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Got to Have a Baseline

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To the editors:

In his August 10th essay on core curricula, "What Counts as Culture?" George Lipsitz writes that "a curriculum that goes unexamined and unchanged is no help to critical thinking." Unfortunately he spends a great deal of space attacking "neoconservatives," rather than discussing the standards that should be used to examine curricula. However the following sentence briefly states what criteria (or lack thereof) he uses, namely that "The new scholarship and teaching, rather than celebrate the individual genius of works presumed to have 'transcendent' or 'universal' artistic value, now see the creation of culture as social and historical; the question is why different standards emerge at different times."

The above sentence of Mr. Lipsitz has many implications. One is that a work of art is the product of a society, rather than the work of the individual who produces it. He also implies that no work has "universal" value, which is puzzling in view of his many statements that one should study works from other cultures.

What Mr. Lipsitz ignores is the need to refer to basic philosophical principles if one wishes to compare Western culture to "other, and perhaps better, cultural systems." His assumption that cultures can be weighed against each other presupposes some objective, universal standard of judgement.

Having a student deal with such universal issues is a key part of any Liberal Arts education. One can't make important decisions without reference to fundamental philosophical principles. Ayn Rand shows this in great detail in novels such as Atlas Shrugged, and in her collections of essays, one of which is titled Philosophy: Who Needs It. Or in lieu of reading Rand, attempt to consider the moral aspects of taxation without making bedrock value judgements.

Jordan Kassof

Chicago

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