“When you see the many and manifold institutions for teaching and learning and the great crowds of pupils and masters which throngs them you might think the human race was much occupied with wisdom and insight. But here too appearance is deceptive. The latter teach to earn money, and strive not for wisdom but for the appearance of it and to be credited with it; the former learn, not to achieve knowledge and insight, but so as to be able to chatter about them and give themselves airs. Every thirty years a new generation appears which knows nothing and then sets about trying to gulp down summarily and as fast as possible all the human knowledge assembled over the millennia, after which it would like to think it knows more than all the past put together. To this end it resorts to universities and reaches out for books, and from the most recent ones too, as being its own contemporaries and fellows of its own age. Everything quick and everything new! As new as it itself is. And then off it goes, loud with its own opinions!
Students and learned men of every kind and every age go as a rule in search of information, not insight. They make it a point of honour to have information about everything: it does not occur to them that information is merely a means toward insight and possesses little or no value in itself. When I see how much these well informed people know, I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading!
The completest erudition compares with genius as a herbarium compares with the ever self-renewing, ever fresh, ever youthful, every changing plant-world, and there is no greater contrast than that between the erudition of the commentator and the childlike naivete of the ancient author.
Dilettantes! Dilettantes! This is the derogatory cry those who apply themselves to art or science for the sake of gain raise against those who pursue it for love of it and pleasure in it. This derogation rests on their vulgar conviction that no on would take up a thing seriously unless prompted to it by want, hunger, or some other kind of greediness. The public has the same outlook and consequently holds the same opinion, which is the origin of its universal respect for ‘the professional’ and its mistrust of the dilettante. The truth, however, is that to the dilettante the thing is the end, while to the professional as such it is the means; and only he who is directly interested in a thing, and occupies himself with it from love of it, will pursue it with entire seriousness. It is from such as these, and not from wage-earners, that the greatest things have always come.
The abolition of Latin as the universal learned language, and the introduction in its place of the parochialism of national literatures, has been a real misfortune for science and learning in Europe, in the first place because it was only through the medium of the Latin language that a universal European learned public existed at all, to the totality of which every book that appeared directed itself; and in all Europe the number of heads capable of thinking and forming judgements is moreover already so small that if their forum is broken up and kept asunder by language barriers their benficial effect is infinitely weakened. To this great disadvantage, however, a second, even worse one will soon be added: the classical languages will soon cease to be taught. Neglect of them is already getting the upper hand in France and even in Germany. That as early as the 1830s the Corpus Juris was translated into German was an unmistakable sign that ignorance of the basis of all learning, the Latin language, had entered upon the scene, that is to say barbarism had entered upon the scene. It has now got to the point at which Greek and even Latin authors are published in editions with German notes which is beastliness and infamy. The real reason (whatever the gentleman say) is that the editors no longer know how to write Latin, and our dear young people are only too glad to follow them along the paths of laziness, ignorance and barbarism.
A vile practice appearing with more impudent blatantness every day which deserves special reproof is that in scholarly books and in specifically learned journals, even those published by academics, passages from Greek, and even (proh pudor) from Latin authors are cited in German translation. Devil take it! Are you writing for tailors and cobblers?
If this is what it has come to, then farewell humanity, noble taste and cultivation! Barbarism is returning, despite railways, electricity and flying balloons. We are finally losing another advantage enjoyed by all our forefathers: it is not only Roman antiquity which Latin preserves for us, it is equally the entire Middle Ages of every European land and modern times down to the middle of the last century. Scotus Erigena from the ninth century, John of Salisbury from the twelfth, Raymond Lully from the thirteenth, together with a hundred others, speak to me directly in the language natural and proper to them as soon as they begin thinking on scholarly subjects: they still approach close up to me, I am in direct contact with them and learn to know them truly. What would it be if each had written in the language of his own country as it was in his time?! I wouldn’t understand as much as half of it, and real intellictual contact with them would be impossible: I would see them as silhouettes on the distant horizon, or worse, through the telescope of a translation. It was to guard against this that Bacon, as he expressly says, himself translated his own essays into Latin under the title Sermones Fideles – in which, however, he had the assistance of Hobbes.
It should be here marked in passing that patriotism, when it wants to make itself felt in the domain of learning, is a dirty fellow who should be thrown out of doors. For what could be more impertinent than, where the purely and universally human is the only concern, and where truth, clarity and beauty should alone be of any account, to presume to put into the scales one’s preference for the country to which one’s own valued person happens to belong, and then with that in view, do violence to truth and commit injustice against the great minds of other nations in order to puff up the lesser minds of one’s own?” – Arthur Schopenhauer [Essays and Aphorisms]
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4 July 2015