There is an amusing bit in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Professor Kirk suggests–to the astonishment of the older Pevensie children–that they should actually believe little Lucy’s tale of having traveled to another world through the wardrobe. Lewis uses this scene to make an important point about thinking, a point that the famous film avoids in favor of a lesson about sentiment.
In the film, the professor tells the children that if they are a family, they should “start acting like it.” The point, I guess, is that family members should, out of some kind of blood-based solidarity, believe the fantastic things that other family members say. It seems to me that the screenwriter here showed a certain unfamiliarity with real family life. In many cases, members of your family, who know you all too well, are the very last people to accept what you say uncritically.
Lewis, however, wanted to make a point about logic (a point that he no doubt intended to relate to the famous “liar, lunatic, or Lord” thesis about Jesus). In the book the professor interrogates the children and gets them to admit that Lucy never lies and that she shows no signs of being mad. In view of these facts, he concludes, it is most likely that she is telling the truth about the wardrobe. It’s a simple matter of logic, the professor contends, asking himself aloud just what they teach children in school these days.
This passage came to my mind when I read this story about the University of California system’s practice of charging more to students who come from out of state–a practice that is evidently a big financial boon for the institution. According to the story, some out of state students find the practice reasonable, but others think it unfair. The complaint of one of these latter students makes one wonder whether they teach logic at UCLA. Here is the passage of interest:
Utkarsh Pandey, 20, came to UCLA from Gurgaon, India, to study materials science and engineering. UCLA, he said “has given me educational, professional, and cultural experiences that I don’t feel I could’ve gotten in India or any of UCLA’s rival schools in the U.S.”
As an international student, he does not qualify for UC financial aid, and his family is paying all costs. Charging non-Californians so much extra, he complained, is “hypocritical in today’s day and age of egalitarianism.”
This student, of course, has no basis on which to charge the school with hypocrisy. The fact that we live in a generally egalitarian age, after all, does not commit any person or institution to all forms of egalitarianism. He might as well say that it is hypocritical for the school to give grades in today’s day and age of egalitarianism.
But there is also a matter of logic: this student could not make his point without implicitly contradicting himself. He invokes egalitarianism to complain that some people have to pay more than others to go to UCLA. But then he casts egalitarianism aside in order to affirm that UCLA is a better school than the universities in India, and even better than other elite schools in the United States.
I doubt that UCLA requires students to read Plato’s dialogues–but it should.