Goods of First and Second Intent

In this morning’s paper we have a headline, “The American Intellect Is Dying,” and a month or so ago, somebody gave me Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind.1 There seems to be general agreement that we are not doing what we should here. So I am going to talk about that. Remember, it is the goods of first and second intent.

If you look up intendo in the Oxford Latin Dictionary, it says it means “to strain, to exert [one’s strength], etc.” (I like that “etc.”) After all these definitions, it continues: “to concentrate [the mind or attention], to exert oneself, to direct [the eyes, sight, hearing, etc.], to aim at; to direct one’s course, steps, to set out for, to direct one’s efforts or activities, turn [to], apply oneself, set about, to be bent on.” If that doesn’t satisfy you, we have the nominal form intentio: “concentrated attention [of the eyes, etc.], mental effort, etc., aim, purpose, intention”; and the adjective, intentus, means “having the mind keenly occupied, intent [of the eyes, ears], closely attentive; intensely serious, earnest [of actions or conduct], strict, rigorous, earnest,” and so on. The Greek equivalent is spoudaios: “quick, energetic, earnest, serious, active, zealous, wholly committed”; it also characterizes virtuous qualities in general—what is “good, excellent, moral, worth attention, and weighty.” This suggests that all real intent is in itself good.

When is a person really intent on something? How many times in your life have you asked this, or do you feel it yourself? If we don’t have much of it, its rarity alone should give it the value of pearls and rubies among a youth whose highest desideratum is to be “cool,” slurring his words with a “man” and a “you know” every third word, and whose highest pitch of excitement and ecstasy is reserved for rock bands. So one asks, contemplating the antics of the young, Is it all right just to be intent in any way? What difference does it make what the object is, as long as one becomes committed and involved?

Obviously all objects of our attention are not equally worthy of our devotion. How can we grade or classify them? Aristotle, speaking as a teacher, says that the school is a schole, which means leisure, and ludus, a place where you play, where the serious work of the world is not done. It is where you get a liberal education, where you are freed from all other ties of the moment, where you are at liberty to choose and decide what you want to do without any pressing bread-and-butter concerns. That is what schole and ludus mean. Before the words force choices on us in this sanctum, we should ask ourselves, what is the best thing we could possibly be doing now, and forever after, for that matter? How can we rate or classify our choices? Very simply.

Aristotle, in Book XII of the Metaphysics, gives us just two choices—two items to choose from in every situation: (1) “that which is good in itself and is to be chosen for its own sake”; that is, a good of first intent (to kalon kai to di’ hauto haireton). This quality necessarily makes an object also to ariston, the best of all possible choices, in any combination the one thing to be chosen. That is an important clue to the thing. But there are other things necessary to obtaining it—there are also goods of second intent, also to be earnestly pursued: (2) to . . . hou heneka . . [kai] tinos, “that which is good for the sake of getting something else.”2 Watches and shoes and string and houses and roads and horses are all good, but they are good for doing something useful in attaining something else. They aren’t good in themselves; they are a means of getting something else. So Aristotle would call them goods of second intent. They are also earnestly pursued; we have to have them, yet they are not the ultimate good. But what is? Thinking, says Aristotle, is the big thing—merely to be thinking; awareness in its highest state is the most exhilarating of all experiences. It is “that object which is in itself best, . . . in the highest sense that which is best; thought itself becomes an object of thought, by the act of apprehending and thinking”;3 and so we get to the standard scholastic definition of God as pure intellect—awareness is the greatest blessing, the awareness of being alive. But that is oversimplification, and it certainly leads to endless debate. God is the pure act of thinking, say the scholastic philosophers; and what does he think about? He thinks about Thought.

But goods of first intent actually can be very solid in content. As we all know, the good, the true, and the beautiful are desirable for their own sake. Yet there is certainly that which is good, true, and beautiful in the workmanship of goods of second intent; a well-made knife is a beautiful object in itself and therefore of first intent. Socrates in Xenophon gives us an extreme case when he tells us that a dung basket can be as beautiful as a golden shield can be ugly.4 And what makes it beautiful? How can that be? What makes a dung basket beautiful? Its functional perfection. This is a paradox: it is beautiful because it fulfills its secondary function, and its beauty gives it primary value. What, on the other hand, would make an ornate golden bowl ugly? To be sure, its meaningless embellishments and especially its lack of proportion—its lack of a particular proportion. Measurements have been made of thousands of Greek vessels in museums and were found to present in the overwhelming majority of cases the famous “golden proportion” or “golden section.” That is an exact measure, an exact number—2.618 to one.5 It’s an unreal number, not a round number; it goes on forever, but that is the number. In 99 percent of cases, you say that a vase is beautiful because it follows that proportion.

This is a very interesting thing: we have an internal control that provides an objective measure of beauty, dictated not by the strict mathematical rule which it follows, but by the eye alone, which approves it as a good object of undebatable first intent. Its precise proportion establishes a bridge between the objective world and our minds, and that remains a mystery to mathematicians to this day, as it was in the very beginning. All the mysteries of Pythagoreans are still the same mysteries, such as why a particular mathematical organizational structure of things is inevitable; it is, and nobody knows why. We cannot say that the highest good is merely relative, because we have an absolute scale of value built in, so to speak. For example, golf is a good of first intent to many people. This is true. My grandfather, Charles W. Nibley, built Nibley Park because he loved golf. He discovered golf in his old age; he was Scotch and knew all about it. But it was a good of first intent as far as he was concerned; it was marvelous relief and relaxation. It didn’t need any medical prescription; golf was its only excuse for being. It was primarily therapeutic in his case. It prolonged his life, and isn’t life to be placed first in the order of good things to choose from? Increasingly, sports are becoming the climax of civilization. Take the America Cup, for example. Millions of dollars and years of studying, planning, and designing are spent to win a boat race by fifty feet. Men will do a thing like that. Well, is that a good of first intent? Are they worth all that trouble?

