All my life, in a way, I have been wondering about the understanding of great truths and great values. How can we acquire understanding of, for example, the ethical, or the arts, or proper logic, rationality and reasoning? Is that an elite quality? Does it take great intellect, arduous study and plenty experience in order to reach that understanding? If so, we are in a way lost. Great qualities are basically hidden from us and only once reach the proper level, these will be revealed to us. Until then, we either do not know, do not care or worse even, are under the impression there is nothing worthy to aspire. Understanding in this case is not true understanding but rather mystic, revealed, initiated; an object of grace not of virtue.
If on the other hand, it doesn't take elite qualities, what makes great qualities great as opposed to whatever else we are impressed by if we do not put in effort? Applied to for example classical music, this means that either classical music is for an exceptional elite to discern and the rest of us just do not care or even listen in derision. Either that, or we basically have no way of deciding Johann Sebastian Bach is a great composer and Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (of ABBA) are not so, since both their music is appreciated by millions. Understanding in this case is rather plain, non-discriminatory, pragmatic; an object of establishment and not of virtue either.
My way around this problem is to introduce levels of understanding, or a gradual continuum of understanding. In that approach there is complete understanding, which is elitist, but there is a lower level of understanding, which I call intuitive, which is something we all have and is fine tuned and activated by learning, but when not developed, still passively is there. Intuitive understanding allows us to recognize quality when we see it. It allows us to feel Bach is more than ABBA, even if we can't actively explain why. It allows us to identify the ethical, even if we can not actively explain why it is better than plain selfishness. It also allows us to seek, to persevere in study towards the qualities, because we recognized something and carry with us an unfulfilled promise. This makes understanding a virtue.
In the following TED video, conductor Benjamin Zander undertakes an elegant and effective test with the audience, the discerning of classical music and the various sorts of unacquired alike and shows how they are all touched by great classical music. Here we see understanding as a virtue, both at the acquired as well as on the lower levels.
Jill Bolte Taylor,
Ben Dunlap. (highly recommended)