Monday, December 18, 2006

Orators and Philosophers

Bruce A. Kimball’s Orators & philosophers: a history of the idea of liberal education (New York : Teachers College Press, 1986), is a fascinating study of the ages old conflict over what constitutes a liberal education. He especially focuses on the modern conflict over what he calls the artes liberales tradition and the liberal free tradition in recent American conflicts over higher education. But the distinction goes all the way back to the conflict between Plato an Isocrates. Among the first group he includes Isocrates, Quintilian, Cicero, Isidore, Cassiodorus, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin and the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits. Among the latter he includes Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Anselm, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Franklin, Jefferson and Dewey.

“In the artes liberales ideal, a presumption of certitude underlies the identification of virtues and standards reposited in classical texts; the commitment is thereby demanded, identifying an elite who embrace the virtues and preserve them as leaders of society. The foundation of the curriculum lies in the study of language and letters, required in order for the student to fathom the texts and then to express their lessons in public forums as advocates, statesmen, preachers, or professors. In the liberal-free ideal, skeptical doubt undermines all certainty, casting individuals entirely upon their own intellect for judgments that can never finally be proven true. Consequently, the views of others must be tolerated and respected equally, while all beliefs must change and develop over time. Logic and mathematics, which hone the intellect, and the experimental science, which teaches the honed intellect to turn old truths into new hypotheses for further testing, form the core of the curriculum designed to graduate the scientist and researcher who loves knowledge and therefore pursues it without end” (228-9).

Kimball identifies seven characteristics of each tradition. For the artes liberales tradition he identifies:
1. The fundamental assumption that truth can be known and expressed, a dogmatism underlying the belief that the task of the liberal education is to transmit wisdom rather than to teach the student how to search for it.
2. The purpose of knowing and conveying the truth is to train the bonus orator of Isocrates and Quintilian, the statesman who could and would serve society in any capacity of leadership.
3. the clear prescription of values and standards for character formation.
4. Norms derived from a body of classical texts
5. the clear identification of a liberally educated elite.
6. The respect for the commitment to the pretensions of ‘Good Breeding,’ by which was attained the proper ‘nobility of mind,’ and the disapprobation of tolerance tward those without the acquirements of polite and liberal learning.
7. the regard for liberal education in the established virtues as and end in itself (111-112).

For the liberal-free tradition he identifies:
1. Emphasis on freedom, especially freedom from a priori strictures and standards.
2. emphasis on the intellect and rationality
3. critical skepticism
4. tolerance
5. egalitarianism
6. emphasis on volition of individual rather than upon the obligations of citizenship.
7. Free thinking itself is the ultimate goal and value (119-122).

My question at this point is where does Newman fall on this map? He does say that the purpose of higher education is the handing on of knowledge, not the formation of virtue. On the other hand, the University is for the passing on of knowledge, not the furtherance of knowledge, as in the liberal-free ideal.

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