- Series: Notre Dame Series in Great Books
- Paperback: 428 pages
- Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; New edition edition (1982)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780268011505
- ISBN-13: 978-0268011505
- ASIN: 0268011508
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Idea of A University (Notre Dame Series in the Great Books) (Notre Dame Series in Great Books) New edition Edition
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“It is a classic; like so many classics, however, and alas, it is largely forgotten or too seldom read. This is decidedly not because it is difficult to read; it is wonderfully readable, and the reading of it will, we urge you to believe, transform the imagination of any student. In nine interconnected essays, Newman defines the nature of the true university and the purpose of education--knowledge as an end in itself--and defends, by extolling, the liberal arts.” ―The American Citizen
About the Author
John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was an Anglican priest, poet and theologian and later a Catholic cardinal, who was an important and controversial figure in the religious history of England in the 19th century.
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Newman anticipates the objections of future generations of parents of students who wish to study the liberal arts. First, he suggests that the very nature of any university ought to foster the pursuit of any legitimate field of study, liberal arts or otherwise. Second, the notion of "liberal" is one that has achieved an unfortunate connotation of elite inutility. What is liberal about the mind and soul is that it inculcates a set of values that far transcends that which a trade might offer. Rather than focusing one's efforts on the mere acquisition of things material, which do nothing to make one a better person by their mere presence, liberal arts change the man within and make him the better for that. Third, the ardent study of liberal arts is a subset of the general pursuit of Knowledge, which is an end worthwhile in itself. Fourth, those who study liberal arts tend to think of their school as a place where they receive education rather than instruction. The former implies that minds are opened to the infinite space of all that the human mind may accomplish while the latter closes those minds to admit only tricks and devices that lead to the growth of money and material things, neither of which makes the man the better by their mere possession. Finally, since the stated aim of a liberal education is the sheer pleasure that results, it follows that a course of instruction that leads to a trade must also lead to things that relate to that trade rather than to any sense of inner contentment that is concomitant with liberal education.
For those critics of a liberal education who carp that such an education has not transformed its graduates into paragons of moral virtue, Newman would respond that such a transformation--however desirable--was never a goal of liberal studies in the first place. Just as liberal studies is not intended to turn out cads and bounders neither is it at the other end of moral spectrum obliged to create a higher level of human being.
Education, to John Henry Newman, was a term that ought to mean more than a passive acceptance of facts, data, and statistics. He had a particular horror at the thought of a society whose knowledge base consisted exclusively of those whose learning was a function of how rapidly they could disgorge on command a flow of previously memorized data bits. There was nothing liberal in the parroting of such data that would mean as much to Newman as a real parrot might intuit from its own squawking.
For Newman to distinguish between the mere growth of accumulated facts that pass for knowledge and the rational judgment of those facts that might lead to true wisdom he had to identify a failing that was as common in his day as it most surely is in ours--the preponderance of pseudo-scholars who impress mightily with the bulk of their knowledge but fail to apply that knowledge to weighing standards that truly equate to revealed knowledge. As a cleric seeking to convince both fellow clerics and the layman of the need to continually evaluate a theology that he was sure needed frequent questioning, he himself had to resort to perpetual self-reflection based on what he thought he knew and what he only suspected he did. The difference between the one and the other was the difference between a great thinker like Aristotle expounding on the weighty issues of being human and a human-parrot endlessly re-echoing a flood of facts that began nowhere and ended up nowhere. It fell to religion to provide the initial impetus to bulwark the learner not to assume that one regurgitated data bit equated to a revealed sanctioned Holy Truth. Thus, the process of looking inward for moral centering must accompany an outward transformation of useless fact to useful wisdom. There were no computers present in his day, but had there been, Newman would have viewed a pseudo-scholar who could absorb and disgorge facts as no more than a walking mechanical contrivance, both of which he would deem as equally soulless.
Newman could distinguish between the aggregation of facts as knowledge (lower case k) and the proper use of those facts as revealed Knowledge (upper case). Wisdom consisted in the ability of the human mind to discern pattern from the seeming chaos of unconnected bits and pieces. The pseudo-scholar could disgorge a constant flow of unrelated data but the Great Thinker could take that flow and connect the dots to produce words and ideas that in their utility stand for heavenly-inspired wisdom.
The knowledge that John Henry Newman deemed vital to the continuity of both the Catholic Church and England itself had to be a function of the training of all those who desired to study higher education. Newman abhorred the rote memorization mode of learning so popular in his time. In his essays that comprise The Idea of a University, Newman describes the ideal candidate for entrance into a school such as the one to which he had just been appointed as rector. This candidate would be taught by professors who acknowledge that all learning is worthwhile. The learning that constitutes liberal education should have such a high value that it ought to need no defense to justify its existence. Yet the very anti-liberal bias of Newman's day demanded that both student and professor be able to provide just such a defense on demand. The end of knowledge, Newman relentlessly urged, must be its own end. Having said that, Newman urged that knowledge itself required further definition. As learning enters the skulls of the students, each new fact needed more than just a slotted space in a synaptic pathway. That student had the obligation to review that knowledge to determine whether it was worthy of retention. This review presupposed that a series of standards had to be learned as well. Learning would then be seen as multi-directional. Facts flow inward toward the brain, are stored for future use, are weighed against those standards, and are judged accordingly whether they are fit for further use. Passivity in learning as a pedagogical tool is tossed onto the junk heap of discarded theories. One who has passed through the demanding curriculum of a liberal education is one who is, in every sense of the word, "educated," and can prove his use to the doubting Lockes of the world simply by excelling in all phases of life, work, and business.