Plato says that theoria (our word “theory” comes from that) is the inspection or study of symbols in the mysteries as they are presented in a regular order for purpose of instruction.6 Theoria is contemplation of the symbols of the mysteries. But alas, theoria became theatromania, the rage for spectator sports and shows. The ancient experience ended as does the modern, as announced in this article which I herewith display: “Football lunacy shows how the American intellect is dying.” It has become theatromania, even as the ancient world went completely overboard for theatromania.7 You know about panem et circenses (“bread and circuses”),8 how the people had nothing to do but go to games and watch spectator sports. They were every bit as obsessed with them as we are with TV.

Who then is to judge what is good, true, and beautiful? You are. Plato says it is the soul: the proper dimensions and proportions are already stored in our minds, and when we recognize the good, true, and beautiful—how is it that we do it? It is by anamnesis, the act of recalling what we have seen somewhere before. You must have received an impression of what is right somewhere else, because you recognize it instantly; you don’t have to have it analyzed; you don’t have to say, “That is beautiful,” or “That is ugly”; you welcome it as an old acquaintance. We recognize what is lovely because we have seen it somewhere else, and as we walk through the world, we are constantly on the watch for it with a kind of nostalgia, so that when we see an object or a person that pleases us, it is like recognizing an old friend; it hits us in the solar plexus, and we need no measuring or lecturing to tell us that it is indeed quite perfect. It is something we have long been looking for, something we have seen in another world, memories of how things should be. That is the basic principle of Plato’s idealism: you know when a thing is good and what the ideal proportion is because you have seen it somewhere, and you recognize it. 9

One test for goods of first intent is that you cannot get enough of them: “The eye—it cannot choose but see; we cannot bid the ear be still.”10 There are certain things of which we never tire, with which we never become bored. Those are the things of eternity. Yet strangely enough it is these which we easily dismiss and neglect as if they were highly expendable. Arthur Clarke compares our mental state to the condition of a man who, having inherited a magnificent palace, prefers to spend his days holed up in a broom closet in the basement. That is the popular mentality. On the first day of school in the only course I ever took at Brigham Young University, the professor, having only a month before taken his final examinations and received his Ph.D., reported with delight how his major professor had told him at the conclusion of the test: “Congratulations, my boy, now you will never have to take another examination as long as you live!” And he really believed it. Such is the terminal degree, the well-appointed broom closet (for the rest of his life), a world of second intent.

A test of the goods of second intent for which we all strive is that far from being infinitely gratifying, they are strictly limited in value. As Paul tells us, “Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content”; if you want too much more, you are in real trouble: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare [or a trap], and into many foolish and hurtful lusts [epithumias, meaning desiring things you don’t really need and shouldn’t have], which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:8-9). The eager seeker gets himself into a trap, caught in the rapids, hankering all the days of his life for things that can only do him harm—yet in acquiring goods of this category, as the great Solon said, no man ever thinks he can get enough, though the results are always frustrating and disappointing.11 There can be too much of our goods of second —but never enough of the first.

We nevertheless constantly reverse the order. The secondary need is necessarily first in action, though it leads to the other; yet the primary must be first in thought to get the second going. But once we get immersed in that auxiliary activity, there is great danger of never emerging from it, for it is concerned with what is immediately urgent and has priority over everything else. There is no free lunch, we say; you get yourself financially fixed, and then you might consider some of the other things. Of course acquisition soon becomes the measure of existence; we become hooked on the idea of “success” and everything goes into it. Yet once you have “succeeded,” what else is there? Only retirement. I know of a number of men who looked forward to retirement, only to find when they had reached it that it was too late for the things they knew in their heart all along were the most important. Like the young man with a fine singing voice who worked in a boiler factory to get enough money for music lessons. By the time he had enough, he was stone deaf.

The purpose of education, of course, is to bring the two goods together in proper balance: Mens sana in corpore sano (“a sound mind in a sound body”)12—the two must go together. We all stand in need of constant nourishment for both body and spirit. The trouble is that we are not allowed to forget the hunger of the body; it will always remind you that you are in need of nourishment. But what about the other? We think the hunger of the mind can wait, but if we separate the mind and body, we nourish neither. Both are susceptible to junk food and anorexia: TV supplies the junk food, the school the other. But it is always the mind that stands to lose the most.

If there are no goods of first intent, then there are no goods of second intent, which by definition are the necessary approach to the former. Besides goods of first and second intent, is there a third category? There is not. Nothing is better known today than the division of the brain into right and left halves, the yin and the yang, the polarized particles, parity, the coincidence of opposites, male and female, and so on, in which neither one is expendable—there is no third choice. And they should pull together; that is the way of goods of primary intent, which are good and everlasting in themselves; the goods of secondary intent are the goods that lead to them.

And so when limited secondary intent steals the show, we are left with a phenomenon we find all through literature: you devote your whole life to the second thing, and “the summer has come and gone, and our souls are not saved; vita brevis est, ars longa (“life is short, art long”);13 gaudeamus igitur iuvenes dum sumus, and so on—the most famous of all school songs which goes back to the fourth century: “Let us rejoice while we are young because after miserable old age, nos habebit humus, the dirt is waiting to receive us.”14 It is the realization too late that there has been nothing for us beyond the business of day-to-day, and that we are not going anywhere. The humanist stands proudly with William James “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair. ”

How can we escape that nihilism that attends total attachment to the things of this world, and rejoice in goods of first intent without trespassing on religion, and how can we go that far without jeopardizing our religious freedom? The best education of the past has found an easy solution to that one, and it is to study whatever you study with real intent, Aristotle’s spoudaiotes, “high seriousness.”15 If you approach any study in a spirit of high seriousness, if you take it as a thing of first intent, your study, whether of science, literature, art, or philosophy, is necessarily a spiritual and a devout study.

