20 March 2009

Wilfred Cantwell Smith on the Modern University

In universities, those who were in pursuit of truth have to a significant extent been followed by those in pursuit of research grants, or of promotions. Truth itself, as the proclaimed goal of a university, has largely been reduced from something that we serve to something that serves us; from something to which we aspire to something that we construct. The academic enterprise then becomes the knowledge industry: the instrument by which a society turns out knowledge as it turns out motor cars, for consumption and for our own profit or pleasure or aggrandizement. Socrates’s ‘knowledge is virtue’ has been widely replaced by Bacon’s ‘knowledge is power’. Rationalism in the sense of a disciplined subservient dedication of oneself to the rule of transcendent Reason, has been largely replaced by a new rationalism that is concerned rather and only with the appropriateness of instrumental means to unscrutinized ends. Classically, Europe had held that to seek what is not morally good is as irrational as to think what is not intellectually true.
‘Shall Next Century be Secular or Religious?’, published in Cosmos, Life, Religion: Beyond Humanism, Tenri, Japan: Tenri University Press, 1988, pp. 125-151; reprinted in Modern Culture from a Comparative Perspective, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997, p. 72.


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