Review of The Higher Learning in a Democracy by H.D. Gideonse

Ellsworth Faris

This brochure seems to have been written for two purposes: to question the validity of the utterances of President Hutchins on American education and to point out the fact that the present college program at the University is not in accordance with what is desired by its president. As to the latter, both will find themselves in substantial agreement. And as to the first, there is perhaps no agreement possible.

Professor Gideonse repeatedly calls on President Hutchins for some specific information as to just the kind of metaphysics that is repeatedly asserted to be the only fit groundwork for the education of our youth. It may well be that the reply, should it be given, will be that no one system is advocated. Yet even so, the debate would have to proceed, for controversy over the division between theory and fact, between absolute first principles and empirical observations, would leave the disputants as far apart as ever.

Against the medieval view that knowledge of the world and of man is a deductive process, reasoning from revealed or intuitive first principles, Professor Gideonse presents forcibly the modern scientific argument which

( 498) finds principles by applying rational thought to empirical data which are to be discovered by following a defensible method. He defends the new relativity against the old fixity. To crystallize truths into Truth is to arrest the process of intellectual growth."

Hutchins contends that the heart of education is the same at any time, under any political, social, or economic conditions. Gideonse insists that education must not, and cannot, be neutral to the social order. He insists that general ideas are constantly being changed by the discovery of particular notions in the light of which they have to be modified.

The issue is not new. The warfare has been waged since the time of Copernicus. In every department of human knowledge and activity the absolutism of the Middle Ages has been abandoned. Neoscholastics regard this as a tragedy and a loss and cry for a return; Professor Gideonse rejoices in it and urges us to go on in the same spirit. Nor is it to be deplored that the issue is raised anew in our time. It will compel us to re-examine the foundations of our educational procedure, which will be a great gain; for no man can state clearly and fully his views on education without revealing his philosophy.

University of Chicago


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