When we graduate we wear, if only for a moment, the sober caps and gowns of our mystery. Apparently this is quite a solemn business in which we are engaged, and if that is so, how can we avoid thinking of things suspiciously bordering on religion? In my high school days, in first year, everyone in the school system was required to read Milton—”L’Allegro,” parts of Paradise Lost, and, notably, “Il Penseroso,” all of a strong religious and holy resonance. We read and memorized extensively Julius Caesar (which was often dramatized in class, as you will recall), Ivanhoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, and even such heavy stuff as Macbeth—all in the freshman year of high school. All these were serious reading in which it was quite impossible to escape an occasional mention of God. But that was in the 1920s, which was also the great day of the smart alecks and debunkers; we all remember the Scopes Trial, so badly bungled by both celebrated lawyers. We recited the “Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam to each other and devoured H. L. Mencken and Robert Ingersol and the Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books.

But the interesting thing to me was that the debunkers themselves simply could not get God off their minds. They were always talking about him as if they had a personal vendetta with him. Why not “take the cash and let the credit go,” as Omar said;16 if people were silly enough to worry about God, that was their business. But they could not leave it there. The subject bugged them, and aside from that, the religious issue was the only way any of them could get an audience.

But as soon as I try to promote God in a public school, I feel uncomfortable. Evangelism is salesmanship: if you are going to sell your product, you cannot avoid preaching; and nothing is more essential than a sign on the school door that says, “No Peddlers or Agents Allowed,” no peddlers or agents of anything. Today the school has become the salesman’s happy hunting ground, a vanity fair for peddlers of goods of second intent to the exclusion of all else. A fair overall definition of a good of second intent is anything that can be exchanged for money—”at the devil’s booth are all things sold, . . . bubbles we buy with a whole soul’s tasking, . . . ‘Tis only God may be had for the asking.”17 We all recall these lines of James Russell Lowell that we learned in the eighth grade. You have to work hard for goods of second intent, or else you can inherit them without turning a hand. For goods of first intent, you must ask, search, knock. It is another state of mind. How can we avoid the dross and seek the sacred without going sectarian? For one thing, the classics cover the vast sweep and scope of human experience and emotions, mostly tragic. In reading them, one cannot escape the problems of life and death and eternity. The best example of sound education is that which contemplates the possibility of things beyond, that sense of infinite possibilities, which, according to Alfred North Whitehead, gives to the Bible and Plato a transcendant importance and recommends them to all mankind.18 It is that forthright education that does not evade the issues enjoyed by the Founding Fathers, a club including men of every religious persuasion. An official religion was one thing they were determined to avoid, because each had his own ideas on the subject, and no two were alike. Education invites the young to join that club, and at an early age. The Founding Fathers were brought up on the Bible, Plutarch, Cicero, and the philosophers of the Enlightenment, steeped in sacred and profane poetry, alert to every new science, given to discussion and philosophy.

Then along came John Dewey and his army of “New Education” peddlers.19 For them the education of the past was nothing but hoary, outdated, antiquated, authoritarian, narrow-minded rote-learning. He is the pragmatist and the father of our modern educational society. Forget the musty books and take the class on field trips to the farm, the store, the factory, or the bank, to learn how things are done in the real world. How is cheese made, how do you board a bus? How do you discuss traffic problems, dress, and the cafeteria? Why are whales interesting? Why, to be sure, because that is where we get soap from! That is typical of Deweyism. We explore the nature of the universe by having each child tell the class what his opinion of it is; so then we know. When I was at Claremont teaching in the school of education, the instructors had a lot of farm kids in Corona chewing up paper to make papier-mâché to construct a cow in order to show children how milk was made. There were a couple of decades when students learned to write only in block letters because they could learn faster that way. For years I had hundreds of students who could neither read nor write cursive script, which was regarded as an elitist, antiquated, old-fashioned, nonprogressive, and ornamental device. In the 1940s, on the eve of entering the war, there was a great demand for mechanical drawing, so urgent that in the Pasadena School District some classes were devoted entirely to drawing horizontal lines, while in others, students drew only vertical; they never found out what they were drawing—it was all second intent simply perverted, because there was no first intent. At the same time it was proposed in the same school district that the teaching of history be supplanted by the more pragmatic discipline of dry-cleaning. They were going to have all the useless ornamental history classes converted to the study of dry-cleaning; and you can see where that would leave us today with its eternal values, because it is not a high technique any more. Such was the “preparation for life.”

I was on a curriculum committee for a couple of years with Asael Woodruff, who championed the New Education—progressive, exciting, throbbing, ever-changing, experimental, and therefore “scientific.” My two oldest boys were experimented with, and after the experimental school was dropped, the experimenters went happily on to new fields and new fads. But the boys were left in limbo; they would never get another chance. Fortunately we never had a television in the house, and they both read a great deal, though the educationists protested that parents should not interfere—”we have our methods,” they said, and we should not interfere by having our boys read anything. Dr. Woodruff went on to the University of Utah, where he wrote a book on the New Education that opened with the ringing words, “We do not go to school to learn, but to live”—none of your pie-in-the sky; the pie in the bakery is all you will ever see.

Dewey’s ideal has achieved complete fulfillment in the shopping-mall. An article in the Wall Street Journal (which understandably has become the spiritual guidelight to the nation) gives us the cheering news: “Shopping is arguably the nation’s favorite pastime, next to watching TV.” There are “shocking statistics—shopping has taken on a life of its own. It . . . has spawned such bumper stickers as: ‘I shop, therefore I am.'” Remember, Aristotle said the highest possible good was thinking, and it was Descartes that said, “I think, therefore I am.” That is the ultimate good. Now shopping has taken the place of thinking, the ultimate good of first intent. “There is a kind of mindless character to it,” says the article; “the shopping epidemic . . . has infected everybody.” There are 347 shopping centers in Atlanta. It is “an ever-spiraling and hopeless search for happiness through the acquisition of things.” They are goods of second intent.

