Who says "it's important for educated people to know particular things"? Got a cite/quote?
January 31, 2007 7:01 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a writer or thinker (to cite in a paper) who said something good about "There are things that every educated person should know." I know that this is a popular idea, so I'm most focused on enlightenment and later thinkers. It doesn't have to be the first person to argue for some set of competencies / knowledge, and it is not terribly important exactly what's in the set (but if you know, or if there's a quote, please include it). Any ideas?

Note: I am not looking for *the set* of things that educated people should know. That's not helpful to my argument. I just need a nice citation for a claim that being generally knowledgeable in the world (and up-to-date on events and cultural movements) is, well, good.

Note also: I say "every person" in my question, but it's fine if the thinker restricted himself to "all men" or some such. I don't mind the historical misogyny.
posted by zpousman to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
See Matthew Arnold's *Culture and Anarchy.*
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:07 AM on January 31, 2007

Something like this?
posted by duende at 7:25 AM on January 31, 2007

From the late Colonel Jeff Cooper:

“What should a young male of 21 know, and what should he be able to do? There are no conclusive answers to those questions, but they are certainly worth asking. A young man should know how this country is run and how it got that way. He should know the Federalist Papers and de Tocqueville, and he should know recent world history. If he does not know what has been tried in the past, he cannot very well avoid those pitfalls as they come up in the future. A young man should be computer literate and, moreover, should know Hemingway from James Joyce. He should know how to drive a car well--such as is not covered in Driver’s Ed. He should know how to fly a light airplane. He should know how to shoot well. He should know elementary geography, both worldwide and local. He should have a cursory knowledge of both zoology and botany. He should know the fundamentals of agriculture and corporate economy. He should be well qualified in armed combat, boxing, wrestling and judo, or its equivalent. He should know how to manage a motorcycle. He should be comfortable in at least one foreign language, more if appropriate to his background. He should be familiar with remedial medicine. These things should be accomplished before a son leaves his father’s household.”
posted by Sk4n at 7:26 AM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

ED Hirsch has written multiple books on this topic. They're all equally annoying. Do a search for him and I'm sure you'll find plenty of stuff. His refers to such knowledge as "Cultural Literacy".
posted by Manhasset at 7:42 AM on January 31, 2007

Oops, that should be E.D., not Ed.
posted by Manhasset at 7:43 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Robert Heinlein in Time Enough for Love.

I love this list.
posted by rongorongo at 7:44 AM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

This might also be relevant:

"I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine."
- John Adams
posted by rongorongo at 7:50 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: See John Erskine's The Moral Obligation To Be Intelligent, which is also the title of a collection of Lionel Trilling essays.

Charles Eliot's famous Five-Foot Shelf of Books promised "a good substitute for a liberal education to anyone who would read them with devotion."

Seconding Arnold's Culture and Anarchy. Here's the most famous quote from it:

"The whole scope of the essay is to recommend culture as the great help out of our present difficulties; culture being a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world, and, through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically."

Kant's What Is Enlightenment? is the classic text, but he doesn't really talk specifically about what an enlightened person should know. He just defines it and sets out the conditions under which it is possible.

I don't think you're going to find too many great thinkers praising the virtues of being "generally knowledgable," however. Most would probably agree with Pope:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

posted by otio at 8:01 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Regarding history:

"He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth."

posted by hermitosis at 8:06 AM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the concept of the Renaissance Man fits in here somewhere: Polymath
posted by Leon at 9:15 AM on January 31, 2007

Best answer: "I like to have a man's knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves. I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy."

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
posted by four panels at 9:54 AM on January 31, 2007

I have a book at home called The Cultured Man which is built on this idea, and on providing a course of study to become "cultured." It's bizarely anachronistic, but I'll find it and cite it when i get home.
posted by klangklangston at 1:17 PM on January 31, 2007

Josh Kaufman's "Personal MBA" reading list is a narrow but recent example.
posted by rongorongo at 2:05 AM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all! Nothing here was perfect, but I've got enough to mull over!
posted by zpousman at 7:19 AM on February 2, 2007

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