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Rethinking the Future of the University

David Lyle Jeffrey
Dominic Manganiello

Part III. Where are we going?

Will technology save us?

Dominic Manganiello

Texte intégral

1A telling exchange between a professor and his pupil in Ionesco’s “The Lesson” captures well the spirit of modern education:

PUPIL: I have a great thirst for knowledge. My parents also want me to get an education. They want me to specialize. They consider a little general culture, even if it is solid, is no longer enough, in these times.

PROFESSOR: Your parents, miss, are perfectly right. You must go on with your studies. Forgive me for saying so, but it is very necessary. Our contemporary life has become most complex. (Ionesco, 48-49)

  • 1 Huxley’s ideal permeates the contemporary university milieu. Wm A. Wulf, for example, argues that (...)
  • 2 In their Bankrupt Education (1994), Peter C. Emberley and Waller R. Newell chart current attempts (...)

2Indeed it has. The link between knowledge and education, once considered indissoluble, has now been severed. The university operates as “a factory of knowledge,” in T.H. Huxley’s disturbing phrase (Huxley, 328), churning out isolated masses of information without reference to an underlying principle of integration.1 Here all knowing is “perspectival,” as Nietzsche maintained; there is no meaning, only countless specialized meanings. Broader, more integrative knowledge is deemed irrelevant or useless if it does not lead to a job. Yet this potent combination of utilitarianism and specialism works at the service of a relativism, according to Allan Bloom, that supposedly facilitates “broadmindedness.”2 Unfortunately, such “broadmindedness” without focus or content has not always led to the development of much critical intelligence. There was once a Harvard professor who used to tell his students, “By all means have an open mind... but not so open that your brains fall out.” Intellectual integrity evaporates when the mind remains open to everything except truth. If there is no truth, then there is nothing to teach, nothing to learn and nothing to communicate. Information merely passes from the mouth of the teacher to the ears of the student “without,” Stanley Jaki adds ironically, “having passed through the minds of either of them” (183).

3The contemporary flight from truth stems from many causes. One that is sometimes overlooked is the loss, among many university students, of the sense of wonder. For Aristotle, wonder was a highly positive and valuable emotion, the catalyst that awakens our desire to know:

Philosophy (the love of wisdom) arose then, as it arises still, from wonder. At first men wondered about the more obvious problems that demanded explanation; gradually their enquiries spread farther afield, and they asked questions upon such larger topics as changes in the sun and moon and stars, and the origin of the world. Now a man labouring under astonishment and perplexity is conscious of his own ignorance (it is for this reason that the lover of myth is in some sense a philosopher, for myth is composed of marvels); and if men philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, they were evidently in search of knowledge for its own sake and not for any practical results they might derive from it. ( Metaphysics, 55)

4Instead of simply taking things for granted and just living, like animals and plants, the human being wonders why, and this raising of questions marks the beginning of philo-sophia. Wonder is not only the effect of ignorance but also the cause of our wanting to know, understand and love the truth about things for their own sake. For Aristotle, rightly ordered wonder is instrumental: the perfection of knowledge that is scientia leads to the pursuit of wisdom or sapientia, the knowledge of ultimate causes.

5Today we know considerably more than our ancestors did about science and technology, but we are not necessarily wiser than they were. Information that is not digested and evaluated does not form the mind or, more importantly, the person. It is not, in Aristotle’s sense( paidea), education. Although our culture prides itself on being technological, in fact, it has increasingly tended to privilege techne, or technique, while discarding logos, the Greek word that denotes, among other things (to which I will come back), meaning. We have lost, as a result, the primary force in our lives, what Viktor Frankl calls “the will to meaning.” Any theory of education implies a theory of the person rooted in the questions, “What is man? and What is man for?” as T.S. Eliot reminds us (“The Aims of Education,” 75). But these are also the kinds of questions children ask: Is there a God? Is there freedom? Is there punishment for evil deeds? Is there certain knowledge? Yet, unlike the case among the ancient Greeks or the European founders of the modern university, these are questions no longer asked by faculties of arts and sciences. “Now the grownups are busy at work,” Allan Bloom explains with deadly irony, “and the children are left in a day-care centre called the humanities, in which discussions have no echo in the adult world” (372). The student who arrives before the portals of the factory of knowledge and says, “I am a whole human being. Help me to form myself in my wholeness and let me develop my real potential,” (Bloom, 339) receives no answer. Such a student, jaded by the silence of the multiversity to his questions, might well repeat the haunting questions posed by T.S. Eliot in “The Rock” (Selected Poems, 107):

