From Paideia to High Culture
A Philosophical-Anthropological Approach
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Chapter 1 Classical culture – towards perfection
- 1. From valour to magnanimity – the way of the Greeks
- 1.1. THE OLD NOBILITY MODEL OF EDUCATION
- 1.2. DEMOCRACY – THE POPULARISATION OF THE IDEAL
- 1.3. PAIDÉIA DURING THE TIME OF THE ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY
- 1.3.1 Plato – from an ideal to an idea
- 1.3.1. The Sophists – paidéia for everyone
- 1.4. KALOKAGATHÍA AS THE CROWNING OF ALL VIRTUES
- 1.4.1. Plato – the philosopher as a model
- 1.4.2. Aristotle – towards the moral beauty
- 1.5. MEGALOPSYCHÍA (MAGNANIMITY) – THE CROWNING CULTURE
- 2. From paidéa to humanitas – the way of the Romans
- 2.1. CULTURE AS ANIMI CULTURA – TOWARDS HUMANITAS
- 2.2. THE MEETING OF CHRISTIANITY WITH THE GREEK PAIDÉIA AND THE ROMAN HUMANITAS
- 2.2.1. Does a Christian need paidéa?
- 2.2.2. The significance and the limits of humanitas
- Chapter 2 The Christian Culture – from magnanimity to holiness
- 1. Greek aporias – a human or a person?
- 2. Christianity – a new concept of man
- 3. Virtues and culture
- 4. The meaning of the virtue of valour
- 5. Magnanimity and its components
- 5.1. CONFIDENCE
- 5.2. HUMILITY
- 6. Faults contrary to magnanimity
- 6.1. PRESUMPTION
- 6.2 AMBITION
- 6.3. VAINGLORY
- 6.4. PUSILLANIMITY
- 7. Magnanimity and Other Components of Valour
- 7.1 MAGNIFICENCE
- 7.2 PATIENCE AND LONGANIMITY
- 7.3. PERSEVERANCE
- 8. The Subject of Magnanimity: The Great and Difficult Good
- 9. Valour as a Gift
- 10. Holiness as the Culture of Man
- Chapter 3 Contemporary Culture: Low Culture or High Culture?
- 1. High Culture: A New Paradigm?
- 1.1. UNIVERSALISM OR ELITISM?
- 1.2. MATTHEW ARNOLD AND THE CRISIS OF HIGH CULTURE
- 2. The Reasons for the Decline of High Culture
- 2.1. INDUSTRIALISM AND URBANIZATION
- 2.2. IDEOLOGY AGAINST HIGH CULTURE
- 3. The Peculiarity of Mass Culture
- 3.1. THE CRITERION OF QUANTITY AND STANDARDISATION
- 3.2. FORMALISM AND REIFICATION
- 3.3. HOMOGENISATION
- 4. The Characteristics of the “Mass-Man”
- 4.1. EDUCATION WITHOUT IDEALS
- 4.2. DOMINANCE OF QUANTITY OVER QUALITY
- 5. For a Return to High Culture
- 5.1. THOMAS STEARNS ELIOT: THE POET’S VOICE
- 5.2. ROGER SCRUTON: THE PHILOSOPHER’S VOICE
- 6. High Culture as an Inalienable Context of Human Life
- 6.1. THE EXISTENTIAL AND ANTHROPOLOGICAL DIMENSION OF CULTURE (KAROL WOJTYŁA AND SAINT JOHN PAUL II)
- 6.2. THE METAPHYSICS OF CULTURE (MIECZYSŁAW ALBERT KRĄPIEC)
- Series index
Culture appears to be an extraordinarily diverse phenomenon, which does not easily fit within conceptualizations. Thus, there is a widespread belief that it is difficult, or even impossible, to provide its univocal definition. Indeed, the term “culture” itself, just as any other term from the field of the humanities, belongs to the class of so-called “open” terms. Such terms not only tend to be used in an unspecified or vague sense but they also refer to objects which may have no common properties.1 In this situation, we are often left helpless and, confronted with a great variety of propositions, or cultural facts, we find ourselves disoriented and devoid of clear criteria to discriminate between the valuable and valuable and the worthless. However, most of us are aware of the importance of culture, which pervades all our life as human beings. Moreover, cultural works leave their mark on our experience: some of them influence us in a positive manner, sometimes to the point of elevation, while others appear as disheartening or even harmful. This is all a broad realm of human experience in which various themes and motifs intersect. And in spite of numerous difficulties on the way, it is worth examining this field.
