To What End?

The Sheed & Ward Anthology of Catholic Philosophy

Edited by James C. Swindal

and Harry J. Gensler

Rowman & Littlefield, $35, 608 pp.

In Plato’s Apology, Socrates’s claim to be wiser than anyone else in Athens rests on a paradoxical assertion-that he, at least, knows he is ignorant. If institutions spoke as forthrightly, some Catholic colleges and universities today might make a similar claim. More than other colleges and universities in the United States, they know that they do not know, or at least are questioning what the mission of a college or university should now be.

The questions are fundamental. In terms John Henry Newman used in The Idea of a University some one-hundred and fifty years ago: Is the proper “object” of university teaching moral or intellectual-the cultivation of the virtues, or “the culture of the intellect”? Further, should the focus be instruction in “fine and useful arts, in trades, and in ways of business”-in a word, in skills? Or should it be on an education (etymologically, a “leading out”) which ensures that its recipient “does not stand where he did, he has a new centre, and a range of thoughts to which he was before a stranger”? How such questions are answered will determine whether “service learning,” for example, belongs in an institution’s core curriculum-or whether there even should be a core curriculum.

Catholic colleges and universities find themselves at the forefront in thinking about mission for several reasons. As they have become more ambitious academically, their steadily decreasing...

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About the Author

Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.