In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle has many positive things to say about the life of the mind. When I’ve taught this work, or any other philosophical work that that gives an argument for the virtues of study and contemplation, there is often some resistance to the idea that the flourishing human life is deeply connected to the life of the mind. I suspect that this is because we have habitually trained ourselves to view education only as a means to success. We have lost a sense of the intrinsic joys that are associated with learning and the ways in which learning helps us understand and worship God.
It is not surprising that we have developed this habit. Many of my academic memories are ones regarding accomplishments or failures with regards to acceptances, money and prestige. For example, I clearly remember the phone calls that brought the good news of both acceptance and funding to both my undergraduate institution and then later to various PhD programs in philosophy. I also remember, perhaps more vividly, the rejection letters and the academic prizes not won. Later, like many philosophers, the number of jobs that I didn’t get in philosophy vastly outnumbered the jobs that I was offered. Even today, happy and thriving at HBU, seeing a school name run across the ticker on ESPN can stir up emotions of familiarity, friendship and disappointment as I recall the on campus interview that was great but where I didn’t get the job. For my students, they haven’t had the experiences I’ve had in either graduate school or professional academia but their high school experience is enough to encourage this way of looking at education. Enough is at stake in the process of applying for college in terms of money and their hopes (and their parents hopes) that education quickly becomes tied up with something else—a future career, lifetime happiness, a positive view of oneself, whatever.