The Ignorant Schoolmaster

The book The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1987), by the French philosopher Jacques Rancière, presents the notion of intellectual emancipation; the idea of equality of the mind. The book presents arguments about our biases towards competition and inequality, by-products of our social fabric.

Some of the gems here:

There are no men of great thought, only man of great expression for they gamble their reputation on the bet of the similarity of minds. – my paraphrasing

This implies of-course that “greatness” is a social construct and the only way to go about to achieve it is to take part in the messy endeavour of communicating with our fellow human beings.

“The impossibility of our saying the truth, even when we feel it, makes us speak as poets, makes us tell the story of our minds’s adventures and verify that they are understood by other adventurers.”

“The virtue of our intelligence is less in knowing than in doing. Knowing is nothing, doing is everything, but this doing is fundamentally an act of communication.”

A decent starting point for a mental journey through critical thinking, social constructs, and virtue signalling. The next one is especially relevant for modern times —the realm of social media.

“There is no pride in saying out loud: Me too, I’m a painter! Pride consists in saying softly to others: You neither, you aren’t a painter! “Me too, I’m a painter” means: me too, I have a feelings to communicate to my fellow-men.”

My deepest scepticism (sometimes cynicism) resonates with the following:

“One must learn near those who have worked in the gap between feeling and expression , between the silent language of emotion and the arbitrariness of the spoken tongue, near those who have tried to give voice to the silent dialogue the soul has with itself, who have gambled all their credibility on the bet of the similarity of minds.”

A recurrent message of this book is that “he who knows how to remain true to himself in the middle of irrationality will triumph over the passions of others exactly as he triumphs over his own.” This takes me back to stoicism and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations:

“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.”

Rancière’s emancipation, much like stoicism, falls back to reason above all else as a way to deal with our innate biases. Reason (and the awareness to reason) is perhaps the way to avoid “falling into the gravitational field of other minds”.