The Philosophical Apprentice

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” Albert Einstein

Edwin deLattre

I have been reading David Hicks Norms & Nobility and in the preface to the 1990 edition I came across a reference to Edwin deLattre. I had never heard of him so I decided to look him up. DeLattre, it turns out was a philosopher at Boston University. DeLattre appears to have done a lot of work in applied ethics and wrote what is considered the classic textbook on law enforcement ethics. He also wrote for a popular audience for whom he penned a powerful and moving essay for Crisis magazine called The Test of Intimacy back in 1998. The essay is a serious meditation on the challenges to true intimacy presented by our sentimentality, our mania for information and our drive for ‘closure’ which for LaMattre is nothing more than our therapeutic culture’s desire to avoid suffering at all costs. Given my recent preoccupation with the technocratic mindset, this passage caught my eye:

The fashions that have become dominant in the years since my marriage belie the assumption that we live in an information age. We live in a sentimentalist age, an age in which lust for information is a trifle compared with the lust for self-gratifying and episodic feelings, for physical pleasures and self-aggrandizing esteem. The lust for information itself signals a preoccupation with immediate and easy satisfaction, far distant from and usually inimical to the love of wisdom. The brief attention span and limited concentration required for surfing the Web cannot prepare a person for serious, let alone intimate, conversation. The techniques of information gatherers—pollsters and narrow research specialists—require little or nothing of the powers of observation, discernment, inference, and analogy essential to understanding anything of consequence. Neither can the easy acquisition of data by such means prepare a person to use the highest educational technology of our time: the demanding, well-conceived book.

The past sixteen years since the publication of this essay can only, I think, confirm the accuracy of this observation.


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