In spite of its generally optimistic assessment of mankind the beginning of the De artibus liberalibus provides us with a rather gloomy description of the human condition. Grosseteste tells us in the opening lines that error and imperfection make their way into the affairs of humanity because our minds have been clouded, desire either leads us after things that are not of the proper sphere or immoderate. Finally, our motives, powers and instruments are debilitated and imperfect because of the ‘corruption of our flesh.’ This all leads us to the necessity for humanity to seek out the redemptive properties of the seven liberal arts.
Read more: pdf of paper here
The following short Taoist tale, though from a completely different culture to Grosseteste, offers an excellent insight into his understanding of knowledge acquisition. It comes to us via the author of Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger.
Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: “You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?” Po Lo replied: “A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse — one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks — is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, one Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him.” Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one. “It is now in Shach’iu” he added. “What kind of a horse is it?” asked the Duke. “Oh, it is a dun-colored mare,” was the reply. However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. “That friend of yours,” he said, “whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast’s color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?” Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. “Has he really got as far as that?” he cried. “Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.” When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger
‘Si verius dicamus, nec qui exterius sonat docet nec littera scripture exterius visa docet, sed solum movent hec duo et excitant; sed verus doctor est qui interius mentem illuminat et veritatem ostendit.’
‘If we speak truly, it is neither the one who produces an external sound nor the external visible writing in a text that teaches; these two things merely move and stimulate [the learner]. But the true teacher is the one who internally illuminates the mind and reveals the truth.’
Robert Grosseteste, Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, I.1, 33-6.
The Ordered Human Project is based at BGU and is led by two Principal Investigators, Dr Jack Cunningham and Dr Steve Puttick. It will be a subsidiary of the Ordered Universe Project that has been bringing historians, philosophers and scientists together at Durham University to study and publish the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste since 2012. The Ordered Human Project models itself on the Durham idea but brings historians and philosophers together with academics who are interested in any aspect of the theory, practice, philosophy or psychology of education.