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A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 73

A thought inspired by Friday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 73

Whose potential is it?

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This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

In contrast to the Ancient and Medieval understanding of nature, modern science tends to emphasize the role of antecedent causes in explaining the natural world. This means that rather than understanding things in terms of their potential or purpose, modern science seeks to understand how the past events and circumstances led to the present state of affairs.

While this approach has been highly successful in helping us to understand and predict the natural world, it may be limited in its ability to address certain kinds of questions. For example, some philosophers have argued that an exclusive focus on antecedent causes may leave us unable to fully understand why things are the way they are, or to consider the broader purposes or values that might be served by certain actions or phenomena.

For example, modern science would focus on understanding the properties of different materials and how they might be used to construct a bridge that meets certain requirements, rather than the Medieval approach that starts from the potential of the iron ore and seeks to actualize it for its own sake. While the modern approach has practical benefits, it may also have some downsides, such as a narrow focus on efficiency and utility that ignores other values or considerations. It is possible that this way of thinking about the world could be harmful to our society in some ways.

Both the modern and medieval perspectives on education recognize the importance of nurturing and developing the potential of children. However, the modern perspective on potential may differ in some ways from the medieval understanding of potentiality.

In the modern view, potential is often understood in terms of a person’s ability to achieve specific goals or outcomes. This may be influenced by factors such as natural aptitudes, skills, and knowledge, as well as social and economic circumstances. In this sense, it is possible that modern society may view children in terms of their potential to fulfill certain roles or meet certain needs, such as contributing to the economy through their chosen profession.

On the other hand, the medieval understanding of potentiality focused more on the potential of things to become what they are naturally inclined to become, not on achieving specific goals or outcomes. This view may place more emphasis on nurturing and developing the unique qualities and abilities of each individual, rather than viewing children as resources to be used to meet the needs of society.

Despite the premodern civilization’s theory, in practice they did not apply this concept of potentiality to education— but we can!

It is important to consider both the practical benefits of cultivating children’s potential to meet societal needs as well as the value of nurturing and developing their unique qualities and abilities. Both perspectives can be important in shaping our thinking about the task of educating children.

An additional benefit would be to our self-understanding. Our sense of identity can be influenced by the way others perceive and react to us. The way that others see us and the expectations they have for us can shape our sense of self and our sense of what is possible or desirable for us to become.

This can be particularly true in relation to the roles and identities that society assigns to us, and the expectations and pressures that come along with them. For example, if society values certain qualities or abilities, we may feel pressure to develop and embody these traits in order to be recognized and rewarded by others.

On the other hand, it is also possible that we can resist these expectations and pressures, and instead seek to actualize our own potential and pursue our own goals and values. Ultimately, the balance between these competing influences will depend on a variety of factors, including our own personality, values, and goals, as well as the expectations and opportunities that are available to us.

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