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“The experience, the universal mother of sicences” (Don Quxote, I,21) / “Magister dixit”/ “Roma locuta, causa finita”

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Naturally, the experience is acquired with practice and it needs time; so the experience is typical of people of a certain age old. It is precisely the repetition of the action and the memory of what was done and how it was done that gives “knowledge” to the man. To this it must be added the need for cohesion of the social group facing a difficult life and livelihood. This largely explains the respect and consideration to the "authority" of the elderly.

Far from my intention to belittle the participation of youth in social life, including work stations and places of managerial responsibility. In the current context, especially the political, such an attitude, besides misunderstood, would be suicidal. Far from me also the proposal of any gerontocracy or government of oldest (from Greek γέρων, γεροντος, geron, gerontos, old, elderly). But today, when so many principles have fallen, one of which made it more precipitously has been the called "principle of authority", by  which hitherto they are recognized values such as experience, accumulated knowledge, the right and proportional response to unexpected situations, etc

The "auctoritas", "authority" is the quality that in the ancient world, and in the present, bases and gives strength and prestige to numerous events, including many legal acts. The auctoritas is the quality of auctor, and auctor (from Latin verb aucto and this from augeo, enhance, promote ...) is the one who  gives his approval, support the act of another person, because that auctor enjoys the prestige.

In the early Roman world prestige was given by the assent of the gods, because it  had the "auspicious" or divine approval. Under this power the father gives his auctoritas to marriage of the daughter, or the election give it to some signed pacts, or priest fixed the space of the sacred, or the judge sets what is  legitimate.

It's easy to understand how this meaning was generalized and came to refer to the "moral authority" or confidence that inspires and produces one person over the other.

It is true that in antiquity and practically until yesterday, the power, including formal, was hoarded and monopolized by parents, by elderly. That was the patriarchal society that excluded young people and women.

Generally in primitive tribal cultures the "council of elders" is an essential institution. This institution was transformed and adapted, leading to institutions that maintained and preserved some of the main features. So the assembly of elders of Sparta, precisely called "gerousia" (from the Greek γερουσία of γέρων, γεροντος, geron, gerontos, elderly), consisting of thirty members, 28 elected elders not less than sixty years old (then very high age) and the existing two kings. It was a supreme court justice and a military council.

In Rome the most powerful institution, that really ruled but it did not hold any executive power, is the "Senate" or assembly of elders, senes, the oldest, our "seniors" .

In all cultures they were similar the role and power of the "older". And in all there has been the "question or generational conflict". Nowhere as in our culture it has been produced such devaluation of "senescence" expelling of work  mature well experienced professionals 50 years old or bright academic minds  a few more old, hopefully 65, often in the best intellecutal production time. I say sixty-five years, because it is the mandatory date in the administrative "death" occurs.

Of course this sad reality contrasts with mythical and reverential respect  in which Roman children and youth were educated; of that it can be an expression the text of Juvenal, a Roman acid satirist who lived between 60 and 128 AD, which appears in his Satire XIII, 53-59, when he refers  to the first age of men:

Dishonesty was a prodigy in those days; men deemed it a heinous sin, worthy of death, if a youth did not rise before his elders, or a boy before any bearded man, though he himself might see more strawberries, and bigger heaps of acorns, in his own home. So worshipful was it to be older by four years, so equal to reverend age was the first down of manhood! (Translated by G. G. Ramsay)

Note: In the primitive and happy time without evil men naturally fed wild berries or strawberries and acorns. However, we should know that childhood lasted until about fourteen, when the first fuzz beard appeared and adolescence began lasted until  thirty and youth until forty or forty-five.

inprobitas illo fuit admirabilis aeuo,
credebant quo grande nefas et morte piandum
si iuuenis uetulo non adsurrexerat et si              
barbato cuicumque puer, licet ipse uideret
plura domi fraga et maiores glandis aceruos;
tam uenerabile erat praecedere quattuor annis
primaque par adeo sacrae lanugo senectae

Anyway I recognize that these issues are very conducive to the controversy, which I do not shrink, of course. Since I know that it will have little influence the Aristotle's text which I reproduce below; text  nothing confusing or pregnant with awesomeness; it is only the minimal expression of common sense.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He created the first great philosophical system,  precisely it that most has influenced on Western culture for over two thousand years. In that system he studies the physical world (Physics), the being and the causes of things (Metaphysics) and the man himself and his behavior (Ethics). His most important work about human behavior is called  Nicomachean Ethics (Ethics for Nicomachus, who was his son).

As Aristotle says, every being, every action tends to "good" and the good is the "virtue" which is nothing but the full development of the potentialities that every being has. The young man has enormous potential, not least because he  has not yet provided the necessary time to develop. So it should not surprise the overwhelming desire that too many "senes" have to recapture their youth. The myths that illustrate this desire to "eternal youth" are also numerous and general in all cultures. I will comment it on another occasion.

Well, even at the risk of being "wrong" I will cite, therefore, a fragment of the work of Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095th:

To criticize a particular subject, therefore, a man must have been trained in that subject: to be a good critic generally, he must have had an all-round education. Hence the young are not fit to be students of Political Science. For they have no experience of life and conduct, and it is these that supply the premises and subject matter of this branch of philosophy.  And moreover they are led by their feelings; so that they will study the subject to no purpose or advantage, since the end of this science is not knowledge but action. And it makes no difference whether they are young in years or immature in character: the defect is not a question of time, it is because their life and its various aims are guided by feeling; for to such persons their knowledge is of no use, any more than it is to persons of defective self-restraint. But Moral Science may be of great value to those who guide their desires and actions by principle.  (Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934.)

