The Recovery of Wonder in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (Steve Soldi, 11/24/23, Voegelin View)

For Socrates and Aristotle, being a philosopher does not mean reading philosophy books or pursuing a career as a professional philosopher. Rather, a philosopher is someone who wonders and pursues truth “in order to know, and not for a utilitarian end.” On this view, schools should aim to produce philosophers. For example, John Senior, the renowned educator, cultivated in his students the idea that being culminated in wonder. His entire educational philosophy can be understood in terms of wonder. The motto of his self-designed Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas in the 1970s speaks to this proposition: Nascantur in admiratione – “Let them be born in wonder.” Senior wanted his students to renew their gaze upon an enchanted reality and delight with young-eyed zeal in its mystery and intelligibility. For Senior, wonder is natural to everyone and calls us to pursue truth and wisdom. As we know, the word philosophy means “love of wisdom.”

Wisdom and knowledge are mutually supportive. If wisdom is the means by which we discern and acquire our highest good, knowledge of the true and the good in turn frees us to live well and lead a happy life. How, then, do we obtain knowledge that frees us? The answer is a liberal education. The liberal arts free us from thinking about knowledge in terms of mere utility or practice. In this way, they are superior. The humanities include the highest disciplines—philosophy, theology, history, literature, music, and art—because they are subordinated to nothing outside of themselves. They are endowed with intrinsic value and exist for their own sake. They are to be differentiated from the servile arts, which exist for the sake of something else, namely, to produce practical things.

We are now in a position to appreciate why Ray Bradbury advocates for liberal education in his 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.