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

6The pursuit of scientia in isolation from sapientia can be traced back to the thought of a major figure of the seventeenth century, Francis Bacon, who coined the motto of the age, nam et ipsa scientia potestas est— “knowledge is power.” The inductive method of discovering truth was founded upon empirical observation, inference resulting in hypotheses and the verification of hypotheses through repeated experiments. Inquiry existed not for learning “metaphysical” truth or for moral action, but for technological know-how. Set on destroying idolatrously held false knowledge, the Renaissance scientist resembles the Dickensian character Thomas Gradgrind, “a man of facts and calculations... with a rule and pair of scales... ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to” (Hard Times, 12).

7Bacon actually set himself a Promethean task in the preface to De Interpretatione Naturae:

If a man should succeed, not in striking out some particular invention, but in kindling a light in nature—a light... that should presently disclose and bring into sight all that is most hidden and secret in the world—that man (I thought) would be benefactor indeed of the human race. (Selected Writings, 150-151)

8The new science, as idealistically envisaged here, was not an intellectual enterprise designed to increase man’s knowledge of nature but to give him imperial mastery over it. Unlike Aristotle and his followers, Bacon urged the “true sons of knowledge” to “conquer and subdue [nature], to shake her to her foundations” and “to discover the secrets still locked in Nature’s bosom” (Farrington, 77). These were precisely the scientific triumphs that Percy Bysshe Shelley would celebrate two centuries later in his dramatic poem Prometheus Unbound:

The Lightning is his [man’s] slave, Heaven’s utmost deep
Gives up her stars, and like a flock of sheep
They pass before his eye, are numbered, and roll on!
The Tempest is his steed,—he strides the air;
And the abyss shouts from her depth laid bare,
“Heaven, hast thou secrets? Man unveils me, I have none.” (Selected Poetry and Prose, 381)

  • 3 Drawing on this Baconian view of knowledge, Max Weber defined the goal of modern academic life as (...)

9The Promethean fire that generated all the arts, useful and imaginative, as well as the sciences, in this revised Romantic version of the myth, removes “the taint of sin,” as Donald Cowan puts it (26, 158), from the knowledge found by Marlowe’s Faustus, and serves as an optimistic emblem for the hoped-for future of education in our time.3 But is such optimism any longer warranted?

10The technological triumphs following the unbinding of Prometheus may have been purchased at too high a price. So C.S. Lewis argued:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique. (46)

11Upon examining Western civilization and its discontents, even Freud concluded that our new, godlike powers have not made us any happier. Why? “We control nature,” Peter Kreeft explains, “but we cannot control our control” ( Back to Virtue, 23). This is a lesson the scientists in Jurassic Park learn the hard way (witness the number of chapters ironically titled “control”) when they are finally compelled to ponder the ethical implications of their genetic engineering:

Scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step... There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. (306)

  • 4 This phrase was used by Bertrand Russell to describe what he considered to be the greatest danger (...)

12The grave danger posed by this “cosmic impiety”4 prompted Christopher Dawson to conclude that ours is not the age of Faust, but “the age of Frankenstein, the hero who created a mechanical monster and then found it had got out of control and threatened his own existence”( Crisis, 151). The word “monster” derives from the Latin word monere—to warn (Grant, “Knowing and Making,” 66). Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale points to the monster we have created. Many of our contemporaries have come to think that it is all too easy for the scientist to place his technological know-how at the service of a Nietzschean, amoral will to power (Dawson, 155) even while claiming to do so, like Frankenstein, for “the benefit of mankind” (Mary Shelley, 52, 203). Yet Bacon’s true aspirations are fulfilled here, and it is no accident that the full title of Mary Shelley’s tale is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. “[La] science sans conscience,” Rabelais reminded his readers, “n’est que [la] ruine de l’âme” (“Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul”) (Rabelais, 137).

