Humanism and Theology (Aquinas Lecture 7) by Werner Wilhelm Jaeger

By Werner Wilhelm Jaeger

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Therefore they look upon the sophists and their contemporaries and companions, the ancient teachers of rhetoric like Gorgias and Isocrates and the later Quintilian, as the true fathers of humanism. No one can deny that many humanists in modern times resemble that pattern. I am speaking of those whose ideal of education and culture is of a merely formalistic nature. 41 From a Thomist point of view Jacques Maritain pointed out a few years ago in his book Humanisme Int├ęgral (Paris, 1936) that if this be humanism, a man of his convictions must either abandon humanism entirely or redefine it.

38 Protagoras does not deny their existence dogmatically but leaves it to our personal "will to believe," to speak with William James, whether we want to accept it or not. Now it is a well known fact that the Greek sophists were the founders of the theory of an education and were the first to formulate the idea of a culture which became very important in the history of classical and modern humanism. They were in the first place not philosophers but educators. Thus if the modern philosophers who called themselves humanists were more interested in the history of mankind than they usually are, they might say that it is a fact of profound significance that the ideal of culture arose at the same historical moment and in the same circle that created the relativistic doctrine: man is the measurement of all things.

He opposed to the scepticism of the sophists in theoretical matters his practical scepticism and proved to them that there is no escape from disbelief in reason into the practical sphere of education, since true education involves more than mere methods for the training of the mind. It requires an aim towards which human action should be directed and a certainty about the good which it strives to attain. The statement of Protagoras that man himself is that measurement of all things is, from this viewpoint, only the declaration of bankruptcy of human culture.

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