The End of Education

The Fragmentation of the American University

What should be the distinctive calling of the American Catholic university or college here and now? It should be to challenge its secular counterparts by recovering both for them and for itself a less fragmented conception of what an education beyond high school should be, by identifying what has gone badly wrong with even the best of secular universities. From a Catholic point of view the contemporary secular university is not at fault because it is not Catholic. It is at fault insofar as it is not a university.

Yet the major Catholic universities seem unlikely to accept this calling, if only because their administrative leaders are for the most part hell-bent on imitating their prestigious secular counterparts, which already imitate one another. So we find Notre Dame glancing nervously at Duke, only to catch Duke in the act of glancing nervously at Princeton. What is it that makes this attitude so corrupting? What has gone wrong with the secular university?

Begin with some well-known and prosaic truths. Since the nineteenth century the number of disciplines studied in American universities and colleges has steadily multiplied. To philosophy there were added psychology and political economy, soon to be transformed into economics, to which were later added political science and sociology and anthropology. To mathematics and physics were added chemistry and biology. And within each of these particular...

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About the Author

Alasdair MacIntyre teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.