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ON THEORY AND PRACTICE DAVID BIDNEY O NE of the main characteristics of our modern age . is its pride in things practical. There has been a tremendous change in our social and physical environment by the increase of scientific inventions and social upheavals, and this has resulted in a changed outlook upon the world on the part of modern man. The tendency nowadays is to set the highest value upon things practical, upon that which can be of use in gaining wealth and adapting oneself to an ever-changing environment. What is meant by the practical is taken for granted as something self-evident and is never questioned. And therein, I maintain, lies the greatest danger, for the concept"of the practical upon analysis turns out to be extremely complex. Even a brief examination reveals the sophistry and superficiality involved in the popular notion of the term. The general point I shall try to establish in this paper is that much of the confusion in modern thought is due to a false separation between the claims of theory and practice; that in the last analysis the practical is relative to the theoretical and that the two spheres are mutually supplementary. In modern times · a theory is regarded as a likely hypothesis invented to describe or explain a group of phenomena. In science particularly, a theory has come to be considered· as a suggestion or proposed plan of action, and hence as something which has no validity or truth-claim until tested by its practical effects or consequences . The value of a theory is determined by its ability to lead to fruitful action. Theory is for the sake of action; practice is primary. In order to appreciate our modern attitude towards theory and practice, it will 113 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY . be best to investigate briefly the development of these concepts in the history of human though t. In what follows I shall present a brief historical a~alysis of the main philosophies of life from the Greeks to modern times, with special reference to the roles 'they assign to theory and practice. The Greeks, as represented by Plato and Aristotle, clearly distinguished between theoretical and practical actlVlty. Theory .meant detached and contemplative vision, and as such was equivalent to what we moderns' mean by culture. Practice, on the other hand, involved the active effort or will to realize or embody through some form of motion the ideals of conduct conceived by the intellect. On the principle that "where objects differ in kind the part of the soul answering to·each is different,'" Aristotle disting~ished the theoretical from the practical reason. The former had for its object things eternal and necessary; the latter had for its object things mutable and contingent. The Greeks did not urge that the intellect was to be cultivated to the neglect of the body; they realized that the intellectual pursuits were dependent upon the acquisition of a virtuous character through the formation of rhythmic habits of activity. Their cardinal principle was tha t proportion and measure, the righ t mean, determined good and evil conduct. Man was an organic unity and his education must meet the requirements of both the physical and mental aspects ofhis nature; the life of the soul was to be expressed through the choral dance which included gymnastics for the body and poetry and music for the soul.' From the point of view of the individual who was being educated practice, expressed in the formation of habits, was prior'to theory; but from the point lNicom/l,h~an Ethics, 1139 a. :See F. H. Anderson's The Argumenl (Jj Plato for a full analysis of this,point. 114 ON THEORY AND. PRACTICE of view of the educator, theory was to determine practlce. Plato and Aristotle agreed that the life of reason, contemplative activity, was not an end in itself; the philo-' sopher, as PIato expressed it, mus t also be king. He mus t . re-descend into the cave of ignorance and enlighten those who have not beheld the sun of truth and reality. Thus practice as manifested through conduct determined theory a'nd theory determined condu~t. Plato...


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