The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has for a long time stirred the issue on the tug between experiential knowledge (the sort of knowledge that is gained in the “streets” and practiced mostly by Huck) and intellectual knowledge (the kind of knowledge being taught in schools and by people like Widow Douglas and Miss Watson). The issue can most of the time be phrased as that between being logical and following the practical consequences of one’s logic as opposed to following the dictates of society.
This is a theme that was developed early on in the book and extends up to the end.
Huck, for example, defies society and chooses his own logic in Chapter 1 when he told Widow Douglas that he would prefer to go to hell since this would mean a change of scenery and being with Tom. It is known for a fact that “heaven” should be the de facto choice of destination for everyone. To choose to go to hell, with our without reasons for wanting to do so, plainly means going against what is conventional.
Time and again, Huck has dealt with the part of his conscience that told him that keeping and cuddling Jim, a “property” of Miss Watson versus his natural sympathy for the man (Bennett 3).
These and many other instances in Huckleberry Finn illustrate the clash between the obviously wrong societal teaching that racism and slavery is good and having sympathy and compassion for the slaves as bad versus the instinctive knowledge that sympathy and compassion towards a slave is worthwhile.
In this paper, this clash between experiential knowledge, i. e. , knowledge gained by oneself through the exercise of personal logical induction and deduction gathered through experience, and intellectual knowledge, i. e. , knowledge gained through different societal instruments, shall be dealt with.
More specifically, this paper shall address the issue of which of these two “knowledges” has more importance. Being an issue that is of no light matter, this paper would need to look beyond Huckleberry Finn for aid. As such, Philosophy, Ethics, and Education seem to be the most promising areas of knowledge that address the issue. Hence, this paper shall look in these directions to settle the issue. Specifically, this paper shall have the following parts: on wisdom and knowledge as personal or societal; morality as inauthentic or authentic; and educations as geared towards making the person “fully” come out versus education as socialization.
The paper shall end with a conclusion. Wisdom as Personal or Societal Philosophy has dealt with the question on the source of wisdom a number of times and through different thinkers. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle are known to deal extensively about this issue, and as such, their philosophies shall be utilized. Since Aquinas is known for extensively working on Aristotle’s works, merging the works of these two thinkers shall not pose any problems. Before anything, it would be best to first give a definition of wisdom.
At least in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, wisdom is a kind of knowledge that is “of paramount importance in directing human existence towards its purpose or end” (Artigas 17). It is that kind of knowledge that aids man to be a better human being, not only by providing particular knowledge, but most specially a universal knowledge that speaks of the human being’s nature, purpose and end. In the end, wisdom ought to lead to the human being’s happiness, happiness defined as a life that is flourishing. All these ideas seem to be abstract, so it would be best to concretize a bit.
At least for Aristotle, living a life that is full of human flourishing means living a virtuous life in a community that allows for the continuous development of the individual. According to the Aristotelian philosopher Martha Nussbaum, this refers to a life wherein virtues, human relations, reason and other physical capabilities are allowed to flourish by the society (Nussbaum 76-78). More concretely, this means experiencing real friendship, practicing justice, exercising prudence and a host of many other virtues that Aristotle spoke of in the Nicomachean Ethics in a society that value and nurture these.
It is allowing a person to have meaningful relations, to engage in activities that nourish one’s “senses, imagination, and thought,” to have bodily health, to engage in play, to have autonomous control over one’s environment and so on (Nussbaum 76-78). So far, it seems that wisdom ought to be acquired for the benefit of the individual that would most probably emanate into the good of society. That is well and good, nevertheless, we still have not answered the question as to how wisdom itself is acquired. In this respect, Aquinas has an answer. Thomas Aquinas is known for the Natural Law Theory.
The theory states that “man is born with the natural facility to know the basic truths or principles or the moral order as ‘the good is to be done and promoted and the evil to be avoided’” (Panizo 56). In this respect wisdom, i. e. , knowledge about what is good and what is to be avoided that ought to lead to happiness and human flourishing, is not only something that man is capable of; in fact, man is born with this natural facility. Human beings are born with the disposition to want what is good and to avoid what is evil. Thinking about it, this medieval theory seems to make a lot of sense.
Is it not true that no human being ever does something which for her/him is plainly without good or any sort of benefit? Even actions that may be considered as evil by many still have some sort of perverted “goodness” in it. Actions such as murder, drug trafficking, etcetera, still give “pleasure” to those who engage in them. But, does this mean that these actions are morally good? Aquinas would not agree. He would say that though nature has granted man the capacity to know what is good and evil and to want good over evil, still, error may happen.
Error occurs once the basic principle, “good is to be done and sought after, evil is to be avoided” (Aquinas 197) is applied. In fact, there is a hierarchy of difficulty when it comes to the application of this basic principle, the most difficult application of it called “remote conclusions” are described as “not easily drawn by ordinary people, for they involve education in theology and philosophy, and deep reflection” (Panizo 59). These involve judgments on issues like euthanasia, divorce, abortion, etcetera. We have reached a point then when natural wisdom, i. e. , wisdom depending on reason alone, becomes insufficient.
