Is learning our earnest? LO20550

John Gunkler (
Tue, 2 Feb 1999 10:22:29 -0600

Replying to LO20533 --


Thanks for the polite (if over lengthy) response to my small criticism.
Out of all the dust you threw up in that response, there was one thing
that caught my curiosity. You wrote:

>The phrase "earnest intent" would not do because learning is not
>intent, although learning has intent. What word should I use to question
>the paramount importance of learning in the way I did?

What is wrong with saying "learning is my earnest intent"? It is I who
has the intent (or doesn't), not the learning. It is I who is (or is not)
earnest about it. I confess that I see nothing wrong, structurally
(syntactically) with the phrase I suggested.

However, semantically I think you have something else in mind. And here
is precisely why I was suggesting you use different words -- because I,
for one, misunderstood what you were trying to say. It seems to me you
are asking if "learning" is the most important activity for a sapient
being to engage in. Or, at least, if learning is the most important
mental activity.

For me, the answer is clear and obviously "Yes." Learning is what
energizes me, it makes me want to get up in the morning, it sweeps away
the cobwebs of depression, it ameliorates the irritations of day-to-day
living, it is the most important instrumental goal in my life -- but it is
only an instrumental goal. That is, it is so important primarily because
it helps me (more than anything else does) to help others.

Yes, there is joy in learning -- without regard to the purposes to which
the learning will be put -- but there is joy in other things, too. There
is joy in the performance of what has been learned, there is much joy in
relationships (even if they are static, sometimes), there is joy in the
relief of another's suffering, there is joy in watching a sunrise (even
though it is "the same" as it was yesterday and I haven't learned anything
new), there is joy in the appreciation of another's skill, there is joy in
feeling intensity of emotion (of many kinds), and I could go on. So, is
learning essential to my well-being? Yes, I certainly believe it is. Is
it the most important thing I do? It's tempting to blurt out, "Yes," but
I'm not sure it would be true. Right now, for example, being sensitive to
my partner's needs seems to be the most important. Perhaps I need to
learn new things so I may do that better -- but there's that instrumental
value of learning, again.

So, in summary, I believe learning is uniquely important because it has
instrumental value for nearly anything else we do -- is there any other
activity about which we can say that? I'm not sure. But, as I was taught
to reason, something that derives value from its ability to create
something else of value is a subordinate, not superordinate, value. Or,
in other words, something that has instrumental value is not a higher
value than the thing(s) it is instrumental in creating.


"John Gunkler" <>

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