11 November 2008

What I'm Reading

Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality, by Charles Murray. Murray is the co-author of the notorious The Bell Curve. Real Education claims that America's system of education rests on a series of falsehoods. The four "simple truths" that Murray argues would, if acknowledged, radically improve American education are: (1) academic ability varies widely, and is largely incorrigible; (2) half of the children are below average; (3) too many people go to college; and (4) America's future depends not on how we educate those at the lower end of the bell curve but rather on how we educate the academically gifted.

In preparation for a conference I am attending, I am also re-reading Edmund Burke's 1790 Reflections on the Revolution in France, F. A. Hayek's essays collected in Individualism and Economic Order, and selections from Russell Kirk, including from his 1953 The Conservative Mind and his 1954 A Program for Conservatives. These are fascinating, and enduring, works. One striking fact is that both Hayek and Kirk claim Burke as one of their intellectual forebears, yet Hayek claims to be a "liberal" and sharply criticizes conservatives, while Kirk claims to be a "conservative" and sharply criticizes liberals.

10 November 2008

Wise Words

"No one who attempts to lay down propositions for the guidance of mankind, however perfect his scientific acquirements, can dispense with a practical knowledge of the actual modes in which the affairs of the world are carried on, and on extensive personal experience of the actual ideas, feelings, and intellectual and moral tendencies of his own country and of his own age. The true practical statesman is he who combines this experience with a profound knowledge of abstract political philosophy. Either acquirement, without the other, leaves him lame and impotent if he is sensible of the deficiency; renders him obstinate and presumptuous if, as is more probable, he is entirely unconscious of it."
--John Stuart Mill, "On the Definition of Political Economy and the Method of Investigation Proper to It" (1836)

04 November 2008

Wise Words

"We frequently hear the young and the licentious ridiculing the most sacred rules of morality, and professing, sometimes from the corruption, but more frequently from the vanity of their hearts, the most abominable maxims of conduct. Our indignation rouses, and we are eager to refute and expose such detestable principles. But though it is their intrinsic hatefulness and detestableness, which originally inflames us against them, we are unwilling to assign this as the sole reason why we condemn them, or to pretend that it is merely because we ourselves hate and detest them. The reason, we think, would not appear to be conclusive. Yet why should it not; if we hate and detest them because they are the natural and proper objects of hatred and detestation? But when we are asked why we should not act in such or such a manner, the very question seems to suppose that, to those who ask it, this manner of acting does not appear to be for its own sake the natural and proper object of those sentiments. We must show them, therefore, that it ought to be so for the sake of something else. Upon this account we generally cast about for other arguments, and the consideration which first occurs to us, is the disorder and confusion of society which would result from the universal prevalence of such practices."

--Adam Smith,
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), II.ii.3.8.