  • 5 For a full discussion of the mechanist attack on wonder, see chapter 7 of Mary Midgley’s Science a (...)

13But if “conscience” has in this way been divorced from learning (cf. Leclercq, 316-319), it has been replaced by “consciousness.” If Bacon had provided science with a new method, Descartes gave it a new philosophy when he, too, expressed disapproval of Aristotelian wonder. In his Discourse on Method, he registered the hope “that those who have understood all that has been said in this treatise will, in future, see nothing whose cause they cannot easily understand, nor anything that gives them any reason to marvel” (361).5 For Aristotle, the philosopher—the lover of wisdom—was also in some sense a lover of myth, since myth is composed of marvels. For Descartes, on the other hand, the clarity of scientific explanations would dispel all mystery (one of the original meanings of “mythos”) surrounding natural phenomena and demythologize them. His famous cogito principle made reason the sole guarantor of truth. This subjectivism has had far-reaching consequences for modern education. Newman knew well its danger, which in The Idea of a University he described with profound lucidity: “Knowledge... exerts a subtle influence in throwing us back on ourselves, and making us our own centre, and our minds the measure of all things” (238). In his Gifford Lectures, John MacMurray subsequently underlined the problem with making “I think” the starting point of philosophy. This intellectual premise

institutes a formal dualism of theory and practice; and... this dualism makes it formally impossible to... conceive the possibility of persons in relation, whether the relation be theoretical, as knowledge, or practical, as cooperation. For thought is essentially private. (73)

14The domination of the I of the investigator over the It of the investigated ignores the existence of the Thou, to use Martin Buber’s terms (cf. Lewis, 47). When the mind is locked up in its ivory tower, when what “I think” becomes the only certain reality, then in due course no communication or community is possible.

15From these philosophical antecedents we can better comprehend how technology has become our metaphysic. As a result of equating truth with what is measurable and quantifiable, with technique, the computer is now our oracle, as Jacques Ellul argues in Technology and Society, and the statistician our deus ex machina. By fulfilling the Promethean prophecy, technology is supposedly what makes the human race specifically human (Cowan, 152). But techne alone excludes the logos, the word, the meaning or even the idea of meaning.

  • 6 Chesterton observed that the obsession with technique, “like so many modern notions... is an idola (...)

16In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift satirized the extravagant claims made for technological advancement in the form of the “Academy of Projectors of Lagado,” one of whose projects was to replace words with things so that they could be closer to “empirical reality.” In accordance with the new scientific imperative, everyone walks around carrying a pack of objects on his back for use as devices of communication because words had been banned for being misleading. The common people rebel against this project in order that they might be “allowed the liberty to speak with their tongues,” but they are considered the “enemies of science” (198). Perhaps the word has been not much less “humiliated” in this century as well. Chesterton noted, for example, how once we invented telephones and loudspeakers, we found out we really had nothing to say—so we invented noisier loudspeakers and telephones (Aeschliman, 44).6 And Ellul has shown how the “image”—the product of a mechanical technique—is today seen as the means par excellence of communicating reality and truth (31). The trouble with the image, he writes, is that it fails to convey anything about the order of truth:

It never grasps anything but an appearance or outward behaviour. It is unable to convey a spiritual experience, a requirement of justice, a testimony to the deepest feelings of a person, or to bear witness to the truth. In all these areas the image will rely on a form. (29)

17Despite this caveat, the image reigns supreme in our technological society and tends, even in university teaching, to oppose the human word. Interfacing with computers seems to obviate the need for thinking and speaking together.