This book deals with those issues by analysing different cultural works in order to answer the question concerning the essence of culture, its place, and the role it plays in the personal life of the human being as both its subject and purpose. Although this question is not easy to answer, it seems particularly pressing today, when various tendencies to separate culture from its primary objective – human improvement – continue to prevail. As a consequence, the need for high culture is denied, or the differences between high and low culture are utterly removed, which makes them indistinguishable. In fact, these tendencies are an expression of a particular image of the human being created on the basis of philosophical, or even ideological, premises. Turning to the past, we notice that the consequences of such premises often exceed the field theoretical speculation and permeate into social life. This, in turn, affects the way in which culture influences human development.
The purpose of this book is to show the philosophical and anthropological foundation of the dispute about culture, especially in the perspective of the disputed opposition between high and low culture. In the analysis of key steps of Western philosophical reflection on culture, we shall draw on its original ←9 | 10→understanding, i.e. the ancient times, when Greek thinkers began to find the answers to the vital, philosophical questions: who is the creator and subject of culture, what is culture in its essence, and what is its superior purpose? Later, I will present the circumstances in which that idea was adopted by Roman culture, and finally, the impact of Christianity on the intensification of the reflection on culture, which was possible, on one hand, thanks to the enormous Greek cultural heritage and, on the other hand, due to the new anthropology suggested by Christianity and depicting the human being as an entity which exists in the perspective of a particular purpose – not death but eternal life.
It is not by accident that the title of this book contains the term “high culture.” For thanks to referring to the history of the philosophical understanding of culture, I shall demonstrate that it is based on three interconnected concepts: paideia, humanitas, and magnanimitas (magnanimity). All of these concepts emphasise an important aspect of the development of the human being oriented toward a certain ideal model of humanity. To be sure, this model went through modifications over time, but it was always based on an examination of human nature and its potential for development. It is the denial of these essential elements that constitutes what we call “low culture,” one which aspires to satisfy only the needs created by the lowest human desires and feelings.
The very term “high culture” was not formulated until the second half of the nineteenth century, when Matthew Arnold’s essays appeared as a collection titled Culture and Anarchy (1869). It was only after the publication of this book that the term entered the English vocabulary and became increasingly popular. This does not mean, however, that the issues defined by the notion of high culture had not appeared before. In the context of those ambiguities, it appears highly important to differentiate between the very expression (term) “high culture” and the concept it designates.
At the very beginning, it needs to be said that the notion of “high culture” appeared much earlier than the expression itself, namely – in the times of Ancient Greece. When analysing the issue of education, the Greeks have discovered its ideal model, which was the shaping of a perfect man. In their opinion, education and culture had a similar goal. As pointed out by Werner Jaeger, that ideal appeared already in the works of Homer, and even though it referred to the world of knights, the court, and aristocracy, it was characteristic not only of aristocratic nature but also of all human beings. Therefore, Greek culture quickly acquired universal character thanks to the fact that it laid its foundations on human nature. It gained popularity along with the proliferation of democracy. The Greeks described this cultural ideal in terms of kalokagathía (moral beauty).←10 | 11→
Christianity adopted this ideal model of Greek culture but it completed the Greek understanding of culture thanks to the new ideal of the human being seen as a person, i.e. a being created by God in His image and likeness. Christianity set a new goal for the human being, which consisted in transcending nature and culture toward God. Thus, the very understanding of high culture underwent an important modification, while still maintaining its universal nature. However, this original, ancient and Christian meaning of the term “culture” went through further changes at the end of the nineteenth century, when the term became popular in philosophy and humanities. As its popularity grew, its meanings diversified depending on the context of a particular scientific discipline, trend, and philosophical system. This is why, over time, “culture” became one of the most ambiguous terms.
