You know that one book…It starts with Norms and ends with Nobility? Its author’s last name rhymes with sticks?
(Anyone who happens to read this blog and is not into classical education is rolling their eyes right now, cause they’re like “No, I do not know that book.” Sorry. I do think you should read it though.)
Yeah, that book. It’s a very fine book. Here’s a quote about the concept of dialectic that I am in love with, because it is doing me so much good.
(Sidenote: you could compare “dialectic” to the words “dialogue” or “debate”. Other large-and-in-charge words ahead; slow and steady wins the race when it comes to reading and comprehending N&N.)
Socrates identified dialectic as the form of the activity of thinking–the mind’s habit of challenging the thoughts and observations originating in itself or in other minds and of engaging in a desultory [unfocused] dialogue with itself until the issues are resolved. […] By making his students conscious of their dialectical thinking processes, Socrates hoped to assign them parts in a dramatic dialogue that otherwise occurs unconsciously and haphazardly in the thinking mind. Once the conversation between Socrates and his students took on the dialectical form of mental activity, learning became possible. Man could now visualize and oversee his own mind at work. The very form of these conversations provided Socrates’ students with a model for how their minds ought to work. Whereas dialectical thinking may occur at an unconscious level in all men, education makes man conscious of how his mind works when engaged in an activity of thinking.
–David Hicks, Norms and Nobility, p. 67
So to narrate this a bit, we learn two main things from this section:
1. My mind is probably always engaging in some amount of dialectic/dialogue with itself, even if I don’t notice it.
In fact, without education to establish in us the habit of noticing our mind at work, it will be an unconscious and haphazard process. This was a light bulb moment for me. The last year of my life has been extremely dialectical, as I have wrestled with belief, theology, orthodoxy and practice in my own life and in the life of my church. Most of that experience felt haphazard at best, utterly anxiety-ridden at worst. My heart, mind and spirit were up to something (under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, of course), but I didn’t have enough perspective to know what it was. It felt as if my most deeply held beliefs were under attack, and I wanted to protect myself. I could not “visualize and oversee [my] own mind at work.”
2. My mind ought to work in a certain way when faced with a conflicting belief or viewpoint.
This is comforting. Cunning old Socrates gifted us with his method of dialogue (which I still don’t really get) as a way to educate the student in overseeing her own mind at work. This can only instill confidence and peace, because a process that works is at work.
I ought to learn more about Socratic dialogue. Everyone in a church with a lot of milennials could probably use to learn and then teach how to oversee the mind at work. I think I’m technically Generation Y, but I do not feel at all confident in my ability to think for myself.
Here are some resources I’m planning on perusing in order to help myself out, if you’re interested:
All of chapter 6, called “On the Necessity of Dogma,” communicates truths that challenge and comfort me. It illuminates the need for that persistent discomfort that comes with real learning. We would never feel the need to learn anything, if we never felt that dissonance which alerts us to contradiction; we would never explore that contradiction, nor come to a deeper understanding of truth.
All this to say, if I sense my mind gnawing on something, trying to figure out a way to digest it, I don’t need to be anxious. This is good and right!
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which passes understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Find more Wednesday with Words posts at Ladydusk.