from the rest, each “an element in a living whole.” Within the interlocking nature of individuals and community came the development of the idea of individual freedom. “The variety, spontaneity, versatility, and freedom of individual character” provided “the necessary conditions that allowed the Greek people to develop so rapidly in so many different ways.”

Jaeger spends some time looking at the different arts in Greece and how they progressed, initially focusing only on aesthetic instincts but progressing to incorporate an intellectual component to idealize the subject. “[T]he Greeks always sought for one Law pervading everything, and tried to make their life and thought harmonize with it.” Universal patterns were studied and theories constructed to locate things in their particular place of the whole:

The unique position of Hellenism in the history of education depends on the same peculiar characteristic, the supreme instinct to regard every part as subordinate and relative to an ideal whole—for the Greeks carried that point of view into life as well as art—and also on their philosophical sense of the universal, their perception of the profoundest laws of human nature, and of the standards based on them which govern the spiritual life of the individual and the structure of society.

The Greeks realized that they could shape people as a potter molded clay. “They were the first to recognize that education means deliberately moulding human character in accordance with an idea.” Plato captures this idea, using the metaphor of molding character in the Republic several times. At all times there is a sense of the guiding pattern, the idea or typos, leading to a final product. Everything the Greeks did ultimately focused on man. They developed anthropomorphic gods. They would philosophize on the cosmos in order to explain human problems. Most importantly they would attempt to comprehend the state by understanding man. “Other nations made gods, kings, spirits: the Greeks alone made men.”

Paideia starts from ideals, not from the individual. These ideals were the goal, whether the subject was poetry, art, or philosophy. The ideals were rarely static, instead developing over time. “The Greek mind owes its superior strength to the fact that it was deeply rooted in the life of the community.” The hard part was translating these ideals to an aesthetic form that would serve to educate and benefit the community without impinging on individual freedom.

A conflict between ideals helped produce some of the Greeks' greatest works. From Homer to Plato the duel between individual freedom and responsibility to the community works to develop and define the ideal. Jaeger looks at the development of Greek culture and Greek literature and concludes that their histories coincide with each other—“for Greek literature, in the sense intended by its original creators, was the expression of the process by which the Greek ideal shaped itself.”

Jaeger closes with an acknowledgment of the time he was writing (pre-World War II) and the benefit he hoped would accrue from studying, clear-eyed, the educational method and values of the ancient world:

But at this juncture, when our whole civilization, shaken by an overpowering historical experience, is beginning to examine its own values once again, classical scholarship must once more assess the educational value of the ancient world. That is its last problem, and its own existence will depend on the answer. It can be answered only by historical science, on the basis of historical fact. The duty of classical scholarship, therefore, is not to give a flattering and idealistic description of the Greeks, but to interpret their imperishable educational achievement and the directive impetus which they gave to all subsequent cultural movements, by studying their own intellectual and spiritual nature.

The table of contents on this volume and additional links can be found here.
'In hand and foot and mind built foursquare without a flaw'—these are the words in which a Greek poet of the age of Marathon and Salamis describes the essence of that true virtue which is so hard to acquire. (xxii)

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