The Simplified Wealth of Nations of Adam Smith, Book 5, Chapter 1q: Educational Subjects
Chapter 1q: Educational Subjects
148 When Christianity was first established by law, a corrupted Latin had become the common language of Western Europe.
Church services and the Bible translations read in churches were both in that corrupted Latin.
After demise of the Roman empire, Latin gradually ceased to be the language of Europe.
But the people's reverence naturally preserves the established forms and ceremonies of religion long after the reasons for their establishment have disappeared.
Church services still continued in Latin even though the people no longer understood Latin.
Thus, two languages were established in Europe, in the same manner as in ancient Egypt:
a sacred, learned language of the priests, and
a profane, unlearned language of the people.
It was necessary that the priests understood the language they used.
The study of the Latin made an essential part of university education from the beginning.
149 It was not so with the Greek or Hebrew languages.
The Latin translation of the Bible is commonly called the Latin Vulgate.
The infallible church decrees made that version dictated by divine inspiration.
It therefore was of equal authority with the Greek and Hebrew originals.
The knowledge and study of Greek and Hebrew was not required for churchmen.
For a long time, their study was not necessary in common university education.
There are some Spanish universities where the study of Greek was never done.
The first reformers found the Greek text of the new testament, and the Hebrew text of the old testament, more favourable than the Latin Vulgate translation.
The Latin version was gradually accommodated to support the Catholic church's doctrines.
They exposed the many errors of that translation, which the Roman Catholic clergy defended or explained.
But this could not be done well without knowledge of those three languages.
Their study was therefore gradually introduced into most universities.
Some of those universities embraced while some rejected the doctrines of the reformation.
The Greek language was connected with classical learning.
Classical learning was first principally cultivated by Catholics and Italians.
It came into fashion around the same time the doctrines of the reformation began.
In most universities, Greek was taught:
before philosophy, and
as soon as the student had made some progress in Latin.
The Hebrew language had no connection with classical learning except in the holy Scriptures.
No esteemed book was written in it.
Its study only commenced after the study of philosophy when the student entered the study of theology.
150 Originally, the first rudiments of Greek and Latin were taught in universities.
In others, the student is expected to have previously learned those languages.
The study of both makes a very considerable part of university education everywhere.
151 The ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three great branches:
Physics or natural philosophy
Ethics or moral philosophy
"This general division seems perfectly agreeable to the nature of things."152 The great phenomena of nature necessarily excite wonder:
the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, comets, thunder, lightning, and extraordinary meteors, and
the generation, life, growth, and dissolution of plants and animals.
They naturally call forth mankind's curiosity to inquire into their causes.
Superstition first attempted to satisfy this curiosity by referring them all to the agency of the gods.
Philosophy afterwards tried to account for them from more familiar causes.
Those great phenomena are the first objects of human curiosity.
The science which pretends to explain them must naturally have been the first branch of philosophy.
Accordingly, the first recorded philosophers were natural philosophers.
153 In every age and country, men must have attended to one another's characters, designs, and actions.
"Many reputable rules and maxims for the conduct of human life must have been laid down and approved of by common consent."
As soon as writing came into fashion, wise men would naturally endeavour:
to multiply those maxims, and
to express their own sense of what was proper or improper conduct sometimes in:
the more artificial form of apologues, like Aesop's fables,
the more simple form of apophthegms or wise sayings like:
The Proverbs of Solomon
The verses of Theognis and Phocyllides
The works of Hesiod
They might continue in this way for a long time merely to multiply those maxims of prudence and morality, without even attempting to:
arrange them in any distinct or methodical order, and
connect them by general principles from which they were all deducible, like effects from their natural causes
There was a beautiful, systemic arrangement of their different observations, connected by a few common principles.
This was first seen in the rude ancient essays about the system of natural philosophy.
Something of the same kind was afterwards attempted in morals.
The maxims of common life were arranged in some methodical order.
They were connected together by a few common principles, in the same manner attempted in the arrangement and connection of natural phenomena.
"The science which pretends to investigate and explain those connecting principles is what is properly called moral philosophy."
154Different authors gave different systems of natural and moral philosophy.
But the arguments which supported those systems were frequently very slender probabilities at best.
Sometimes those arguments were mere sophisms.
Their only foundation was the inaccuracy and ambiguity of common language.
Speculative systems have always been adopted for frivolous reasons.
Gross sophistry has never influenced mankind's opinions, except in matters of philosophy and speculation.
Gross sophistry was frequently the greatest in philosophy and speculation.
The patrons of each system of natural and moral philosophy naturally tried to expose the weakness of the arguments of opposing systems.
In examining those arguments, they had to consider the difference between:
a probable and a demonstrative argument,
a fallacious and a conclusive one.
Logic is the science of the general principles of good and bad reasoning.
It arose out of the scrutiny of this examination.
It was originally posterior to physics and ethics.
It was commonly taught in most of the ancient schools of philosophy, previous to physics and ethics.
The student was thought to understand the difference between good and bad reasoning before he was led to reason on important subjects.