18But will mastering the new technology make us any wiser? Neil Postman remarks that the computer can furnish an answer to questions such as “How can I get more information faster, and in a more usable form?,” but not to larger questions:

The computer and its information cannot answer any of the fundamental questions we need to address to make our lives more meaningful and humane. The computer cannot provide an organizing moral framework. It cannot tell us what questions are worth asking. It cannot provide a means of understanding why we are here or why we fight each other or why decency eludes us so often, especially when we need it the most. The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most need to confront—spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. (9-10)

19The technician argues that Virtual Reality will relieve spiritual poverty, but Max Frisch disputes this claim with the following definition: “Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it” (quoted in May, 57). Despite instantaneous global communication, then, the big questions that make us so unhappy still persist.

  • 7 Grant explains that Kant’s dictum “the mind makes the object” were the words of blessing spoken at (...)

20George Grant has shown that the co-penetration of knowing and making in the neologism “technology” is, in the end, illusory. For example, the word “justice”—which was traditionally understood as “rendering to each his due”—now means “the calculation of self-interest,” a definition that fits conveniently into a technological world view (English-Speaking Justice, 20).7 The mastery of nature has given way to the mastery of words and concepts, to what might be called the triumph of the Humpty Dumpty principle: “When I use a word... it means just what I choose it to mean” (Carroll, 163).

21The aftermath has been a cultural Babel, a proliferation of highly technical languages far removed from the common tongue and from common sense. Small wonder that T.S. Eliot critiqued “the vague jargon of our time, when we have a vocabulary for everything and exact ideas about nothing” (Selected Essays, 347). What university educators need to remember is that we do not speak, then, only to convey information, or to master words. Language is a call, an exchange, as Ellul reminds us:

Dialogue involves the astonishing discovery of the other person who is like me, and the person like me is different. We need both similarity and difference at the same time. I speak the same language you do; we use the same code. But what I have to say is different from what you have to say. Without this difference there would be neither language nor dialogue. (16)

22The word, moreover, entails mystery. This mystery has to do with the other person whom I cannot understand. His word provides me with an echo of his person, but no more than that. His silence, his unspoken thought, beckons me to respond to him, face to face (cf. Pieper, 35-36). This is why mythos and logos go together (Ellul, 25-26). So man is a lover of wisdom and a lover of myth, as Aristotle claimed, a lover of stories that aspire to truth. And are such stories not the basis of a liberal education that conduces to communal vision and shareable aspirations?

23Will technique or the person be the focus in the university of the future? Jean-François Lyotard in his The Postmodern Condition (1979) thinks technique will triumph, and that in the future university “system decisions” will not need to respect “individuals’ aspirations” (62). In 1984 Richard Cyert (cited in Roszak, 61), president of Carnegie-Mellon, confidently predicted that the one distinguishing feature of tomorrow’s “great university” will be “a great computer system.” Electronic teachers would replace the traditional classroom setting by providing bountiful exchanges of information and would constitute the very substance of thought. Theodore Roszak responded to this dramatic statement with a counter-image: that of teachers and students “in one another’s face-to-face company, perhaps pondering a book, a work of art, even a crude scrawl on the blackboard.” From this “primitive” scene he proceeded to define education:

It is the unmediated encounter of two minds, one needing to learn, the other wanting to teach. The biological spontaneity of that encounter is a given fact of life; ideally, it should be kept close to the flesh and blood, as uncluttered and supple as possible. Too much apparatus, like too much bureaucracy, only inhibits the natural flow. Free human dialogue, wandering wherever the agility of the mind allows, lies at the heart of education. (62-63)

24Technology, therefore, must always facilitate rather than hinder human interaction and the development of the person.

If teachers do not have the time, the incentive, or the wit to provide that, if students are too demoralized, bored, or distracted to muster the attention their teachers need of them, then that is the educational problem which has to be solved and should be solved from inside the experience of the teachers and the students. Defaulting to the computer is not a solution; it is surrender. (62-63)

25For Roszak, education is marvellously simple so long as we keep alive its original raison d’être.

