Returning to School? Advice for Listening to Lectures

Mark Pattison’s humility and anxiety mentioned in an earlier post is certainly familiar to many of us who have been overmatched in the classroom. Fortunately (or not), Plutarch has some reflection and advice on this (De recta ratione audendi 47d)

“Perhaps philosophy contains something, certain matters, difficult for inexperienced and young students to understand in the beginning. But, without a doubt, they fall into most difficulty on their own thanks to unclear thought or ignorance—those who misunderstand the same thing do it for opposite reasons. For some hesitate to ask questions because of shame or to spare the speaker and therefore fail to establish the argument firmly in their minds all while nodding their heads as if they understand. Others, because of an untimely ambition or silly rivalry with their peers to make a show of their perceptiveness and their ability to learn, assert that they understand something before they do and, as a result, do not understand it at all. Then, it turns out that those who are humble and silent, when they leave the lecture, trouble themselves and feel at a loss until finally, and now compelled by necessity with greater shame, they encumber the lecturers by asking questions and making up for what should have been said before. The result for the ambitious and bold young men is that they are always trying to work around and cover up their cultivated ignorance.”

῎Ισως μὲν οὖν ἔχει τι καὶ τὰ πράγματα τοῖς ἀπείροις καὶ νέοις ἐν ἀρχῇ δυσκατανόητον• οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ τῇ γε πλείστῃ περιπίπτουσιν ἀσαφείᾳ καὶ ἀγνοίᾳ δι’ αὑτούς, ἀπ’ ἐναντίων φύσεων ταὐτὸν ἁμαρτάνοντες. οἱ μὲν γὰρ αἰσχύνῃ τινὶ καὶ φειδοῖ τοῦ λέγοντος ὀκνοῦντες ἀνερέσθαι καὶ βεβαιώσασθαι τὸν λόγον, ὡς ἔχοντες ἐν νῷ συνεπινεύουσιν, οἱ δ’ ὑπὸ φιλοτιμίας ἀώρου καὶ κενῆς πρὸς ἑτέρους ἁμίλλης ὀξύτητα καὶ δύναμιν εὐμαθείας ἐπιδεικνύμενοι, πρὶν ἢ λαβεῖν ἔχειν ὁμολογοῦντες, οὐ λαμβάνουσιν. εἶτα συμβαίνει τοῖς μὲν αἰδήμοσι καὶ σιωπηλοῖς ἐκείνοις, ὅταν ἀπέλθωσι, λυπεῖν αὑτοὺς καὶ ἀπορεῖσθαι, καὶ τέλος αὖθις ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης ἐλαυνομένους σὺν αἰσχύνῃ μείζονι τοῖς εἰποῦσιν ἐνοχλεῖν ἀναπυνθανομένους καὶ μεταθέοντας, τοῖς δὲ φιλοτίμοις καὶ θρασέσιν ἀεὶ περιστέλλειν καὶ ἀποκρύπτειν συνοικοῦσαν τὴν ἀμαθίαν.

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