Life is so full of instances when “remote conclusions” are needed and called for. The sad thing is, this knowledge is hard to come by and a human being is left with no option but to listen to the dialogues of the people in the academe. For Aquinas and Aristotle, experiential knowledge is not enough. It could only get us so far. This then brings us to the discussion of the place of “intellectual knowledge” in Philosophy. According to Aristotle, human beings need a role model to live a flourishing life. An excellent person is considered the standard for most of us who are still aiming for human flourishing, for a life of virtue.
An excellent person is defined as he/she whose wishes “will be what is wished in reality” (Aristotle 65), i. e. , the wishes of the excellent person is that which is truly good for the human being. An excellent person is the exact opposite of the base person to whom “pleasure would seem to cause deception since it appears good when it is not” (Aristotle 65). Thus, modeling is Aristotle’s system of knowing what is worth imitating and what is not. To add to this, it must be recalled that for Aristotle (as with the other Greek thinkers), education has an indispensable role in bringing an individual to perfection.
This is the very reason why the Academy and the Lyceum were established. In these schools, individuals from different cities merge to further their knowledge, to share each other’s knowledge and in this sense socializing each other. Hence, at least in Aristotle and Aquinas’ philosophy, though natural wisdom or experiential knowledge may be the starting point, this is not enough. Intellectual knowledge is still necessary since remote conclusions are always called for to ultimately be happy and live a flourishing life. Authentic and Inauthentic Morality
Beyond the epistemology of Aristotle and Aquinas is the perspective that morality or ethics may be inauthentic or authentic. This is the very idea of Michael Moga in the book, Toward Authentic Morality. According to Moga, one’s sense of right and wrong can either be wholly dependent on one’s culture (i. e. , inauthentic morality) or it could come from one’s personal choice (i. e. , authentic morality). This is the very same clash between the self and the society that we have been talking about. According to Moga, most people ascribe to inauthentic morality.
This is the sort of morality that gives in to social pressure, that kind of pressure that forces us to act and think in a particular way without exactly knowing why such an action or thought should be considered moral. We would not have to go very far to understand inauthentic morality. Most adolescents and teenagers are susceptible to peer pressure when it comes to many facets of their lives. The very persistence of racism and discrimination speak of a poorly reasoned morality that rest on social acceptance. In fact, Moga sets out the characteristics of inauthentic morality.
The following are the characteristics of this type of morality. Inauthentic morality is characterized by being based on certain rules and values affirmed by culture; it is universal in its application, i. e. , it is valid for everyone; they impact individuals as set of morality that is external, i. e. , the source of morality is something outside the self; these laws are anonymous; the individual is haunted by fear and shame; the moral obligation is something that comes from authority; and it is fluctuating in influence (Moga 35-39).
This is the sort of morality experienced by the typical teenager who follows his/her group’s choices. Such an individual follows rules not her own, a set of rules she may find difficult to follow since it is something external, nevertheless the breaking of such group rules result to fear and shame. This teenager considers the lead of the group as the one vested with authority to enforce such rules. Though this morality is most stark among teenagers, adults may very well be living this sort of morality.
We would only have to look around shopping malls to see how many adults go with the flow without thinking why. Supposedly at the other extreme is authentic morality. This morality results from one’s personal decision to accept a set of values and morals after necessary reflection. Again, this sort of morality has characteristics: it is personally chosen and accepted; it is based on a rational appreciation; it is not based on fear or shame; morality as an expression of one’s freedom; and it is based on what one personally cares for, i. e. the very principles that one values (Moga 39-41).
This is the sort of morality of individuals who have taken enough time to think over his/her morals. This would be represented by an individual who does an action and could very likely explain and be personally involved in the very principle of one’s actions. This would be the individual whose sense of morality is not dependent on “what others will say” but rather on a clear set of personally chosen moral principles. Though individuals must all aim for authentic morality, Moga insists that both moralities are important.
In the first place, all human beings undergo the inauthentic morality stage where parents become the sole authority from whom morality emanate. Nevertheless, we should not stay this way. After being exposed to different sets of moralities, it is the individual’s responsibility to think and chose which of these moralities shall be made personal. Thus, at least in the Ethical perspective, the social and the personal ought to go together, though in the end, the social should be for the personal. Conclusion
We have seen that at least in Philosophy and Ethics, there really is no real clash between the personal and the social, between intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge. Clashes happen in Philosophy when error exists in the mind and nothing is done to correct the error. This error may of course exist not only with individuals but also in groups such as those in the academe. Nevertheless, we have clearly stated above that intellectual knowledge is there not to ram down society on the throats of individuals but rather to further perfect experiential knowledge for the sake of human flourishing.
The same may be said in the field of ethics. Both authentic and inauthentic moralities are there and both have uses in society. Nevertheless, in the end, inauthentic morality ought to be the material source of inputs for the eventual authentic morality of a person. Morality only becomes stagnant when there is no interaction between the inauthentic and authentic. To answer the question which of the two knowledges is more important, we could qualifiedly say that both are important as long as there is minimal error and that the ultimate purpose is human flourishing.
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