26This is what Newman proposed to do a century and a half ago, and his idea of the university is worth recovering. The starting point of the perennial philosophy is the reality of things, or “being,” that exists independently of the human mind. So Newman affirms that “all branches of knowledge are connected together, because the subject-matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, as being the acts and the work of the Creator” (118). The attainment of truth is the common aim of the arts and sciences. Newman could still recall the maxim of St. Augustine, who in turn borrowed it from St. Ambrose: “all truth is God’s truth.” On this venerable view, there can be no real clash between the various branches of knowledge as long as the apprehension and contemplation of truth is the proper end of those who study them because “Nature and Grace, Reason and Revelation, come from the same Divine Author, whose words cannot contradict each other” (240). All truth forms part of the logos or divine design, the very largest pattern of meaning and order in the universe.

27A broad or open mind is one that “takes a connected view of old and new, past and present, far and near, and which has an insight into the influence of these on another, without which there is no whole, and no centre. It possesses the knowledge, not only of things, but also of their mutual and true relations; knowledge, not merely considered as acquirement, but as philosophy” (153-154). Newman here contrasts these “men of illumination” with “men of information,” those who exhibit a narrowness of mind because they adhere to no clear or settled principles: “they speak of every one and every thing, only as so many phenomena, which are complete in themselves, and lead to nothing, not discussing them, or teaching any truth, or instructing the hearer, but simply talking” (154). Such men entertain a vast multitude of ideas without relating them to a centre. They are finally unable to communicate anything, Newman implies, because they fail to realize that knowledge before being a power is a good.

28Newman could not have imagined the extent to which the “men of information” would one day fill the lecture halls of the university and redefine the goals of education. His critique still applies, nonetheless, to those who, bent on informing themselves to death, bow reverently with glazed eyes before their electronic screens, firmly believing that their cult-like devotion to compiling facts will somehow save them. Theodore Roszak, in the spirit of Newman, has warned against such mindless allegiance and acquiescence: “People who have no clear idea what they mean by information, or why they should want so much of it, are nonetheless prepared to believe that we live in an Information Age, which makes every computer around us what the relics of the True Cross were in the Age of Faith: emblems of salvation” (x). Instead of viewing education, like Newman did, as an exciting adventure in the growth of personal understanding, the devotees of information tend to idolize whatever gadgetry the technical marketplace deems useful. In so doing, they substitute means for ends by extolling the merits of computer literacy at the expense of the personal possession of a larger humane literacy. For Newman, wisdom and technological ingenuity were not one and the same. He followed Aristotle in distinguishing between “useful” and “liberal” knowledge. “Of possessions,” the ancient philosopher says, “those rather are useful, which bear fruit; those liberal, which tend to enjoyment. By fruitful, I mean, which yield revenue; by enjoyable, where nothing accrues of consequence beyond the using” (Rhetoric i, 5; cited in Idea, 127).

29From this distinction Newman derives his idea of the university as a place of “education” rather than of “instruction”:

We are instructed, for instance, in manual exercises, in the fine and useful arts, in trades, in ways of business; for these are methods, which have little or no effect upon the mind itself... But education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character; it is something individual and permanent, and is commonly spoken of in connection with religion and virtue. (131)

30Because a liberal education implies a habit of mind and the formation of a character, it is, according to Newman, “useful” in the full, not utilitarian, sense of the word:

Let us take “useful” to mean, not what is simply good, but what tends to good, or is the instrument of good. Good is not only good, but reproductive of good; this is one of its attributes; nothing is excellent, beautiful, perfect, desirable, for its own sake, but it overflows, and spreads the likeness of itself all around it. Good is prolific... A great good will impart great good. If then the intellect is so excellent a portion of us, and its cultivation so excellent, it is not only beautiful, perfect, admirable, and noble in itself, but in a true and high sense it must be useful to the possessor and to all around him; not useful in any low, mechanical, mercantile sense, but as diffusing good, or as a blessing, or a gift, or a power, or a treasure, first to the owner, then through him to the world. I say then, if a liberal education be good, it must necessarily be useful too. (184-185)

