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or read two statements about the University of Chicago
(Crescat scientia, vita excolator).
|To listen and understand; to question and disagree;
to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing
to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind —
this is what I was encouraged to do by my teachers at the
University of Chicago.
It’s what used to be called a liberal education.
The University of Chicago showed us something else: that every great idea is really just a spectacular disagreement with some other great idea.
Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.
These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.
Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.
In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.
‘If you’ve never met a student from the University of Chicago, I’ll describe him to you.
If you give him a glass of water, he says: ‘This is a glass of water. But is it a glass of water? And if it is a glass of water, why is it a glass of water?’ . . .
And eventually he dies of thirst.”