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The Vice of Arrogance
Hugh of Saint Victor, On Study and Teaching
It behooves you not to despise others when you begin to know something. This vice of arrogance takes posession of some so that they contemplate their own knowledge too lovingly, and since they seem to themselves to be something, they think that others whom they do not know can neither be nor become such as they. Hence also these peddlers of trifles, boasting I do not know of what, accuse their ancestors of simplicity, and think that wisdom was born with them, and will die with them.
- Hugh of Saint Victor, On Study and Teaching
I’ve always enjoyed studying history, philosophy, and religion because of what these disciplines teach me about people. In fact, I switched to religious studies in the third year of my psychology degree because I felt like I wasn’t learning enough about actual humans in psychology itself.
Knowing what other humans throughout history have thought, believed, written, discovered, pondered, philosophized, and been passionate about is a comfort. Knowing that we today do not represent the pinnacle of wisdom is a good thing, actually, because what a sad state of affairs that would be. We should not be so quick and arrogant to think we know best, because we absolutely don’t.
I don’t think that there was some mystical and idyllic time in the past when everyone was wiser than we are now, either. But people have always been people. Many of those people who came before us were short-sighted, violent, and arrogant themselves. But many were incredibly brilliant. To eschew it all would be a huge mistake and a massive squandering of our immense privilege to have more access to their words and thoughts than ever before in human history.
I don’t know about you, but to think that wisdom was born with me and will die with me is a terrifying thought. I do my best, but the world would surely be doomed if no one else ever has or will surpass me. It is a wonderful thing that we have knowledge from our ancestors to draw on, and we should not be quick to dismiss it all.
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