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Liberal Arts Honors

The Pinto Carver Essay Contest 2015

The Topic:

We encourage liberal arts students to learn all that they can about the world and about themselves. We do so out of the belief that, in the words of Roger Shattuck, “the free cultivation and circulation of ideas, opinions, and goods through all society (education, scholarship, scientific research, commerce, the arts, and the media) will in the long run promote our welfare” (Forbidden Knowledge, 5-6). Both classical and Judeo-Christian thought supports this belief, Socrates telling us in The Protagoras that “All things are knowledge, including justice, and temperance, and courage—which tends to show that virtue can certainly be taught.” On the U.T. Tower you find inscribed Jesus’s powerful injunction: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). We smile and feel dismissive of the Victorian matron who when told of Darwin’s findings exclaimed: “’Descended from the apes! My dear, let us hope that it is not true, but that if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known” (Shattuck, 2). We are encouraged to know; we want to know.

Yet a counter current flows through our traditions. Socrates is exemplary because he knows what he does not know. In the Garden of Eden grows the tree of knowledge with its forbidden fruit. Folklore tells us “To let sleeping dogs lie” and that “Curiosity killed the cat.” As he watches the young scholars at Eton College play, Thomas Gray captures, ambivalently and poignantly, our sense that there may be limitations on what we should know:


Yet ah! why should they know their fate ?

Since sorrow never comes too late,

And happiness too swiftly flies.

Thought would destroy their paradise.

No more; where ignorance is bliss,

’Tis folly to be wise.

(“Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”)


Write an essay in which you agree or disagree that there are limits to what human beings should know. Needless to say, the more well developed your thoughts, the more specific your language, the better.


Eligibility: Current Liberal Arts Honors Freshmen and Sophomores.

Specifications: 750-1000 words, titled, double-spaced, and typed, with your name in the upper-right hand corner. No cover page.


1st Prize: $1500

2nd Prize: $500

3rd Prize: $250

Submission Deadline: Friday, January 23, 5:00 p.m. in the Liberal Arts Honors Office. The judges reserve the right to withhold awards in the absence of prize worthy essays. And in closing: “Style, in its finest sense,” Alfred North Whitehead reminds us, “is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being. The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economizes his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of mind.”