The Philia Proposal continued

She once wrote these revealing words to a friend who was warning her that, with her frail health, she was putting her great gift of intelligence at risk by seeking employment as a farm laborer:

‘Yes, I too expect that exhaustion will cripple me intellectually; but fatigue can be a form of purification, of the same order as suffering and humiliation, and as such, it can also be a source of deep joy and spiritual nourishment. But why should I hold intelligence above all else? It is such a fragile thing that prison and torture, and sometimes only words, are sufficient to break it. If that is the better part of me, then I have not much to protect: why should I spare myself? But if there is more, if there is something that can never be broken, that is what I should treasure, and that is what I am looking for.’ 1

What, then, is that “something” ? Weil’s answer may well hold the key to a vision that would provide the inspiration we are seeking:

“what above all else is sacred in all human beings is that inextinguishable part of our beings, deep within our heart, which, from childhood to the grave, and despite our experience of evil done, suffered or observed, never ceases to expect that good rather than harm will befall it.” 2

What renewed concept of social action can this vision inspire and support?

I’ve entitled my answer to that question the “Philia proposal”. “Philia proposal” may remind some of you of “Paideia proposal”. This is no accident. Paideia is the Greek for “education”. As Jaeger reminds us, the Greeks thought that learning required a social and symbolic environment consistent with what is taught. Imagine Plato standing on the Acropolis, expounding his concept of harmony with, in the background, the Parthenon, the very embodiment in stone of the Greek sense of measure, proportion and harmony. “Paideia proposal” is the innovative education program, launched in the early eighties by Mortimer Adler, Jacques Barzun, Richard Hunt and others, who were inspired by the Great Books approach and by this idea of learning and education.3 Their aim was to re-think education in America and turn it into a Socratic dialogue with the classics and the great works of Art. What Paideia proposal is to the care of the mind, the Philia proposal is to the care of the soul.

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