Contemporary definitions of culture are limited to highlighting only some of its aspects. They usually emerge in such fields as sociology of culture, cultural anthropology, cultural psychology, semiotics. Thus, they focus on points of reference such as: value (M. Weber), meaning and symbol (C. Geertz, D. Schneider), interpretation, group identity (R. Williams), lifestyle, beliefs, and attitudes (Encyclopaedia Britannica), mental and physical reactions and activity (F. Boas), complex of behaviours (W. Roseberry). Indeed, a closer analysis of these definitions reveals that they arbitrarily take into consideration only selected causes-reasons constitutive of culture. All such definitions emerge within the framework of philosophical debates concerning the relation between man and society, on the one hand, and the relation between culture and reality, on the other hand. The meanings that they attribute to culture come from a subject or a given community, which makes them a kind of projection rather than examination of existing reality. In fact, terms such as “reality” or “objectivity” never appear in contemporary definitions of culture. This is an evidence of a subjective approach to this phenomenon, which makes it impossible to reach its essence. As a result of failure to understand what culture is, there is a growing tendency to remove the difference between high and low culture.
Due to the variety of approaches, it is justified to determine a point in time when culture became culture. To that end, and despite the complexity and diversity of culture, it is necessary to indicate its main subject, goal, and nature. This task becomes feasible within the framework of a philosophy which prioritizes the role of metaphysics; for it is metaphysics that helps us understand categories such as: subject, substance, person, nature. It includes the general theory of being and presents the ultimate factors causing something to be a being rather than a non-being. Having started from this foundation, the point of reference for the study of culture still needs to stay with the realistic vision of being and ←11 | 12→man – philosophical anthropology, which provide answers to the most fundamental questions concerning the human way of being, which falls under the common name of “culture.” Using the theory of being developed within metaphysics, philosophical anthropology reveals the fundamental structure of man as a personal being. Thus, it gives us an objective tool to explain the fact of culture.
For this reason, I shall discuss culture using the categories of realistic metaphysics, both in the historical and systemic spheres, while taking into consideration the explanations provided within philosophical anthropology. This approach will make it possible to indicate the important factors decisive for the human mode of action. It will also allow us to notice the actual causes, which explain human action and give it purpose. Thus, I shall demonstrate that the essence of culture rests upon the actualization of man’s personal life against the backdrop of experience of the world, and that culture itself is an effect of such a rationalisation of reality; that it is a quality (perfection) of the human being, while cultural artefacts are an image and expression of that perfection, an external sign and a manifestation of culture.
The historical approach will help us reach the roots of theoretical reflection about culture, which can be traced back to Ancient Greece. In what follows, I shall demonstrate that the emergence of the very term “culture” is one thing, while the origins of the theoretical thought about that way of existence, which is characteristic for human beings and differentiates them from the natural world, is quite another thing.
In the first part of the book, I shall explain the meaning of the term “culture” in Ancient Greece and Rome, exposing the Greek origins of what we describe today as “high culture.” Therefore, I shall reach back to the roots of the Greek understanding of culture, which can be found as early as in the works of the great poet, Homer, who understood culture as a consciously nursed ideal model of human perfection. He claimed that culture is expressed through the entirety of man’s character – not only through his external behaviour and actions but also through his internal attitude. And neither the way of conduct nor the internal attitude is accidental; in fact, they are consciously shaped toward a particular goal. It was Homer who noticed that such preparation begins in a small social group, the nobility, aristoi, of a given nation. Therefore, we should look for the beginnings of so-called high culture in Ancient Hellenic noble culture, to which the term areté (virtue) was closely linked. This vision, initiated by Homer, finds continuation in the concept, or rather, cultural process, called paideia, which emerged at the time of Athenian democracy. I shall explain the meaning of this term and discuss important contributions to its understanding, especially the ←12 | 13→thought of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates, who discussed ethical aspects of the emerging ideal model of education.
