On Reading Old Books

In the following video, Ms. Teri Gilmor, who previously worked for CUA’s First-Year Experience, gives a vibrant reading of the response written by CUA philosophy professor Dr. Michael Gorman to C. S. Lewis’s piece on the value of reading old books:

What are some ways that listening to people from the past can benefit us even when the people from the past are mistaken? What guesses do you have about ways we today may be mistaken? On the other hand, what are some things that we know today that will be important for us to preserve in order for people in the future to be able to learn those things from us?

Photo: “Cool Jobs on Campus” (#24) by Ed Pfueller, featured in an article about interesting jobs at CUA in the Fall 2012 issue OF The Catholic University of America Magazine.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Ethan Blanchard says:

    Except on scientific fact, when my views are in contrast (even radically so) with the views of the past, I tend to assume I’m wrong and they’re right. From there, I try to follow their logic and arrive at their conclusion. Usually, my knowledge and hindsight allow me to see the error in their mode of thinking, but, occasionally, I have changed my attitude on subjects completely because I’ve realized that we are in fact wrong.

    Something that I highly recommend is to question the things that we are taught today that are inalienable or quintessential. Some things like religion and bread-making have remained unchanged for thousands of years because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. There are other things; like Santa Claus, Fahrenheit, the letter “Q”, and Daylight Savings that we keep around just because not enough people question it. All of those are nonsense that I hope posterity will only know from Wikipedia (especially Daylight Savings I really hate Daylight Savings).

  2. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    I am a HUGE fan of change and really looking at everything I believe in and questioning it. I want to make sure I’m not being egocentric or denying other people’s possibly reasonable opinions that I may not like. Plus, if I had to get into a heated debate about my beliefs, I want to make sure all of my bases are covered and there aren’t any counterarguments. Little did I know that there are always going to be some errors here and there of what I believe. I’m definitely not perfect in my opinions and I can’t really say I’m 100% right in any argument because I’m sure the other side has their rationale as well. So no one is completely right or completely wrong…ever. Even if the past is mistaken, they still have their reasons, just like how we have our reasons today (which could be viewed as mistaken in the future).
    Looking at old books is only a way to expand our thinking and understand others in a totally fresh way. Think about it, reading old books isn’t only understanding another person’s thoughts, but understanding an entirely new age. That’s pretty cool.

  3. Jordan Tibbs says:

    I understand that ideas and trends will change as time progresses as all things do on this planet. I do find it useful (if not then purely entertaining) to see what was thought about prior. Ultimately, most things go through several revisions. Religions change or split or die because old values do not fit new circumstances or vice-versa. The entire history of medical science is built on debunking superstition and refining archaic practices. Looking to the past for perspective is important. It will make you think about what your values are and what you want them to be.

  4. Viola Lohsen says:

    I love old books, precisely because they illuminate so many different assumptions about the world that humans have had through time. I have been slowly working through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales this summer, and I do believe most of our assumptions, especially about women, are better now then they were in the 14th century. Of course, there are also many areas I believe we cannot hold a candle up to our ancestors, which studying the past makes clear. Not only reading old books, I find, clarifies these differences in perspective, but also the study of history and even the study of art.
    Take, for example, how patricians in the Ancient Roman Republic would be portrayed in a stone bust portrait as old and wrinkled, even exaggerating their age and wear. There was pride in age, for age showed wisdom, dignity, and the virtue of the individual for having worked so long for their state. In contrast to that, I laugh to think many people in the modern age would want to be eternally remembered as elderly and creased! The goal of the aging game today, it seems, is to stay a youth forever. Some people use as many creams (or even surgeries!) as possible to not appear older at all. Other people might simply attempt to stay young by acting as though they were still fresh to adulthood, and, by such action, somehow fool the eye of the beholder into seeing them as a youth. If I were to create a marble bust of an older family member (if I had the knowledge of stonework to do so), I am sure that I would either downplay wrinkling without thinking of it, or do so out of respect for my elder’s wishes not to appear in such way. It is the ideal today to be young, perhaps because we take the fact we ought to live to see old age for granted, or perhaps because we do not value the dignity or wisdom of experience that comes with age. It is finally possible, even, that we have come to experience my last assertion about the elderly possessing wisdom and greater virtue to be untrue…
    We look back into the minds of our predecessors in various ways, not only through what is possibly the most direct medium, old books, as C.S. Lewis so beautifully and clearly sets forth, but through the visual arts as well. Perhaps we are mistaken when it comes to poorly respecting age, or perhaps we are mistaken in not attempting to grow respectable with age ourselves.

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