The differences in Outlook on Education between Augustine and Boethius
In St. Augustine's Confessions, Augustine views education as a tool which could be used for good or for wickedness. In The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius sees education as a tool to conceive of knowledge of God that comes from within. I argue that two writers differ in their beliefs regarding the connection between education and happiness. St. Augustine views the good and evil duality of education while Boethius focuses on the positive aspect of education and the education in the form of the study of philosophical thought and reflection. First of all, St. Augustine believes that education can be used for either virtuous or sinful purposes. Essentially, he believes that education is merely a method to learn how to read and write in order to understand the teachings of Catholicism. Beyond that, it is up to the educated men to either use it to gain spiritual enlightenment or worldly possessions and success. He criticizes the established educational system by saying, “This is the school where men are made masters of words. This is where they learn the art of persuasion, so necessary in business and debate” (St. Augustine 36). He argues that most people attend school and educate themselves in order to gain success in business and become skilled orators. St. Augustine finds fault in this purpose of education because it is focused on gaining worldly possessions and pleasures, which eventually leads people away from God. Speaking of worldly pleasures he writes, All these things and their like can be occasions of sin because, good though they are, they are of the lowest order of good, and if we are too much tempted by them we abandon those higher and better things, your truth, your law, and you yourself, O Lord our God (St. Augustine 48). Therefore, St. Augustine does acknowledge that some worldly pleasures can be seen as “good.” Nevertheless, these things are deemed as the “lowest” level of good and can easily lead people astray from the higher truth. He then goes on saying that ultimately these worldly pleasures and aspirations are a distraction from following the truth of God.
St. Augustine also stresses that schools which teach literature, especially fiction, are also major distractions from following the truth of God and the main cause for sinful life and immorality. He describes how he was forced to learn Greek mythology which he argues served as a distraction from following the truth of God. The role of institutions as a core distraction described above is well-portrayed in the following text. But in the later lessons I was obliged to memorize the wanderings of a hero named Aeneas, while in the meantime I failed to remember my own erratic ways. I learned to lament the death of Dido, who killed herself for love, while all the time, in the midst of these things, I was dying, separated from you, my God and my Life, and I shed no tears for my own plight (St. Augustine 33). Moreover, St. Augustine says that he was provided a method to ignore his own sins because he was required to focus and empathize the characters ,who sinned, of the tales of Greek mythology. Ultimately, the works of fiction and mythology led him to embrace a life without God. He continues to rebuke schools which teach literature by attacking the supposed reverence given to these educational institutions. He expresses this when he writes, “It is true that curtains are hung over the entrances to the schools where literature is taught, but they are not so much symbols in honor of mystery as veils concealing errors” (St. Augustine 34). This description of schools teaching literature suggests that these educational institutions are not only missing the truth, but are in fact concealing the truth. The word “curtains” in this context are fictional stories, which distract the reader and students of the schools from God's truth. Distracting...
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