The Philosopher's Cornered
"Liberal" is Not a
by Dan Wolaver
didn't appreciate my high-school literature class much. We read
about people whose lives I couldn't relate to, and I didn't find it very
entertaining. My teacher explained that, with a limited life
experience, young people remain self-absorbed, knowing only their own
little world. Literature helps expand that world, enabling the
reader to understand other viewpoints, cultures, and
life-struggles. He learns that, although their customs may be
different, others have the same basic desire for security, love, and
freedom from want.
Later I learned that this aspect of education is called a "liberal education," one that broadens the student's viewpoint, promoting understanding of others and tolerance of their way of life. The American Heritage dictionary provides the following definition:
A liberal education enables a
pluralistic* society—where mutual respect and tolerance allow different groups to coexist and
interact without the forced assimilation of any group, where it is
recognized that the beliefs of any particular group cannot
represent absolute truth. The alternative is a polarized society in
which each side is sure their way is right, and anyone that disagrees is
trying to destroy their way and must therefore be evil. That
mindset leads to the anger and rantings heard on talk radio.
In the Middle East it leads to Sunnis killing Shiites and threatening
women who don't cover their faces.
* See "Pluralism (political philosophy)" on Wikipedia.