Editorial: Volume 2, Issue 1

Learning, according to Donald Cowan's essay “The Three Moments of Learning,” progresses from apprehension, to rational analysis, and finally to making something new out of what has been learned. Jacob Balde's poem on the use of stories indicates how they create images that allow us to apprehend reality. The articles that follow deal with stories of various genres: the story of Job; the story of Hippodamus; the stories Adam hears from Michael; the story of a pilgrimage through the cosmos, or through the Roman empire; the story of a dialogue among Roman citizens. Each offers an opportunity for us to discover essential meanings with universal implications.

If Elihu represents the analytically rational faculty, we certainly cannot get along without him; in fact, we spend most of our time in academia in conversations governed by the rules he represents. But sometimes he needs to be quiet so we can listen, allowing the confrontation of the subjective consciousness with objective reality in a spirit of openness, so that the two combine to form something new. Job confronts a terrifying voice speaking out of the whirlwind that renders him awe-struck. Augustine recognizes that our metaphysical foundations are open to divine reality, which provides us with a new ethical orientation. Dante pierces beyond the everyday rationalizations to see the glory of God that pervades the universe. Dante's perspective as a Medieval Christian poet, and the other perspectives represented in this issue of Ramify, are examples of ways that writers within our tradition challenge our conventional views and perhaps unconscious metaphysical assumptions, reorienting our vision and re-forming our souls.

A re-formation of the soul should have virtue as its end. Balde reminds us that virtue is a high aspiration requiring labor and a suitable scorn for base desires: desires often all too conventional. Yet, for Aristotle, we must posses virtue in order to form genuine political communities; and such communities need to be renewed in order to revive the Ciceronian civic humanism that animated the West for much of its history. Virtue, if not born in hardship, is surely required to endure it well: perhaps bearing calamity temperately, as Balde bids us to do, allows us to suffer into wisdom along with Job. The story of Marsyas, as transformed by Dante, may give us another image of suffering to cast off the vices that prevent us from rising to our true human destiny. Might those stories suggest one relation between moral virtue and intellectual virtue? Augustine suggests another: the way our metaphysics informs our ethics.

Aristotle teaches us that virtue is a habit, so forming good habits is one kind of labor virtue requires. Recognizing the necessity of such labor is another aspect of openness to reality: we cannot simply impose our rationally determined will upon the world as Hippodamus would like. Respect for our tradition crucially aids our endeavor to live virtuous and philosophic lives, since the good embodied in tradition cannot be reduced to a set of rational postulates that we may abstract from it. The law (let us take that here to refer to the eternal verities), insofar as it is effectual, is not merely rational; and even with respect to its rationality we live in partial ignorance of it. Again we are confronted with a trial: the need to act in the crepuscular light of imperfect knowledge. And the proper response, Milton tells us, is, again, virtue. Interestingly, for Milton virtue has a political dimension, encompassing the role of mediation: if community requires virtue, Milton reiterates that virtue, to be fulfilled, requires community.

The medium in which we act involves speech. And if thought and language form a unity as Cicero would have us see, speech using responsible rhetoric is not merely a way of persuading others to the good (high aim though that is), it is a way toward discovery of the truth itself. Dante as linguistic explorer, then, is plumbing the language for revelations of the truth: if we mean our metaphors, they are not merely rhetorical flourishes; they give us insight into the metaphysical realm that is the seat of our being, our action, and our good.

The following articles, too, are (written) acts of speech that are the products of the final moment of learning. Liberal education (whose purpose is to foster learning) as it is understood in the Braniff school includes an exploration of the Western tradition in order that we may become active members ourselves of that tradition: testing, questioning, examining it, but always with an attitude of respect, an openness to being re-formed by the good we find. Our exploration, grounded in academic disciplines, includes recognizing relationships of knowledge across the lines of those disciplines as we all struggle to catch a glimpse of the truth from our various vantage points: a truth that ultimately forms an organic, unified whole.

William Turnage
Editor in Chief
August 29, 2011
Feastday of the Beheading of John the Baptist

« Back to Volume 2