Equus Asinus: The Doctor of Philosophy

 

University, from the Latin: Universus, ‘Whole’.

Did you know that by most reliable accounts the world’s oldest University still giving courses is Bologna, founded in 1088 C.E.?

And that it originated in the monastic schools that had been active for nearly 400 years until the University was established?

No? And you have a degree from Oxford [1167 C.E.]?


In those days, you dictated your risky love-letter to a monk who wrote it and passed it on, to be read to the ear of your Beloved by an equally celibate monk. Difficult days.

Now what did monks in the 11th century do when not making fine brandies. Monks meditate, navel-gaze, step ‘Backward’, go ‘Inward’.

When was the last time your Philosophy Professor suggested a moment’s quiet breathing before discussing the ‘Meaning of Meaning’? Ten minutes of Formal Meditation preceding John Rawls?

You can do a Doctorate in Philosophy today in the best universities without ever raising the question of the ‘Subject’ doing the Inquiry.

If you suggest that it may be relevant, the Professor will likely take you aside and suggest that you might be better suited for Art History.

[The word ‘University’, in spite of its loose use, is a very specific term for an institution that birthed in the Western historical and religious tradition. There were Instituitions of Learning that predated the specific concept of the University,  Nalanda or Takshasheela, for example, but they are not to be called ‘Universities’.]

Socrates_statue_at_the_Louvre


In the best known lines from Plato’s Phaedrus:

But I [Socrates] have no leisure for them [other inquiries] at all.

And the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription [Gnothi Seauton] has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.


The word Pundit [Puṇḍita], a scholar, learned teacher, has its roots in the first Vedic texts. The English word ‘Professor’ derives from the medieval Latin Prō-fitērīTo acknowledge, confess, avow a religious order’.

If you were educated as a member of the Learned Class, you were educated in the ways of the religious order that provided you the education. A Modern Liberal Education, wouldn’t you know, was originally conceived as culminating in this momentous achievement.

The beneficiary of a ‘Liberal Education’ in contrast to a technical one or a guild apprenticeship was ‘liberated’ [Latin Liber, ‘Free’] from common blinders and conventional prejudices. A Liberal Education completed and displayed the Finished Man [Liberalis evolved to mean ‘Noble’].

A good education [not to be confused with ‘higher’] gives you the confidence to look your assumptions and beliefs in the eye. It’s really not about knowing the difference between Fahrenheit and Centigrade or the geographic co-ordinates of Khartoum.

The idea is long in the trash, and the Finished Man is now a Gentleman who can properly tie a Windsor-knot. But that was not the beginning idea.

[I’d still rather share a Table with a Gentleman.]