One would hope that our shopping-mall someday might become the equivalent of the ancient suq, the agora of the Greeks, or forum of the Romans, with their lively exchange not only of goods but of business news and ideas and valuable information. The suq and the agora were where philosophers preached, and in the forum was where the great orations were delivered—the marketplace was an educational place. Will the mall ever become anything like that? Alas, the possibility of that is completely canceled by the imperative of the TV. Here we reach a state of total nihilism; all day long, and half the night, a procession of plots, murders, bedrooms, fights, and lethal explosions passes before the bemused spectator, sharing time with cunningly calculated interruptions by lavishly contrived commercial sideshows, thus combining the overlapping images of utter depravity with total triviality; and the thundering Hauptmotif that runs through it all is money. The inversion of the values is complete, for the less important an object is, as the ancient rhetoricians taught, the more fervidly and persistently it must be brought to the public’s attention, so that what the new generation gets is a world turned upside down, with the froth as the substance and foundation of reality. They get that all the time, while the perennial base of intelligent thought and action is at best tolerated as a picturesque, elitist, old-fashioned frill of education. We have a complete switch of values: “All is dross that is not Madison Avenue. ”

I bluntly tell my students today that they are not in my class to prepare for life but to prepare for eternal life. That sounds like a shocker. It surprises me when I say anything as radical as that, because it is perfectly true. Incidentally, Allan Bloom argues, “The real motive of education [is] the search for a good life.”20 Oh, no, it isn’t. See, he is limited to this world, and that makes the whole thing very sad. When we wear those caps and gowns improperly, we also receive a certificate that testifies not that we know anything, or have learned anything, but that we have completed a course, a cursus, meaning one turn around the race track. This we think of as preparation for a career, which is actually the same word, carrière; and again, if you consult the Oxford English Dictionary, you will find that it also means “one complete circling of the track.” In both cases it means a circular course, as the word plainly states—you are really going nowhere. Once around and that is the end. The word term is equally emphatic: “I shall not pass this way again”—the closing line of the Oedipus Rex: “Don’t call any man happy until he has finally passed the term and finished it all without suffering terrible things.”21 Then he can say he is happy, but everyone is going to suffer before that. Every student looks forward to graduation when he can forever shrug off all that encumbered his time and patience at school; and every successful career ends up in retirement, a full stop. The moral of this is that our so-called “preparation for life” is a good of secondary intent only. You have arrived nowhere unless there is more to come. The final reckoning of a thousand poets, artists, philosophers, and scientists is but a wailing chorus.

But let me interrupt my chronology and turn to some of the wisdom of the past, the cry of the tragic Muse: Oedipus, Catullus, Dover Beach. Does it have to be that way? There are two possibilities in graduation. Graduation means to take a step up, either in the secular gradus honorum, which was the scale of promotion of upward mobility in the Roman state and military and business career and was a source of infinite mischief among the Romans, as its counterpart is in the world today. On the other hand, we have the gradus ad Parnassum (“steps to Parnassus”) (best known as the progress of the piano-student in the European Conservatories), the step-by-step ascent of the mountain of the Muses that goes right on up and up to that perfection of the arts that no one achieves but to which all great souls aspire—a pure good of first intent.

Preparation is necessarily secondary, since it is always preparing for something else to come. And what is that? Just more of the same? asks Dr. Faustus with a cry of despair—a bemooster Herr (Dewey would love that) auch ein gelehrter Mann studiert sofort weil er nichts anders kann;22 the most learned “moss-covered” man goes right on studying because he cannot think of anything else to do. Strange as it sounds, everything short of eternal life is gall and worm-wood, not only to Faust, but to the most successful men of our time. C. P. Snow in his Chronicles of Cambridge University explains the point: “The tone of science at Cambridge in 1932 was the tone of Rutherford.” They had discovered the planetary structure of the atom. “Magniloquently boastful, creatively confident, generous, argumentative, and full of hope.” What more could he ask? “He enjoyed a life of miraculous success.” But then something strange follows: “But I am sure that even late in life he felt stabs of sickening insecurity.” The author goes on to talk about the other giants at Cambridge:

Does anyone really imagine that Bertrand Russell, G. H. Hardy, Rutherford, Blackett and the rest were bemused by cheerfulness as they faced their own individual state? In the crowd, they were leaders; they were worshipped. But by themselves they believed with the same certainty that they believed in Rutherford’s atom that they were going after this life into annihilation. Against this, they only had to offer the nature of scientific activity; its complete success on its own terms. It itself was a source of happiness. But it is whistling in the dark when they are alone.23

Was their success, then, a thing of first intent? It certainly was not of second intent, since it led nowhere. Must the intent be a choice between life eternal or annihilation? Shakespeare’s Claudio in Measure for Measure, after suggesting all the alternatives, laments: “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; to lie in cold obstruction and to rot. . . . And the delighted spirit to bathe in fiery floods, or to reside in thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice—to be imprison’d in the viewless winds, and blown with restless violence round about the pendent world; or to be worse than worst, of those that lawless and incertain thoughts imagine howling—Tis too horrible!”24 He finds the new doctrine of purgatory even less comforting than the other and concludes that “the weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury, and imprisonment can lay on nature is a paradise to what we fear of death.”25 The eternity he imagines is horrible, but the idea of death is even worse.

Granted that eternal life is something devoutly to be wished, one cannot simply wish for the Happy Land and then believe in it, any more than we can bring God into existence by wishing for him, as St. Augustine recognizes at the beginning of the Confessions. We must remember, on the other hand, that a thing devoutly to be wished is not necessarily nonexistent just because we would like it to exist. You cannot deny that some kind of eternity is there (though some quantum physicists like John Wheeler would deny it); the only question is What fills it? There is not much use in debating about that, but you can certainly recognize that you are already in it.

