Matthew Arnold: Literature and Science

For this week and this week only I laid down my concerns with the nature of humans in education. You dodged a bullet, Spencer. Although I will say this: Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
And I remarked what a curious state of things it would be, if every pupil of our national schools knew, let us say, that the moon is two thousand one hundred and sixty miles in diameter, and thought at the same time that a good paraphrase for “Can'st thou not minister to a mind diseased?” was, "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" If one is driven to choose, I think I would rather have a young person ignorant about the moon's diameter, but aware that "Can you not wait upon the lunatic?" is bad, than a young person whose education had been such as to manage things the other way.

As I have noticed with other previous writings, themes and concepts from hundreds of years prior are eerily applicable to present day. In my reading of Arnold’s Literature and Science, I have found a salve for the overwhelming and nauseating drone of the promise of the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Arnold is speaking of “natural knowledge” as situated opposite “belle letters.” In my reading, I would like to consider the analogy of STEM knowledge and … everything else. Consider this rewrite (that Arnold quotes from Huxley):
A person who has substituted English and social studies for STEM, has chosen the less useful alternative.

I feel aligned with Arnold in a hesitation to fully embrace the promise of “natural knowledge.” I must be clear: not in the sense that natural knowledge is bad or should not be studied, but rather that natural knowledge somehow supersedes the human being that is and knows. I do feel like the Letters have “lost it”; but Arnold promises: “If they lose it for a time, they will get it back again. We shall be brought back to them by our wants and aspirations.” I do not think it surprising that the technologies that generated many of our present day challenges are not helpful in solving them. What continues to astonish me is how the human being has been erased, rendered invisible.
What is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, forfeit himself?



Matthew Arnold's piece is entitled "Literature and Science" and is a response to Thomas Huxley's "Science and Culture."

Literature and Science by Matthew Arnold
Science and Culture by Thomas Huxley


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