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Universities Set Apart

Claire Gardone

Philosophy 181 (Ethics)

Prof. Miller

Paper #1

Topic #3

September 17th, 2018


Universities Set Apart

It is no doubt that the education of new generations is of central importance to societies.

The passing on of information and growth of knowledge is part of what allows societies to

develop and flourish. Therefore, this question about how to handle universities is an important

one. After hearing about this case, I knew I needed to address it promptly. Through careful

deliberation, I have decided that I most agree with the president of the university. She was right

in saying that subjects in the arts and sciences are at the core of learning, and that the state should

not attempt to control what is taught in universities. Allow me to walk you through my reasoning

of how I have come to this conclusion.

First, we must address the issues in the Secretary of Education’s opinion. Teaching

students only “practical” skills may give them headway in the labor market, but is this a

university’s only goal for students? These practical skills may allow students to become

successful in business or law. This type of life may later provide students with money,

connections, and power. However, these things are only external goods (I.8, p.10). Pursing these

types of goods wastes time, and no matter how much of these external goods you have, you

always seem to be going after more. Providing your students with only a path to these external

goods is not the best thing you can do for them. These external goods are not the best goods.

They are not an end either, but just a means to some other end (I.9, p.12). Is the university really

doing its job if it is just leading students to more means? Goods of the soul are the most good.

These actions of the soul have to do with pleasure and happiness, and are more complete than

external goods (I.8, p.11). I will discuss how pleasure and happiness tie into study next.

It is important to understand the reasons why study is so important and so unique. There

are many actions that require external goods to be able to do them. Study however, requires

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nearly no external goods. This makes it extremely accessible. Study is also an activity that I

believe brings about great happiness. I would even go so far as to say that “the more someone

studies, the happier he is” (X.8, p.166). I say this because happiness is found in activities that

correspond with virtue, and study is one of these activities (X.7, p.163).

Study is also unique because it is valuable in itself. Most other actions are done with

some end beyond just that action in mind. Unlike these other actions, study is an end in itself. It

is not just some in-between step, but is an action that is chosen and enjoyed for its own sake.

Study is continuous, we can study more than we can continuously do any other activity (X.7,

p.163-164). Further, study is such a valuable activity because it can lead to us attaining wisdom,

and wisdom is the highest state of the scientific part of the soul (VI.7, p.91).

When I speak about study, I do not just mean the study of practical knowledge, but

theoretical study. Theoretical study is continuous, self-sufficient, and desirable for its own sake

(X.7, p.164). Theoretical wisdom is supreme because wisdom is the is the most supreme virtue. I

do not like to talk about the divine too often, but I would say that theoretical study is the most

divine quality in humans (X.8, p.166-167). Because this type of wisdom is so important,

theoretical study must be allowed to happen.

A city needs theoretical thinkers to be its best. Theoretical study, though it may not

involve learning “practical skills,” does benefit society. When we look at what is best for the

good of society, it is an independent university. If universities are able to educate and produce

wise theoretical thinkers, it leads to a positive impact on the society as a whole. These wise

experts are not just secluded within the setting of the university. They are able to go out into the

community and out their knowledge to use. The university is important to the bigger picture of

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the city (X.9, p.169-170). Though the university and society are linked in this way, it does not

mean the state should govern the university.

The president of the university is not only correct in arguing that theoretical knowledge

areas are impactful, but also that the state should not try to control what universities teach.

People need to be experts in a subject in order to be able to correctly make judgements about it.

Profound information about a subject often does not make sense to an amateur, but does to an

expert. Those with experience are able to distinguish the importance and application of their

knowledge area. Therefore, state officials cannot involve themselves in the affairs of the

university because they do not have the knowledge authority to do so (X.9, p.171). Beyond just

the fact that they lack expertise, the restriction of subjects itself is wrong. Educational curriculum

is not one size fits all for everyone. It is better for each student to be able to customize their

educational experience for themselves. All students taking the same classes is not as good as

each student being able to choose the classes that they are interested in. Therefore, leaving a

wide range of curriculum for students to then choose from is better than choosing all of their

classes for them (X.9, p.169). Universities should remain independent institutions dedicated to

study and theoretical wisdom.

After all of this deliberation, it became apparent that the president of the university is

undoubtedly correct. Universities should teach not just practical skills, but also theoretical

understanding. Literature, history, and philosophy are an important part of study and are

therefore valuable in and of themselves. The president was right to say that these subjects are at

the core of learning. Furthermore, the Secretary of Education was mistaken in saying that public

representatives should govern university curriculum. As previously stated, only experts in a

subject have the authority and knowledge to be able to make correct judgments about that

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subject. Based on my conclusion, this university should be left to make decisions about

curriculum internally.