Next, I shall present the circumstances in which this ideal model was first described in terms of kalokagathía. I shall explain its moral-personal aspect, as well as its social aspect. I shall analyse the way in which the understanding of the term changed in Plato’s thought. Finally, I shall discuss the next, even higher, level of culture, which was described by Aristotle. That level is expressed by a kind of greatness and strength of the soul, which Aristotle calls magnanimity (Greek: megalopsychía, Latin: magnanimitas, literally: “greatness of soul”). This distinctive feature of the human being representing high culture consists in the ability of making correct judgments about great and small goods. As Aristotle observes, the search for greater goods poses numerous difficulties, which are easier to overcome for the “great-souled” being. Thus, magnanimity appears as an indispensable condition of genuinely human high culture.
Finally, I shall point to the moment when that Greek ideal model met the Roman ideal model of education. I shall discuss the circumstances in which people began to use the word “culture” to describe the rational process of individual and social upbringing of the human being. I shall explain how these two terms, which may well designate the entirety of Greek and Roman civilisations as opposed to barbarism, came to be seen as identical.
The second part of this book discusses the way in which the Christian ideal of culture stemmed from Hellenic culture. Here, I shall indicate the roots and characteristic features of the specifically Christian understanding of culture, while also explaining how Christianity both complemented Greek philosophy and drew new conclusions from it. The primary link between the ancient heritage and the achievements of medieval thought was the thought of the Early Church Fathers. Therefore, I shall present the contributions to the humanities of: Saint Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Marcus Minucius Felix, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Cassiodorus, Saint Gregory the Great. Their great contribution consisted in the strengthening of a positive bond between Christianity and Hellenism. However, it is important to remember that their understanding of the Christian paideia was based on the so-called Christian philosophy, which did not distinguish between philosophical and theological aspects but rather saw them as standing in a mutually inspiring relationship. I shall describe this approach in terms religious personalism. Next, I shall prove that the theological and philosophical aspects were separated when philosophy became autonomous, which finally took place in the thirteenth century, thanks to Saint Thomas Aquinas.←13 | 14→
The research perspective adopted for this part of the book will allow us to shift from historical discourse to metaphysical, or more precisely, anthropological discourse. I shall demonstrate that Saint Thomas’ emphasis on the role of the existence of beings in the world made philosophy more realistic and thereby provided philosophical cognition with more direct view of the world and empirical verifiability. I shall present St. Thomas’s notion of the person. I shall explain what it means that the human being is disposed towards personal life and point to those elements which should be actualized within that being. Finally, I shall demonstrate that is thanks to the knowledge of those elements that the human being can rationally and responsibly choose the ultimate purpose of his or her life and form it according to this purpose.
In the third part of the book, I shall present, on the one hand, the reasons and circumstances of the emergence of so-called popular culture, and, on the other hand, the views of the selected authors from the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, who opposed those tendencies and championed high culture. As we shall learn, they employed the term “high culture” in a variety of contexts. Among the thinkers who devoted a great deal of work to the issues of high culture is Matthew Arnold (1822–1888), whose collection of essays, Culture and Anarchy, is considered to be one of the first works in English addressing these questions. In turn, authors such as José Ortega y Gasset (1883–1955), Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965), and Dwight Macdonald (1906–1982) believed that because of the tendency to remove the division between high and low culture, high culture is virtually brought down to the level of low culture, and, consequently, the former falls apart. Another advocate of high culture was Roger Scruton (1944–2020), who noticed that now, more than any time before, it needs to be saved and preserved. High culture was also addressed by Walter Benjamin (1892–1940), whose 1935–1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction became very influential, and later by Theodor Adorno (1903–1969).
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2020 (June)
- Humanitas Education Philosophical Anthropology Magnanimity Aristotle St. Thomas Aquinas
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 216 pp.