Thinking Cap: An Unexamined Life

A few days ago, I read this post at Gukira about Humanities in Kenya and their usefulness (when they are often rendered useless) – and it made such sense. You see, before I started college, I thought that the college degree was to prepare you only for a professional track. I was thinking of the better known professions in my home country, the law, medicine, architecture, accountant etc. It was many many moons later when it came time for me to start undergraduate liberal arts studies that I started to understand what the point of a university education has become.

What is a liberal arts education, you might ask. I sought the interpretations of thinker C.S. Lewis who was better known as an Oxford tutor and a Cambridge lecturer. He is best known for his thoughts on Christianity, which are well circulated and published. His words are analysed here by Dunn who said that C.S. Lewis main points of a liberal arts education are to:

  • The ability to rule ourselves frees us from the tyranny of our appetites, and the liberal arts disciplines this self-rule.”
  • to avoid the prejudices of our age – cultivate a habit of reading the thoughts of older writers, and so avoid the same blind spots as other contemporary writers and thinkers. History repeats itself after all.
  • to pursue a vocation – “we can therefore pursue knowledge as such, in the sure confidence that by so doing we are either advancing to the vision of God ourselves or indirectly helping others to do so.”

We often read that the only way to find yourself is in immersing oneself in working for others.

You can become successful without a college degree – but with a college degree you have a set of additional tools to navigate your chosen field and passion. I really enjoyed Gukira’s post. Something that struck me was that for all the things that happen whether fires, or politicians, we need to frame our questions requiring thought, discussions and argumentation. I considered that the way that many of us think about education is that it is a means to a financial end. It is. We are hoping to improve our lot in life, however, I would argue that we are educated to have a more examined life – one where things that happen are things we have the tools to process, religion, philosophy and literature guiding us, we can proceed.

It was Socrates that pioneered many of the known critical philosophy analyses that we see today, of course there were other philosophers who were not recorded – but who survive in oral tradition of different communities. He, Socrates, said – an unexamined life is not worth living – that every question of life should open up a set of other queries. I found this fascinating, especially in light of the massive questions that daily life entails. That one should define and debate these questions is a luxury that many of us cannot afford, but that we desperately need to invest in.

This week, I was thinking about the job market we are entering, us graduates of 2009, and the high hopes that we have. Is it fair to expect that with more education one should be remunerated for your troubles? I assure you, this kind of musing can keep one up late, especially as you send application with little hope of encouragement from such ventures. But if my college education served its rightful place in opening up my mind to ways of re-examining the world, then this is a chance to start thinking anew about merging the intended profession with the passion for social change and the means to make these two come together. I am allowing this kind of examination, because we invest so much time in this education that we can scarcely afford to ignore its benefits.


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