The Thinking 

Ignorance and Envy in Academe

March 21, 2012


IN A recent article at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, Thomas F. Bertonneau considers the relevance of the parable of Plato’s cave to higher education today. He writes:

The Parable of the Cave presents some truths that the contemporary academy, steeped in egalitarian ideas and committed to blandness and relativism in everything, mainly avoids facing.

First, the story insists on the reality of ignorance and error. That is important because contemporary prescriptive pedagogy only reluctantly acknowledges the reality of either ignorance or error. Once a person concedes the existence of ignorance, after all, he must also concede that some people indeed qualify as ignorant. Such persons differ noticeably from others who are not ignorant—those who are knowledgeable or enlightened, at least comparatively. The same goes for error. The relativism necessary to inclusive “diversity” relentlessly equivocates the difference between right judgment and error.

Worse than this, from the point of view of the modern politically correct educator, is the likelihood that once one admits that some people are ignorant in comparison to some standard, the label “ignorant” will become known to those whom it describes. That would be an intolerable scandal because it would imply a hierarchy of values. One state, knowledge, would be “above,” i.e., better than, the other state, ignorance.

The egalitarian-relativistic mentality is implacably anti-hierarchical in its convictions. It supposes that all comparisons are invidious and that all ascribed categories are permanent. An individual who has his ignorance brought to his attention is, in the liberal view, victimized and humiliated. The notion that ignorance is an inevitable “square one” in intellectual progress seems to be beyond the modern victimological view entirely.

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