31Just as a man has to be healthy before he can perform certain bodily labours, so too the general culture of mind is the best aid to professional and scientific study:

the man who has learned to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyze, who has refined his taste, and formed his judgment, and sharpened his mental vision, will not indeed at once be a lawyer... or a statesman, or a physician... or a man of business... or an engineer... but he will be placed in the state of intellect in which he can take up any of these callings with grace, versatility and success. (186)

32Otherwise a man will end up being “usurped” by his profession (here Newman quotes one of his contemporaries, Mr. Davison): “He is to be clothed in its garb from head to foot. His virtues, his science, and his ideas are all to be put into a gown or uniform, and the whole man to be shaped, pressed, and stiffened, in the exact mould of his technical character” (190). The training or discipline of the intellect, then, which is the best for the formation of the individual himself, also best enables him to discharge his duties to society (196).

  • 8 Christopher Dawson pointed out that since the eighteenth century, European culture has been living (...)

33To hold a meaningful conversation about who we are and where we come from requires a conviction, moreover, that one’s cultural heritage, “the mind of Europe,” T.S. Eliot calls it, is more important than one’s own “private mind” (Selected Essays, 16).8 Robert M. Hutchins, the former chancellor of the University of Chicago cited elsewhere in this volume, made his classic defense of the humanities by appealing to “the Great Conversation” our commonly possessed intellectual heritage makes possible: “An educational institution should be a community. A community must have a common aim, and the common aim of the educational community is the truth” (99-100). For Hutchins, no less than for Newman, “the Civilization of Dialogue is the only civilization worth having” (100). For this reason, Newman refers to the university as an Alma Mater who knows “her children one by one, not a foundry, or a mint, or a treadmill” (162) or (one might add) a factory of knowledge. When the mind considers itself its own place, and thoroughly “independent and supreme,” Newman concludes, “it requires no external authority; it makes a religion for itself” (202). This is why the unaided intellect needs revealed truth (since it is not only “a portion but a condition of general knowledge” [Newman, 84]) along with “the firm guiding hand” of “Alma Mater Ecclesia,” to use J.R.R. Tolkien’s more recent phrase (Letters, 109). St. Thomas Aquinas, in an eloquent paragraph from the prologue to the Summa Contra Gentiles, explains why the pursuit of wisdom is the most perfect, the most sublime, the most profitable, and the most delightful of all human pursuits:

It is the most perfect, since a man already shares in true happiness in proportion to the extent that he devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom; hence we read in Ecclesiasticus (14.22) “Blessed is the man that shall continue in wisdom.” It is the most sublime, because it is in this pursuit above all others that a man approaches a likeness to God, who “made all things in wisdom” [Ps 103:24]; and since likeness is the cause of love, the pursuit of wisdom above all others unites man to God by friendship. Hence it is said in the Book of Wisdom (7.14) that “Wisdom is an infinite treasure to men: they that use it become the friends of God.” It is the most profitable, because by wisdom itself man is brought to the kingdom of immortality, since it is written in the same book (6.21) that “the desire of wisdom leads to the everlasting kingdom.” And it is the most delightful, because (8.16) “the conversation of Wisdom has no bitterness, and her company no tediousness, but joy and gladness.” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 2, p. 8:3)

34The pursuit of wisdom fosters a community of persons in relation who make a gift of self to each other, and through their self-giving communicate joy. This is because the “I” learns how to say “Thou” to the wholly other, speaking face to face, like friends.

  • 9 Schwehn examines some contemporary accounts of knowing as a kind of loving. See Exiles from Eden, (...)
  • 10 What is the task of institutions of higher learning? Josef Pieper answers succinctly: “To live out (...)

