My wife says only two things capture the full attention of all her 5th grade students: stories and music.
The quality of a story of captivation and transport, that the mind of the listener moves effortlessly with the movement of the narrative… isn’t that a quality we would like our lives to have?
When our lives make sense to us, isn’t that narrative cohesion more decisive than the cleanliness and systematic integrity of the factual parts? In fact, with the exception of a few exaggeratedly scrupulous souls, do people even worry about the epistemological stratum of truth at all? It’s not the substance of life: it’s part of the set. If the set doesn’t distract from the play, it’s good enough.
An idea to play with: part of what distinguishes paideia from mere technical training is that it imparts a collective narrative to the student, in addition to the more generally recognized practical and factual knowledge. This narrative provides the student with an overarching “why” capable of unifying otherwise discrete meanings:
- the practical and factual are united as equipment for a desired life;
- individual self and the collective are united as belonging to a group;
- the momentary acting and interpreting self with the self projected in memory and anticipation as character who sees and accepts that he is seen.
Without this narrative, the act of acquiring practical and factual knowledge is felt to be a meaningless chore which must be coerced from without; the self is alienated and experiences collectives as something to evade and ideally eventually to escape — (remember back when modernists complained of alienation, before it became cool to accept it nonchalantly?) — and a self instinctively shuts out the seeing/narrating others and claims all vision for himself (hubris) or tries to persist in the seeing/narrative of everyone else, and so is always reinventing, retransfiguring, reauthoring, revising, rediscovering what “really happened” (akrasia).
Meliorism is recognizing that a grand narrative is not discredited when it is credited to human beings.
This potential narrative unity of life which interprets phenomena morally (as possessing or signifying value) is what I’m talking about when I talk about the heaven yao of the trigram.