Recently a friend and I were discussing the merits of learning something substantial at the university, and of which i mentioned that he should be learning something more substantial than mere facts and formulas. He asked me to clarify, and what follows is an excerpt from the email correspondence:
Interlocutor: What is far more substantial than facts and forumlae, exempli gratia?
Ah, this calls for a personal rant of mine. the chief drawbacks of formal education is its reversal of experience and concept. Generally, concepts contain content and significance, in the form of facts and formulae, only as long they come from experience and may be cashed back into it. But the problem with formal education is that it displaces experience by teaching us our first knowledge of the most important aspects of life through the concepts based on other people’s abstractions and generalizations, instead of the abstractions/generalizations from our own experiences. Of course some of this is necessary, granted, but not all of it. therefore, there is a great deal of our conception of real life that aren’t based on anything we have personally ever observed, experienced or felt. That these facts and formulae are correct is exceedingly irrelevant, because they aren’t authentic, which means that they are truly ours.
This also reflects a distinction in philosophy that exists between the academic philosophers and the authentic ones. The professors meet and absorb the problems of philosophy through the concept, they study them, but the authentic ones discover them existentially, by reflection of their own lives and experiences. For the professor, philosophy is a matter of verbal gymnastics where much reading and writing and talking and listening takes place, but for the genuine article, philosophy is a profound encounter with being and living. The academician is interested and enjoys philosophy seriously, but the real McCoy cannot distinguish philosophy from life, and considers it an issue of the life or death of the human species. A scholar is a good teacher, but the true thinker makes original contributions.
The modern philosopher is a professional pedant, paid to instruct the young in philosophical doctrines and to write books and articles. He is a professor of philosophy, not so very different from a professor of biology or of marketing. He need not reshape his inner being to the model of the doctrines he discusses in his classes. If pressed, he will perhaps claim that he is useful because he teaches the young to think more clearly and, less plausibly, that he forces his fellow professors in other departments to clarify their concepts. The proud cities of metaphysics were long ago abandoned as indefensible and have fallen into ruin. The philosophers have for the most part retreated to the safer territory of language and logic, creating for themselves a sort of analytical Formosa.
– John Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks