Universities Challenged

Scholars, get wise, not just smart

Anthea Lipsett writing yesterday
in the Times Higher Education Supplement

Universities should help people acquire wisdom rather than knowledge ” this is the rallying cry of a growing band of acade­mics who want to revolutionise the nature of academic inquiry.

Friends of Wisdom, a group of scholars from across the world, argues that the preoccupation with accumulating knowledge is flawed and that the higher aim must be to apply such knowledge to benefit society.

Members of the association be­lieve that academic work should help humanity acquire more wis­dom, which they defined as “the capacity to realise what is of value in life, for oneself and others”.

Friends of Wisdom was started by Nicholas Maxwell, emeritus reader in philosophy of science at University College London. He said: “We hope to transform uni­versities so that their basic aim becomes to help people realise what’s of value in life ” wisdom. That would include technical knowhow and understanding,, but also other things as well.

“If the basic aim really is to help promote human welfare, then the problems that need to be solved are fundamentally problems of living, not problems of know­ledge,” Mr. Maxwell said.

The pursuit of knowledge was important, but it was secondary to acquiring wisdom, he added. The Friends of Wisdom want universi­ties to help people challenge politi­cians by raising public debate and giving individuals the power that comes from having the highest quality education.

“They must also promote a truly critical debate about what is genuinely of value in life and how it is to be achieved,” Mr Maxwell said. He hopes the group will ignite debate, and there are plans to host a conference of like-minded academics.

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I made my coment earlier that this subject is bigger than the education system, but it’s good to see this move being picked-up in mainstream press.

4 thoughts on “Universities Challenged”

  1. back to my earlier comment about allan bloom’s “the closing of the american mind” I seem to remember you excoriated his position. What I took away from his book was that we were turning higher education into trade schools and that we were abandoning the dedication to the classics and liberal education.

    But we need to remember that classical education was originally suited only for the elite. Can it still be relevant for the less-than-elite?

  2. Excoriating the book is a bit strong. I think I was reacting to one remembered paraphrase / summary of its message – I’ll need to go back and check.

    Your point about elitism is interesting. There’s a lot of debate around at the moment about how widely University education expectations should be spread around. Like if everyone should expect the right to one, you might naturally expect a tendency towards (lower) common denominators in the course quality / content. (On MOQ Discuss there are also undercurrents of intellectuality being an elitist pursuit itself – Platt being particularly hard on intellectuals.)

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