Words from the past: Doctor

Posted 4 months ago | Originally written on 31 Oct 2011

It struck me some days back that my current pursuits are more suited to my intentions than I earlier thought. See, I'm a teacher at heart. I derive exceeding joy in seeing the lights go on in people's minds. I've been a beneficiary of some of the best teachers on the planet and I feel that I have a duty to give others the experience. This has a big influence on my learning. Most people would regard it as slow and troublesome, asking too many questions. I think that it is necessary in order to meet my intention. I ask many questions because I want to see the full picture. Everything is connected... somehow.

Which is why I was pleased to discover that the academic title 'doctor', abbreviated as 'Dr.' actually means teacher. The original Latin word is 'docere', which means 'to teach'. It is from this word that we get the word 'doctrine' meaning 'teaching' (noun). This word has been used in its original context mainly in reference to religious teachings (e.g. Christian doctrine). In fact, it has been very strongly used that we have words such as orthodox, where the prefix 'ortho-' means 'right' and '-dox' is from 'doxa' meaning 'teaching' - 'right teaching'. Hence there would be a tinge of cockiness ascribed to Orthodox Christians or Jews.

The word has also negative renderings as far as conventional usage is concerned such as 'indoctrinate'. However, the prefix 'in-' refers to the act of the succeeding verb. Hence, in the original form 'indoctrinate' would simply mean 'to teach' (presently it means 'to flood the mind with knowledge that could be shown to be untrue or biased').

Therefore, a doctor is simply a teacher. Anyone who has either expertise or extensive knowledge in an area and is intent on building a following can be called a doctor. While universities reserve the right to award this title the resulting use is hardly associated with teaching. Most doctors (of philosophy, science, letters, medicine, engineering etc.) are expected to mainly become researchers and consequently focus on producing research papers instead on building a band of disciples (this word actually means 'adherents to doctrine' or simply 'students'). In fact, if they become quite good at it they get awarded a further title: professor. And it comes as no surprise that the original meaning of this word was 'master teacher' (vestiges of this meaning show up in French).

I think teaching is the most noble task since it deals with the essential part of Man - the mind. Through right doctrine one can alter the course of others' lives. However, the task itself is not as simple as recounting what one knows. Rather, it requires the delicate skill of guiding in the mind. Interestingly, the words 'induce' and 'deduce' have the Latin root word 'ducere' (possibly related to 'docere') meaning 'to lead' and is applied in the two main forms of logic. Teaching rests on one's ability to acutely understand how to phrase ideas to rely on these forms of logic and execute them in a way to achieve, not only understanding, but curiosity.