This takes us back to carpe diem quam minimum credula postero (“seize the day, put no trust in the morrow”)—live for the moment.26 This was the favorite doctrine of John Dewey and his final word of advice to the human race and to students: Get all the fun you can out of the present moment, for that is all there is. Can you find fulfillment in that? Can it be a good of first intent? It is the bleak advice of Catullus in his most famous ode: “Let us live it up”—vivamus atque amemus27—the sun goes down and rises again, but once our brief candle has gone out, there is nothing but a black night of everlasting sleep. Therefore, let us have sex unlimited. The cheeriest view to be taken of this is the Epicurean: Nil admirari, says Horace, don’t get too involved in anything; just come to the party and join me as a Epicuri de grege porcum,28 one of the happy pigs in the sty of Epicurus. Solon too tells us to stop worrying and enjoy the banquet while we can. But the admonitions of the most genial Greek (Solon) and Latin (Horace) poets are, after all, nothing but grim reminders that the end is on the way. There is Catullus’s carpe diem, reworded for us by the even more cheerful Omar, but in a mathematician’s chilling reality, “One moment in annihilation’s waste, One moment of the wine of life to taste. The stars are —O make haste!”29 There is your carpe diem! All end on a sour note.

Solon’s second most famous line is that no mortal ever enjoys complete happiness; “wretched are all on whom the sun looks down.”30 It is a sentiment endlessly repeated in literature and familiar to all from Greek tragedy, where the chorus cries its eyes out, “O poor human race, I can only reckon you equal to exactly nothing.”31 This philosophy of the moment is really the most poignant of all, akin to “the hollow laugh of the libertine.” We, alas, cannot be innocently frightened field mice: “But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane, In proving foresight may be vain: the best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft a-gley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy! Still thou are blest compar’d wi’ me! The present only toucheth thee: But Och! I backward cast my e’e on prospects drear! and forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!”32 That’s the best we could hope for in this world. Even great literature is cold comfort—it especially loves to harp on that theme: Hamlet’s advice for living it up and fighting the calendar says, “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come”33—pointing to the skull of Yorick.

Education is Paideia. I studied with Professor Jaeger at the time he was writing his three-volume work by that title, and we had long discussions together at his apartment in Berkeley and again at Watertown when he was at Harvard. Paideia was the forming of the type of man a certain culture or society looks upon as its ideal.34 Egon Friedell has written on the subject.35 There is, for example, the English Gentleman, the French Homme du monde, the Hidalgo in Spain, in Germany, the petite philosophe comme tous les Allemands (the Little Philosopher like all the Germans, as Voltaire puts it), the stern, competent but literate and urbane Roman patrician, and, best-known of all, the Socratic ideal displaying the four Platonic virtues, the kaloskagathos—all that is right and proper. These were the qualities that formed the ideal citizen in each state. But as Pindar teaches, this training but prepares the candidate; it remains for the individual winner to bring down celestial beams from above;36 you have a type here, but from there is where you take off.

The idea of education as the training up of the new generation to established and accepted (“not progressive”) standards of a society or culture is by no means the fruit of civilization alone. TV documentaries will show you the elaborate training through which the youth of so-called “primitive societies” must pass before they can receive the full initiation of acceptable and proper men—membership in the tribe. As we know, it was not only the Greeks but the Egyptians and Babylonians who considered themselves the only real men and the rest of the human race babbling barbarians. Yet we need not smile; there were none of these people among whom adoption into the tribe was not possible—even (or especially) the Jews; but you had to have the accepted education and initiation to qualify. The routines practiced have all proven their survival value for the Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, and Pueblo Indians—their education is thousands of years old, but the survival to which they all look was that in the higher and better world, to be reached by unity with the stars, by joining in the heavenly ring-dance of the seasons. This is always a basic part of this training.

But these periods of training and often elaborate, frightening, and even painful rites of initiation were no mere fraternity hazing. A recent study by Herbert Schutz, called The Prehistory of Germanic Europe, is very enlightening. It surveys in some detail the entire field of European prehistory between the upper Paleolithic and the Iron Age.37 The conclusion of the whole study is very significant—they have studied all of primitive society and all its remains in Europe. They conclude, “From the material evidence surveyed, culture appears to be a collective attempt at providing answers to the questions posed by man about his position in this life and the next.”38 It is not the economic man at all that keeps the culture going, but his questions about his position in this life as well as the next. As long as a distinct set of answers are satisfactory, the distinctive aspects of a culture remained constant and offered that degree of continuity which made for stability. It appears, on the other hand, that experiment, innovation, and change are response to inadequacy or outright failure in some sector of a culture’s general view of the world. Note that it is the good of first intent that keeps a culture going, not the tools and gadgets to which anthropologists are fond of attributing the evolution of thought. The implements are secondary; if people cannot answer the big questions, the whole show runs down.

This is consistent with the interesting situation found in the ancient schools from the Greegree school of the Australian aborigines to Aristotle’s Academy and the Stoa. All of them are devoted to the problem of the eternity and of their place in the cosmos. We might say that if God did not exist, we would have to invent him. But that is not necessary, for there is such a vast sea of possibility and probability, as Whitehead pointed out, that we should be willing to settle for that. All these schools indulged before all —in speculation on “higher” things.

