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Discerning Transcendentals: The Entire Point of Higher Education

Updated: Jun 12, 2022


Walt Whitman Ponders the Point.

Many students have asked, how does studying this ancient literature, history, or mathematics help us in the real world?

Sadly, few academics can answer that question quickly and accurately. Many cannot answer the question at all.

To be fair, many people get little or no formal education beyond graduating high school but still have fulfilling, successful, happy lives. More commonly, earning a degree in higher education is seen as the norm for all successful people. Many people will go to great lengths to gain admission to a well-known college and even take on considerable debt.

But, what exactly is the point of all this education? Why should a young person spend their energetic, restless years of life reading literature and writing essays?

The best answer lies in the history of education itself, all the way back to Classical Greek and Roman times, through the Middle Ages, up until now. Traditionally, being able to read (literacy), being able to think (philosophy), and being able to ask intelligent questions and make discerning arguments (rhetoric) were considered the separation of an educated man from an uneducated man.

Even though the social world has changed in the last five thousand years, a person who can comprehend what he reads, discern meaningful and relevant information from irrelevant information, think carefully, and move forward appropriately has a deep advantage over someone who cannot do these things.

While people who have achieved this level of proficiency over decades can often gain technical skills, work experience, and contacts, later on, it would be difficult for a working professional to have the enormous amount of time and energy to study as he would in his younger years. Specifically, philosophy is where "mind trumps matter across all academic disciplines;" every academic field has a Ph. D., showing mastery of the philosophy of a specific area of study. Within the entire field of philosophy, meta-cognition is "thinking about the process of thinking." Hence, thinking about the "nature of things" is more important than specific knowledge.

Within this field of meta-cognitive philosophy, there are transcendentals. Transcendentals are big ideas that supersede others. As academia has evolved, the three transcendentals are truth, beauty, and goodness (in that order). Saying "that tree is red" can be measured for truth, "that painting is beautiful" analyzed for beauty, and "that man did a good thing" can be discussed regarding morality. Practical experience shows that transcendentals often prevail over cultural relativism. A crowd of people or team of experts can often discern some truth, beauty, or goodness in a given topic rather than believing there is no objective truth, beauty, or goodness at all to be found.

Indeed, even famous documents, such as the Magna Carta of the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution, must rely on appeals to truth, beauty, goodness, liberty, equality, and justice to give the document authority, rather than be relegated to a work of complete fiction or satire.

If nothing else, an educated mind supposedly can find these values more efficiently. Do You Agree?

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