Newman’s The Idea of a University advocates his ideas of university education seeking to guard against obscureantism in education. It deals with the basic principles concerning the site of the university, the aim of university education, the qualifications of the university teachers, and the ideals of liberal education. Newman also defines knowledge and differentiates between mere learning and knowledge.
The basic themes of Newman’s approach to present the idea of a university are well known:
• Knowledge is an end in itself, to be pursued for its own sake and not for some utilitarian value.
• The university is, first and foremost, a community of scholars, teachers and students devoted to the pursuit of truth.
• The core of the curriculum is the humanities which represent the highest attainment of cultivated minds.
From a number of alternative formulations of the same idea given by Newman, we have selected his following statement to define the university. The University, Newman says,
“… is the place to which a thousand schools make contributions; in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth. It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.”
Newman does not define university in a narrow sense. Education in a university is not specific but general. “a University is not a birthplace of poets or of immortal authors, of founder of schools, leaders of colonies or conquerors of nations.” A university provides opportunity to acquire knowledge of different branches. In a university, students, prffessors and experts of varied discilpines assemble together and exchange their views, and thus acquire ‘knowledge’.
Knowledge which is a pursuit of university is, according to Newman, a unified whole. It consists of all branches of Knowledge, as Newman says,
“I have said 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.” (v) However, Newman differentiates between knowledge and mere learning. A single branch of knowledge is a mere learning. Thus, “all Knowledge is a whole and the separate Sciences parts of one”. Knowledge can be compared to tree with a number of branches. Different branches of knowledge are of equal importance, “They complete, correct, balance each other.”
The university education is “Liberal”. Newman says that “the end of University Education,…[is]… the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge… which…has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end, though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself.”
There are two methods of Education-philosophical and mechanical. Mechanical education gives preference to instruction, and aims at immediate outcome of the process. Its scope is narrow.
On the contrary, Philosophical education, which is much broader, denotes liberal education which Newman advocates for. It is not characteresid by physical instruction rather by the exercise of reason, mind and inner faculty, by the cultivation of intellect. Thus by liberal education Newman means the ethical sense or education or the moral vision needed for a person’s private, social, national and intellectual life. The function of university education, Newman points out, is to produce a group of people who are literate and cultured, to produce gentlemen who are full of common sense and who can master any situation. Newman’s notions about University Education or Liberal Education are anti-utilitarian. His approach is fundamentally against the Utilitarian view that education or anything must have a a sort of ‘utility’ or usefulness in pragmatic value that is it must have market value. Thus by the term Knowledge, Newman, in an anti-utiliterian way, means something abstrract, something intangible, something intellectul. As Newman says,
” When I speak of knowlwdge, I mean something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through senses;…”
However, Newman does not altogether deny the necessity of mechanical education. He says,
“Let me not to deny the necessity, or to decry the benefit, of such attention to what is particular and pratical, as belongs to the useful and mechanical arts;” In presenting the liberal education, Newman argues that religion and science can not come into conflict, unless they are misrepresented or misunderstood. The aim of liberal education is to make a gentleman, not a Christian as Mill says, “Liberal education makes not the Christian, not the Catholic, but the gentleman. ” However, a Christian would be so much better than if he was gentleman also, because all the fields of human investigation are to be unified by the organizing concepts of theology, which is a science of its own kind.
The university teacher, according to Newman, should be “eloquent, and is a missionary and a preacher” who will display ” his science in its most complete and most winning form”, and who will have “the zeal of enthusiasm” lighting up love in the “breasts of his hearers”. If we observe the background of Newman’s presenting the essay, we see that the word “Idea” has been used in the sense of “ideal”. The model which he urged on his Dublin audience, seeking their support, particularly financial, for the creation of a new Catholic university in Dublin, was that of the unreformed Oxford in which he had spent his formative years. Actually, one may claim, his was a Platonic ideal, divorced from practice.
John Henry Newman, (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890) was a Roman Catholic priest and Cardinal who converted to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism. Therefore, it was no doubt that theology was at the core of his thinking and writing: the study of theology gets place at the core of his university curriculum. Newman’s vast bulk of theological writing is studied today by only the most esoteric of scholars. However, his great work, The Idea of a University, has stood the test of time.
Now in order to conclude the essay we will mention two contrasting quotes. Samuel Johnson once said:
“A writer is judged by his worst work when he is alive and by his best work when he is dead.”
In contrast, Shakespeare had Mark Anthony say:
“The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
Newman is lucky that, in his case, it was Johnson who proved to be right, because after his death, even nowadays, The Idea of a University is being regarded as a plea for liberal education.