Since archaic times the Museum, the place of the Muses, could be found on the hilltops and groves of Greece, “far from the town,” Plutarch specifies; there had to be an altar there, and in some cases a regular temple—Delphi itself was a home of the Muses, as was the inaccessible height of Helicon. Even in the groves where there were no buildings, there stood images of great poets, artists, and scientists. Solon in the first democratic constitution around 600 B.C. included an annual school festival, the Mouseia in the official calendar. The Muses could not very well be separated from the schools, since mousike (the art of the Muses, which is our word for music) is simply the Greek word for education or culture.39 The museum was not a shrine; the teachers were elected in a general public assembly, which, however, began with prayer. The term museum became synonymous with didaskaleion and paideuterion, public schools. Athens was called both the Paideusis of Greece and the Mouseion of Greece. There was always something holy about the blessed Muses: When you are that serious about a thing, you cannot separate the sacred and profane—it is all sacred. For the ancients, the goods of first intent par excellence were the gifts of the Muses. If goods of second intent are anything that can be had for money, the goods of Muses are gifts to the gifted, and rewards to the faithful. They are of purest first intent, infinitely satisfying in themselves, ever fresh and delightful both because they offer infinite variety and demand a perfection that woos us on forever. In the pursuit of the Muses, one can engage forever, with suitable rest, in moving freely among the nine delightful disciplines they represent.

It is apparent from the lists of the literary occurrences of their names and callings compiled by Professor H. Kees that the original Muses cannot be separated.40 They are all very ancient and have to do with prophecy, divination, mourning, choral dances, bacchic celebrations, psaltery, the ring-dance of the stars and the celestial globe, the masks of the dancers, the flute players, and so on—in short, all that touches human life most closely and puts it into tune or phase with all nature, including the heavens above. It may sound paradoxical to say that we have a gut reaction to the cosmos, but it is not. I am sure that we all have a feeling like that when we listen to the music of the spheres in the planetarium. Thus Polyhymnia, the ninth of the nine, bears the barbitone (the most primitive of the stringed instruments), leads the dance and the pantomime, and, of all things, teaches geometry. There is a gut feeling between you and the stars. It is not as abstruse as you think. There is no paradox there, for even the most primitive celebrations of life followed the motions of the heavens and the seasons of the earth with meticulous calculation. The “primitives” are very careful about it. I have spent much time with the Hopis, and their observance, especially of the stars, is constant and careful. Theirs is a cosmic dedication. Professor Kees duly notes that Plato found the model for his style in Pythagoras, who called his school a museum.41 The famous museum of Alexandria, the most celebrated university in history, was a continuation of an age-old tradition in Egypt, where priestly colleges had pondered the things of time and eternity since prehistoric times: word for word, passages from their schools echo those of the classical world, as well as the scriptures—a fact being fully appreciated for the first time today. Just within the last ten years, we realized that their writings are full of the same scripture we use. For ages wise men, sophoi, traveled from holy center to holy center, observing, teaching, and exchanging wisdom of the brethren, as Santillana says, a vast archaic world together in one great concept.42 They had a word of wisdom far excelling anything we could imagine. It had a great survival value, being much more sophisticated than anything the evolutionary pattern has given us.

The Muses are archaic, “primitive,” and universal. For those who knew them all, life was a school; the whole society sat at a Greek drama, a seasonal religious presentation, as critics and connoisseurs. Havelock Ellis in his book the Dance of Life notes how in such societies “life becomes all play.”43 Also life becomes all school. Loren Eiseley observes that in such societies, goods of first and second intent become completely fused; but of the few such communities he finds existing in the world today, he cites only the Hopis.44 Our pragmatic society, coveting first the Hopis’ uranium and now their coal, has fought with determination to obliterate that culture—it is so totally alien to what we are doing. It is actually a clash between goods of first and second intent, for we all know what the big corporations are after.

Alas, in the showdown between goods of first intent and second, the second will always win. The supreme Delphic wisdom of our day, “there is no free lunch,” excludes all but acquisitive activity as trivial, egghead, effete, what in the Utah school system is called frills, such as music and drama. Of course, since it seems that in some branches of the barbaric arts such as hard rock and TV commercials there is big money, we are willing to accept them as goods of any intent you please.

The Muses, as we all know, patronize both the arts and the sciences, and they, as inseparable sisters, join together in an eternal choral dance in which harmony, rhythm, number, ratio, pitch, proportion, and structure are all united. And what is most wonderful, we do not react to their gifts by instruction alone, nor does their efficacy have to be demonstrated; we react to them spontaneously and directly; we are swept along. The sixth muse, Terpsichore, the Bacchic muse, bids us join the fun with abandon. No special plea needs to be made for goods of first intent, for, as Aristotle says, they are the ultimate good, whatever we may find it to be. Go ahead and try anything and everything, and you will always come back to them, for they are holy.

In my first year in high school, Ms. Gunning’s English class labeled themselves the Mnemosyneians, dedicated to Mnemosyne, the Mother of the Muses—her name means, simply, “memory.” The object of the society was to memorize as many notable passages of literature as possible, and indeed if one is to be serious in seeking goods of first intent, one must make some effort to take them to heart. I am astonished to think that by far the best teacher I ever had was an old maid in the first year of high school, but I find that most people report a like phenomenon.

It was not until late Roman times that the muses were given their final assignments: Calliope of heroic epic (immortalized in the circus parade), Cleo of history, Euterpe of hymns, Melpomene of tragedy, Thalia of comedy, Polyhymnia of the mimic art, and Eurania of astronomy.

In the oldest Egyptian writing, the concept is fully at home in the person of Dame Seshat, the secretary of the gods and the keeper of all wisdom. Her activity is represented by a pair of inverted horns signifying the opening of the heavens, from which a seven-pointed star sends down a laser beam to earth, where seven books are neatly ordered between the outstretched fingers of the Seshat. They represent the seven departments of learning in the library of which she had charge and showed her possessing and dispensing all wisdom at will.

