University Education, the Unity of Knowledge—and (Natural) Theology: John Henry Newman’s Prophetic Provocation
Keywords:Philosophy of education, John Henry Newman, University
Among modern thinkers, Newman is among the very few who marshal compelling intellectual resistance to the university’s comprehensive functionalization and its eventual transformation into a polytechnical “utiliversity.” Newman’s prophetic provocation in The Idea of University consists in the reminder that metaphysics, perfected by natural theology, and the speculative contemplation to which it gives rise, is about the only thing that can save the university from its functionalization and commodification. The discipline that inquires into the interrelationship of all sciences and hence into the unity of truth is metaphysics. Its acme is natural theology, the inquiry into the source and perfection of all truth. Metaphysics, perfected by natural theology, has its end in the very practice of finding the truth. It constitutes the capstone of the arch of sciences, advances the unity of knowledge, and thereby facilitates the inner coherence of a university education. Furthermore, metaphysics, perfected by natural theology, might turn out to be about the only reliable guarantor of genuine academic freedom. For academic freedom has its origin in the “uselessness,” the intrinsic value of a liberal education, an education in the artes liberales. Liberal education is a potentially universal education. While it is impossible to embrace all or even most fields of contemporary knowledge, liberal education fosters reflection upon one’s knowledge in relationship to other fields of knowledge and in relationship to the whole. And the latter is what a university education – in order to remain true to the nature of the university – must be about.