155 This ancient division of philosophy into three parts was changed into five parts in most European universities. 156 In the ancient philosophy, whatever concerned the nature of the human mind or the Deity was a part of physics.
Those beings were parts of the great system of the universe.
They produced the most important effects.
Whatever human reason could conclude about them made two very important chapters, of the science which pretended to give an account of the origin and revolutions of the great system of the universe.
But in European universities, philosophy was taught as subservient to theology.
It was natural to dwell longer on these two chapters than any other chapter of the science.
They were gradually extended and divided into many inferior chapters such as:
the doctrine of spirits, and
This is a study where so little can be known.
the doctrine of bodies.
This is a study where so much can be known.
In the end, the doctrine of spirits took up as much room in philosophy as the doctrine of bodies.
Those two doctrines made two distinct sciences.
Metaphysics or Pneumatics were set in opposition to Physics.
Metaphysics were cultivated as the more sublime and useful science than Physics.
Experiment and observation requires a careful attention which is capable of making so many useful discoveries.
Experiment and observation was almost entirely neglected.
Metaphysics was greatly cultivated.
It had a few very simple and obvious truths.
The most careful attention of these truths can only lead to obscurity and uncertainty.
It can only produce subtleties and sophisms.
157 When those two sciences were set in opposition to one another, the comparison between them naturally created a third science called Ontology.
Ontology is the science which studied the qualities and attributes common to subjects in Metaphysics and Physics.
Subtleties and sophisms composed most of Metaphysics or Pneumatics and the whole of the cobweb of Ontology.
Ontology was sometimes also called Metaphysics.
158 The ancient moral philosophy investigated the happiness and perfection of a man considered as an individual and a member of:
the great human society
In moral philosophy, the duties of human life were treated as subservient to the happiness and perfection of human life.
But when moral and natural philosophy came to be taught only as subservient to theology, the duties of human life were treated as subservient to the happiness of a life to come.
In the ancient philosophy, the perfection of virtue produced the most perfect happiness in this life.
In the modern philosophy, the perfection of virtue was frequently inconsistent with happiness in this life.
Heaven was to be earned only by:
penance and mortification, and
the austerities and abasement of a monk.
Heaven was not to be earned bythe liberal, generous, and spirited conduct of a man.
Casuistry and an ascetic morality made up most of the moral philosophy of the schools.
In this manner, the most important branch of philosophy became the most corrupted.
159 The following was the common course of philosophical education in most European universities:
Logic was taught first
Ontology came in second
Pneumatology came in third
It was the doctrine on the nature of the human soul and the Deity
A debased system of moral philosophy came in fourth.
It was immediately connected with:
The doctrines of Pneumatology
The immortality of the human soul
The rewards and punishments from the Deity to be expected in a life to come
A short and superficial system of Physics usually concluded the course.
160 The changes introduced by European universities into the ancient course of philosophy were all meant to:
educate ecclesiastics, and
render it as a more proper introduction to the study of theology
But those changes introduced the following into philosophy:
These certainly did not:
render it more proper for education,
improve understanding, nor
mend the heart.
161 This course of philosophy is still taught diligently in most European universities.
In some of the richest and best endowed universities, the tutors teach a few unconnected shreds and parcels of this corrupted course.
They commonly teach it very negligently and superficially.
162Most of the improvements made in several branches of philosophy were not made in universities.
Most universities did not even want to adopt those improvements.
For a long time, several of those universities chose to remain the sanctuaries for exploded systems and obsolete prejudices after they had been hunted out of other parts of the world.
In general, the richest and best endowed universities were the slowest in adopting those improvements.
They were most averse to permit any major change in the established plan of education.
Those improvements were more easily introduced into the poorer universities.
The teachers there depended on their reputation for most of their subsistence.
They were obliged to pay more attention to the current world opinions.
163 European public schools and universities were originally intended only for the education of churchmen.
Those churchmen were not always very diligent in instructing their pupils.
But they gradually drew to themselves the education of almost everyone, particularly those of gentlemen and men of fortune.
It was the best way to spend the time between infancy to adulthood for learning the business of the world.
However, most of what is taught in schools and universities is not the most proper preparation for that business.
164 In England, it becomes everyday more the custom to send young people to foreign countries immediately after leaving school, without sending them to university.
It is said that our young people generally return home much improved by their travels.
A young man who goes abroad at 17 or 18 and returns home at 21.
At that age, it is very difficult not to improve much in three or four years.
He acquires some knowledge of foreign languages from his travels though he is seldom able to speak or write them fluently.
He commonly returns home more conceited, unprincipled, dissipated, and more incapable of any serious application to study or business than if he had lived at home.
By traveling so very young, he spends the most precious years of his life in the most frivolous dissipation.
He is far from the inspection and control of his parents and relations.
Every useful habit formed by his early education might be weakened or erased instead of being riveted and confirmed.
Only the discredit of the universities could have ever created this very absurd practice of travelling at a young age.
By sending his son abroad, a father delivers himself from seeing his own son unemployed, neglected, and going to ruin.
165 Such were the effects of some modern educational institutions.