I may be pardoned here for quoting Brigham Young, for no one ever made a sharper distinction between goods of first and second intent: “Will education feed and clothe you, keep you warm on a cold day, or enable you to build a house?” Let us remember that no one knew the necessity of those more than Brigham Young in the conditions under which he led the people. “Will education . . . keep you warm on a cold day, or enable you to build a house? Not at all. Should we cry down education on this account? No. What is it for? The improvement of the mind; to instruct us in all arts and sciences, in the history of the world, in the laws of nations; to enable us to understand the laws and principles of life, and how to be useful while we live.”45 This is the knowledge that makes us really useful. In Utah today we cry down this “frills,” which we cut from the program.

The mind craves knowledge as the body craves food. Experiments at the University of Utah have shown that when people are deprived of all information in a state of isolation, they start creating their own information by hallucinating—they must have it; even though they can do without cigarettes or coffee, the one thing they must have is information.46 To repeat, paradoxically, things of primary intent are actually the most useful of goods—the only useful ones in the long run. We can and do get along without many goods of second intent and never really miss them; life without them may be inconvenient, as the Pioneers found and as we learn during shortages, but it is still possible and even enjoyable. Without goods of primary intent, on the other hand, we wither and die; we go crazy and become lost and ill-at-ease, unsure of ourselves, haunted by a sense of doom and futility; life becomes pointless. The world becomes “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable, . . . an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely.”47 Hamlet was indeed the intellectual par excellence, but the good of primary intent keeps escaping him, as he complains throughout the play, because he is never sure of any life beyond this one. He had listened to the philosophers too long in Wittenberg.

Today we have given up entirely on goods of first intent. The most eminent universities for the first time are now places where one goes primarily to buy MBA and law degrees. The full measure of the success of their graduates is the avoidance of criminal prosecution. I believe there should be more to education than that. Remember General Barrows, the president at Berkeley long ago? He used to say that the only reason anyone goes to school is to increase his earning power.

We have followed the course of the Middle Ages when educators reversed the values to the trivium, consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic, all training in skills in communication and persuasion. Though called the “liberal arts,” they were strictly the business of getting along in the world. “Liberal” arts are supposed to be goods of first intent only, “liberal” because they are not devoted in any way to making a living but are the study of free and liberal souls. On the other hand, the four liberal arts of quadrivium came to be viewed as secondary, grist for the operations of the trivium; yet the quadrivium is the real catalogue of goods of first intent: arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy—such were the studies of the ancient priestly colleges who sought through them to contemplate the pleroma; each one deals with things that are eternally valid —they are all cosmic.

What am I trying to say? I know that some goods are more valuable than others; but that is not what the ancients had in mind—it is something far beyond that. Where can I find firm footing in my own pursuit of it? Well, I can begin with one indisputable proposition: If there is anything good in life, the thought of its total abolition, along with our own annihilation, is an absolute evil—there can be nothing good in the removal of what is good. And this is an evil that faces us all constantly, deny it though we will: “But men at whiles are sober and think by fits and starts, and if they think, they fasten their hands upon their hearts!”48 We can’t be drunk all the time, you see. The Epicurean banquet comes to an end, and we conclude again with Claudio (in Measure for Measure), after listing the various theories regarding the hereafter, that “the weariest and most loathed worldly life that age, ache, penury and imprisonment can lay on nature is a paradise to what we fear of death! “49

And so we have a sort of equation. If we have an infinite and undeniable, though horrible, reality on one side, it must be balanced on the other by something equally real. The ancients felt this keenly. For each particle there must be a counter-particle. Though T. S. Eliot’s “Eternal Footman,” with his chilling snicker, haunted the ancients as much as it does us (“Oh, do not ask what it is!” Eliot says),50 they could not rid themselves at the same time of other intimations; it is akin to Plato’s anamnesis, the feeling that what is really good is eternally good (how could it stop being good?), and that good things belong together and reinforce each other—”Light cleaveth unto light” (D&C 88:40); and accordingly, there must be a condition that is all good, of which this world is the reverse image—a black hole. They saw the conviction in that. Some physicists can prove definitely that a particle exists because its anti-particle exists. If the one exists, the other must exist. That is physics today. So if we have this absolutely evil world that is very flat, stale, and unprofitable (and the Greeks really excel in this one and really tear loose in telling you how bad the world is—the great Solon says that none is happy upon whom the sun shines;51 and Goethe says, all that Homer proves to us is that this world is hell52); if that is the case and to every particle there is an anti-particle, there must be a condition that is all good, a reverse image of our present black hole.53 Aristotle uses the figure of the reflection of the mountain in the lake: the higher up one goes on the real mountain, the lower one descends in the reflected false mountain. The higher you get in heaven, the lower you get in this world. The Psalmist says, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, than dwell in the pavilions of the princes of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10). Better the lowest position in the best of worlds than the highest position in the lowest of worlds, which is what Satan wanted, remember? “Hail, horrors, hail! . . . Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven.”54 If Satan could only be top man, he would accept that position in the worst possible world. Whereas the Psalmist says, Even if it means I must be the lowest man, give me the best possible world. So it is the complete reversal. Plato, as we all know, uses the figure of the world as a cave full of shadows.55 If the one world is real, the other must be real, the Greeks felt, because they are images of each other, and each depends on the —and the one is only too real.

If this sounds like the reasoning of quantum physicists, it is no mere syllogism but was deeply felt by men of old and was confirmed by all they saw around them. It is absolutely certain that we are missing out on something, that we have barely had a sniff or taste of what is really good and is really there, only to have it snatched away from us: “The caravan starts for the dawn of nothing—O make haste!”56 That is what we used to sing in high school when we were being cynical, but we knew that there was something very wrong with this. It is your neglected capacity. You haven’t used it at all. Of all the things you could be doing—and the list of them is a mile long—you could only do one or only get started on one in a short lifetime. But a taste is not enough; we rightfully feel cheated of what is ours by right. All belongs to us that we are capable of conceiving, and containing, and enjoying. But what happens? We go and spoil everything, and then in our feelings of guilt, we petulantly slam the door on faith and repentance, and we doggedly pretend to find fulfillment after the “vision splendid” of our immortality has faded into the light of common day, which “the real world.”