35If technology will not save us, it is to some degree because it will not permit us to be and become ourselves. For those who wish such being and becoming, then perhaps the pursuit of wisdom will still prove to be an attractive ideal. The integral comprehension of wisdom may not be attainable without love for, according to a maxim as old as St. Gregory the Great, amor ipse notitia est (Horn. 27 PL 76: 1207), “love itself is knowledge of him in whom it is directed, because in proportion as we love, to that extent we know.”9 Might it not be, after all, that the university will remain true to its origins only by being a place where we still love to learn in order to learn to love?10



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1 Huxley’s ideal permeates the contemporary university milieu. Wm A. Wulf, for example, argues that universities are in the “information business” and share at least some of the attributes of “vertically integrated industries”: “They ’manufacture’ information (scholarship) and occasionally ‘reprocess’ it into knowledge or even wisdom, they warehouse it (libraries), they distribute it (articles and books), and they retail it (classroom teaching)” (47).

2 In their Bankrupt Education (1994), Peter C. Emberley and Waller R. Newell chart current attempts to uproot the tradition of liberal education in Canada.

3 Drawing on this Baconian view of knowledge, Max Weber defined the goal of modern academic life as “master[ing] all things by calculation.” See Schwehn, Exiles from Eden, 9.

4 This phrase was used by Bertrand Russell to describe what he considered to be the greatest danger of our time: “The concept of ‘truth’ as something dependent upon facts largely outside human control has been one of the ways in which philosophy hitherto has inculcated the necessary element of humility. When this check upon pride is removed, a further step is taken on the road towards a certain kind of madness—the intoxication of power... to which modern men, whether philosophers or not, are prone” (782).

5 For a full discussion of the mechanist attack on wonder, see chapter 7 of Mary Midgley’s Science as Salvation.

6 Chesterton observed that the obsession with technique, “like so many modern notions... is an idolatry of the intermediate, to the oblivion of the ultimate” (7).

7 Grant explains that Kant’s dictum “the mind makes the object” were the words of blessing spoken at the wedding of knowing and production (or the arts and sciences) represented by the word “technology” (English-Speaking Justice, 1). The instrumentality of modern technologies, according to Grant, can never be morally neutral. For example, the statement, “the computer does not impose on us the ways it should be used” raises up in opposition to that neutrality “an account of human freedom which is just as novel as our new instruments.” The modern notion of freedom conceives of human beings as “autonomous”—the makers of their own laws and values. Those self-created values have, linguistically, taken the place of “the traditional good, which was not created, but recognized.” Computers and “values,” then, both spring from the same world view (“The computer does not impose on us the ways it should be used,” 121,125). Technological values have also been embraced by the university. Debates about the curriculum, for example, are typically grounded in the fundamental assumption of how and which sciences best facilitate the goal of “mastery” to the detriment of the humanities’ traditional aspiration for excellence through contemplation (see Grant, “The University Curriculum”).

8 Christopher Dawson pointed out that since the eighteenth century, European culture has been living on “the spiritual capital it has inherited from Christian civilization” (Religion and the Modern State, 64). T.S. Eliot added that it is against a background of Christian culture that all our thought has its significance. Even if an individual is a non-believer, “what he says, and makes, and does, will spring out of his heritage... Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes” (Notes towards the Definition of Culture, 122). More recently, Mark Schwehn registers his worry that most of our present day academies as well as academicians “might be living off a kind of borrowed fund of moral capital.” Although they may be able to draw on these spiritual resources in the short term, academicians may not be able “either to replenish the fund or to transmit it intact to the next generation” (Exiles from Eden, 53).

9 Schwehn examines some contemporary accounts of knowing as a kind of loving. See Exiles from Eden, 24-32, 60.

10 What is the task of institutions of higher learning? Josef Pieper answers succinctly: “To live out a paradigmatic model: namely, the free interpersonal communication anchored in the truth of reality—the reality of the world around us, the reality of ourselves, and the reality of God” (39).


Professor in English Literature at the University of Ottawa and Professor of Literature at Augustine College (Ottawa). He has written extensively on modern authors and the culture of modernism, including Joyce’s Politics (1980) and T.S. Eliot and Dante (1989)

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