Philosophy of Learning

Scholar in a Meadow, Chinese painting of the 11th century



1. The importance of learning.

The cultivation of an individual is the root of the whole society.  A society well governed stems from families well regulated. Families well regulated stems from individuals well cultivated. The vitality of a society is dependant upon the vitality of the individuals that make up its number. For a society to prosper, enrich its individuals and educate them.

A life worth living is a life of learning. Give yourself a time of quiet every single day of your life for learning and self-advancement. There is nothing more pleasant than to learn something and apply it. Such a life of discovery and mastery are available only to the patient and persistent.


2. When to learn.

Confucius said, “At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning.” The culture of learning is best implanted in the young. The lessons learnt by the young will not be forgotten and they are reinforced when experience proves their worth.

Never neglect the training and education of the young for they are the seeds of a society’s future. It cannot be that what is neglected in youth can be upright and good when they are old. To neglect the proper upbringing of the young is to bring peril to future generations.

Spare the rod, and spoil the child. A child’s training and education is the responsibility of his parents. A child comes empty handed into this world. He relies on his mother’s milk to live and his father’s house for protection. Parents are responsible to equip a child with the necessary means of survival and the correct philosophy of life.


3. How to learn.

Learning starts when one faces the truth and when one dares to accept the truth as it is. To learn, one must see and observe; observe and understand. See facts as they really are. Distinguish their matter, causes, and relations. The pursuit of knowledge starts when you acknowledge what you know and accept what you do not know.

Doubt is the key to knowledge. If you question nothing, you will learn nothing. Do not dismiss simple questions as less worthy of attention. Many can ask but few can answer. Sometimes the simplest of questions are the hardest to answer. Am I the same person as the child that grew into me? Are we really free to do as we will? Does life has meaning? How do we know whether something is good or bad?

Every why has a wherefore. Seek to learn all things; seek to know the roots of all things. Perfect your knowledge with the acceptance of the truth. Allow no self-deception by distinguishing between reality and appearance. Let your subjects of reading be as broad as possible. You cannot wish to learn something you do not know exists.

A Chinese proverb states, “Preserve the old, but know the new.” Confucius said, “When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.” Based on these two sayings, one should observe and understand the culture of others, adopt the good of others, and discard vile practices. By continuing to do so, you will be rectified and your character will grow.

Experience is the best teacher. Believe what you see more than what you hear. Knowledge is strongest well acquainted and weakest when described by others. Do not confuse the necessity of things with the necessity of words. What has wit may not have wisdom. Even language has its limitations.

Sometimes we see but we do not observe; we touch but we do not feel. For this reason, knowledge is lost. Believe nothing but relation of ideas and matters of fact. Be mindful that fact is often confused with fiction and truth with tale.

Pay careful attention to the way we name things. The way we define things can change the truth we choose to accept. A good definition stands firmly on two legs. First, you must assign it to the right class or group based on its general characteristics. Second, you must indicate how it is different or distinct from the other members of its class. Beware not to over generalize when naming things. Good definitions are the building blocks of knowledge.

Concentration and consideration are imperative in the pursuit of knowledge.  The Great Learning states, “When the mind is not present, we look and do not see; we hear and do not understand; we eat and do not know the taste of what we eat.” Consider what you have learnt thoroughly. Confucius said, “Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

Learn as though the knowledge you seek cannot be attained and study with the fear you will forget tomorrow what you have learnt today. Commit to memory what you have learnt. One cannot claim to have learnt something if one cannot remember it. Do not be hasty and impatient when you are learning. Even the greatest teachers learn from every lesson they teach.


4. What to learn.

Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.” Do not skip the process to arrive at the final product. There is not royal road to learning. Everyone from the prince to pauper must start from the easy to arrive at the hard.

When educating the young, start with fables and stories to keep their attention. When educating the youth, challenge them with philosophical problems and explain their solutions. When educating adults, give them the names of the classic literature that they should read themselves.

First and foremost, the young should be made to master language. Only with the mastery of language can one learn from the historical records of the past.  Hence, the sole purpose of education for the young is to train them in the art of reading, writing, rhetoric, and arithmetic. These four aspects are the foundation of a good education.

Do not trouble yourself with problems in the clouds. Do not bother asking yourself why there is something rather than nothing; whether reality is real; whether you are in a dream within a dream. When in doubt of your existence, always listen to your stomach. When it growls in hunger, you have the proof of your existence.

Of the nine muses of Ancient Greek mythology, give most of your attention to Clio, the Muse of history. After Clio, move on to Urania, Muse of astronomy; Calliope, Muse of epic poetry and eloquence; Thalia, Muse of comedy; Melpomene, Muse of tragedy; Erato, Muse of love poetry; Euterpe, Muse of music; Polyhymnia, Muse of hymns; and Terpsichore, Muse of dance. Study them all in this order and remember that they are the child of Mnemosyne, Memory.

Why is Clio the most important of the Muses? The Great Pattern moves in cycles. What was once past will appear again in the present. For this reason, the ancients wrote down their experiences for the benefit of future generations, lest their descendents are caught unaware when history repeats itself. Those who do not learn from the mistakes made in the past are condemned to make the same mistakes in the future.

Bloodlines are important. The secrets of the world cannot be learnt within one single generation. Due to this, parents pass the results of a lifetime of training and development to their children. When you study history, make an effort to study the history of your own family and continue writing down what you have learnt for your descendents.


5. The superior and the inferior.

How do you recognize the superior man from the inferior one and what is their basis of comparison? First, which of the two is more learned? Second, which of the two remembers what he has learnt? Third, which of the two can apply successfully what he has leant? Using these three considerations as a basis of comparison, one can identify the superior over the inferior.


6. Final truths.

When learning do not seek absolutes. Remember that the final truth of this universe belongs to the heavens. Let your knowledge be piecemeal and be open to correction. Be patient and persevere. Time will tell; time tries truth; time is the father of truth. Lao Tzu said, “Those who speak do not know; those who know do not speak.” Be a lover of wisdom and a seeker of knowledge. Place the naked and impartial truth as the highest attainable objective in life. 

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