In the dialogue with his friend Gorgias, who was bringing the exciting “New Education” to Athens, Socrates admits that his teaching has no more chance of competing with Gorgias’ easy, business-oriented courses than a competent pediatrician would in competition for juvenile patients with a pastry-cook who prescribed nothing but dessert.57 Goods of the second intent will always win out with the public, bringing with them sickness and debility. Let us hope it does not prove fatal this time, as it did in Athens, and at many other times in the past.

*This talk was given to the Retired Teacher’s Association on October 9, 1987, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.

1. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987).

2. Aristotle, Metaphysics XII, 7, 3-4.

3. Ibid., XII, 9, 4-5.

4. Xenophon, Memorabilia III, 8, 6.

5. Joe Mislan, The Golden Mean (New Jersey: Princeton Supernature(New York: Anchor, 1973), 107.

6. Plato, Symposium 210A-212E; see comments of Gunther Bornkamm, in Gerhard Kittel, ed., “Mysterion,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, tr. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 9 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eedrmans, 1967), 4:808.

7. Regarding theatromania, see Hugh W. Nibley, “Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else,” Western Speech 20/2 (Spring 1956): 57-82; “Sparsiones,” Classical Journal 40/9 (June 1945): 515-43; “The Roman Games as a Survival of an Archaic Year-cult,” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1939).

8. Juvenal, Satires X, 79.

9. Plato, Phaedrus 249B-250A.

10. William Wordsworth, “Expostulation and Reply,” lines 17-18; see John O. Hayden, ed., William Wordsworth: The Poems, 2 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 355-56.

11. See poem 12 in Kathleen Freeman, The Work and Life of (London: Milford, 1926), 211.

12. Juvenal, Satires X, 356.

13. Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae I, 1.

14. The Student song (circa 1267) begins with “Let us live then and be glad while young life is before us.” For English translation, see John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980), 134.

15. Aristotle, Rhetoric II, 1, 7.

16. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat XIII, tr. Edward Fitzgerald (New York: Avon, n.d.).

17. James Russell Lowell, The Vision of Sir Launfal IV, lines 25, 28, and 30.

18. Paul Weiss, “Alfred North Whitehead 1861-1947,” Atlantic Monthly181 (May 1948): 105-7.

19. See Neil G. McCluskey, Public Schools and Moral Education: The Influence of Horace Mann, William Torrey Harris and John Dewey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958); Arthur G. Wirth, John Dewey as Educator (New York: Wiley and Son, 1966); Anthony Flew, “Democracy and Education,” and “John Dewey’s Philosophy of Education,” in R. S. John Dewey Reconsidered(London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).

20. Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 34.

21. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, lines 1528-30.

22. Goethe, Faust, lines 355-68.

23. C. P. Snow, Chronicles of Cambridge University, cited in Hugh W. Nibley, “Science Fiction and the Gospel,” in Benjamin Urrutia, ed., Latter-day Science Fiction (Ludlow, MA: Parables, 1985), 2:6-7.

24. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act III, scene i.

25. Ibid.

26. Horace, Odes I, 11.

27. Catullus, The Poems of Catullus V, 1-2.

28. Horace, Epistle I, 4, 16.

29. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat, XXXVII.

30. Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian (Berkeley: University of California, 1919), 171.

31. For example, see Oedipus the King, lines 1188-90, “Races of Mortal Man / Whose life is but a span / I count ye but the shadow of a shade.”

32. Robert Burns, To a Mouse, stanza 7.

33. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act V, scene i.

34. Werner Jaegar, Paidea: The Ideals of Greek Culture, tr. Gilbert Highet, 3 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944).

35. Egon Friedell, A Cultural History of the Modern Age, tr. Charles F. Atkinson, 3 vols. (New York: Knopf, 1930-31), 1:11-12.

36. Pindar, Olympian Odes III, 42-44.

37. Herbert Schutz, The Prehistoric Germanic Europe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).

38. Ibid., 353 (emphasis added).

39. Regarding Solon, see Müller-Graupa, “Museion,” Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1933), 16:1:798.

40. Hermann Kees, “Musai,” in ibid., 16:1:680-757.

41. Müller-Graupa, “Museion,” 799-801.

42. Giorgio Santillana, Hamlet’s Mill (Boston: Godine, 1977), 1-11, 332-43.

43. Quoted in Havelock Ellis, Dance of Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929), 21.

44. Cf. Loren Eiseley, The Star Throwers (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979).

45. JD 14:83.

46. For information, see Niger Calder, The Mind of Man (London: British Broadcasting, 1970), 33.

47. Shakespeare, Hamlet, act I, scene ii.

48. “Last Poems X” in Complete Poems: A. E. Houseman (New York: Holt, 1959), 109.

49. Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, act III, scene i.

50. T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The Complete Poems and Plays (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1952), 2, 6.

51. Linforth, Solon the Athenian, 171.

52. Regarding Goethe, see Johann Goethe’s correspondence Goethes Sämtliche Werke, 46 vols. (Munich: Müller, n.d.), 15:83.

53. Regarding the scientist Dirac, who discovered the anti-particle in 1928, see P. T. Matthews, Nuclear Apple (London: Chatto and Windus: 1971), 17.

54. Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. A. W. Verity, 2 vols. (New York: Cambridge, 1934), 1:16-17, lines 250, 263.

55. Plato, Republic VII, 1.

56. Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat, XXXVII.

57. Plato, Gorgias 521E-522A; cf. 464A-E, 501A-C; cf. Hugh W. Nibley, “Victoriosa Loquacitas,” Western Speech 20 (1956): 57-82; and “Rhetoric and Revelation,” The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1954), 98-106; reprinted in CWHN 3:110-16.