Well, the argument of Aristotle and its generalization are not acceptable, of course. It is also very different perception today of the generation gap between young and old people as that was in antiquity . The argument tells us that the young man has no knowledge of ethics because its acquisition requires expertise that is; but it goes further and says that although he obtained that knowledge, it would not him, because young people are swayed by passions and appetites.

Any experience is a subjective fact and thus generalizations can only produce large errors. Moreover, the intensity of the experience and the development of the personality of each individual are also personal and different in each one. But it is also clear that the experience, and therefore the repetition of actions, it is absolutely necessary to acquire the knowledge and skills to make appropriate decisions on political issues. It is possible that the duration of the generation times have been shortened greatly today and there was young people whose "maturation" occurs very quickly because his experience or his personal situation is special.

In any case learning is an acquisition that the person must  to perform with instruments which he naturally has, ie, with his own reason and this can not be substituted by any external authority nor trust generated by another individual.

It seems that among the members of philosophical Pythagorean convent was such authority and respect for the founder, for Pythagoras, than any raised  issue they  resorted to "ipse dixit", "the same (Pythagoras) said so." The phrase is the equivalent of "magister dixit", "the teacher said."

Similar is the phrase with which is enforced the strength of ecclesiastical authority: "Roma locuta, causa finita" "Rome has spoken, the discussion is over."  Of course, in the case of dogmas and miracles it may be no other way of ensuring belief, despising reason and logic, which shamelessly it is claimed to be "what most divine" has the man.

It is interesting the following text of  Cicero, in his work "On the Nature of the Gods". In the first book he exposes and rejects the view of the Epicureans, extreme defenders of the power of reason in the case of the existence, the nature and the focus of the gods.

On the Nature of the Gods, I, 5,(10)

Those however who seek to learn my personal Lack of opinion on the various questions show an unreasonable degree of curiosity. In discussion it is not so much weight of authority as force of argument that should be demanded. Indeed the authority of those who profess to teach is often a positive hindrance to those who desire to learn ; they cease to employ their own judgement, and take what they perceive to be the verdict of their chosen master as settling the question.
In fact I am not disposed to approve the practice traditionally ascribed to the Pythagoreans, who, when questioned as to the grounds of any assertion that they advanced in debate, are said to have been accustomed to reply  “He himself said so,' “he himself” being Pythagoras. So potent was an opinion already decided, making authority prevail unsupported by reason
. (Translation by H. Rackham (1933) The Loeb Classical Library )

Cicero,  De natura deorum, I, 5 (10):

Qui autem requirunt quid quaque de re ipsi sentiamus, curiosius id faciunt quam necesse est; non enim tam auctoritatis in disputando quam rationis momenta quaerenda sunt. quin etiam obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt auctoritas eorum qui se docere profitentur; desinunt enim suum iudicium adhibere, id habent ratum quod ab eo quem probant iudicatum vident. nec vero probare soleo id quod de Pythagoreis accepimus, quos ferunt, si quid adfirmarent in disputando, cum ex iis quaereretur quare ita esset, respondere solitos “ipse dixit”; ipse autem erat Pythagoras: tantum opinio praeiudicata poterat, ut etiam sine ratione valeret auctoritas.

The scholastics used profusely during the Middle Ages the phrase "magister dixit" to enforce the opinion of Aristotle, as  Pythagoreans did, according to the text of Cicero.

"Roma locuta est", "Roma locuta, causa finita" or the entire phrase "Roma locuta est, causa  finita est" was cited as an argument used by the Vatican to set papal infallibility, which incidentally was not established until the First Vatican Council of 1870, then and now being questioned by notable theologians, like Hans Küng now, who was forbidden to continue teaching Catholic theology.

The phrase does not appear as such, with this form, but it is a synthesis of the thought of St. Augustine. The more like statement of St. Augustine (354-430) is the one in Sermo CXXXI 10. With regard to the question of Pelagianism, in an in Carthage on 23 September 417 sermon, St. Augustine believes that this issue should not be reopened.

My brethren, have pity with me. When you find such (people) do not hide them, not be in you a wicked mercy; when you meet them before you, do not hide them. Argue with those who speak against (the grace),  and bring those who resist to us. Two councils have sent their reports to the Apostolic See and replies have come from it. The case is concluded; would that the error might now end”

Fratres mei, compatimini mecum. Ubi tales inveneritis, occultare nolite, non sit in vobis perversa misericordia: prorsus ubi tales inveneritis, occultare nolite. Redarguite contradicentes, et resistentes ad nos perducite. Iam enim de hac causa duo concilia missa sunt ad Sedem Apostolicam: inde etiam rescripta venerunt. Causa finita est: utinam aliquando finiatur error! Ergo ut advertant monemus, ut instruantur docemus, ut mutentur oremus. Conversi ad Dominum... (PL (Patristica Latina 38,734))

Well, the reason must prevail in every case, but also that reason requires no take  bearings nor  remove to an useless corner the older people with proven experience and with a capacity of unsurpassed decision.

Ultimately,  we will say as Don Quixote to Sancho on  I, 20:

- Sancho,” cried he, “I believe there is no proverb but what is true; they are all so many sentences and maxims drawn from experience, the universal mother of sciences; fir instance, that saying, ‘That were one door shuts, another opens’

- Paréceme,  Sancho, que no hay refrán que no sea verdadero, porque todo son sentencias sacadas de la mesma experiencia, madre de las ciencias todas, especialmente aquel que dice: “Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre”.

Cervantes repeats the same idea in Don Quixote, II, 67.


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