Prescribing the Life of the Mind: An Essay on the Purpose of the University, the Aims of Liberal Education, the Competence of Citizens, and the Cultivation of Practical Reason

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Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1993 - Philosophy - 173 pages
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What are the purposes of the university? What should be the aims of liberal education? With phrases like "cultural relativism", "political correctness", "cultural literacy", and "canon wars" buzzing through the halls of academia and of government and appearing almost daily in heated public debates, these are important questions. With good will and common sense, Charles W. Anderson enters the fracas. He argues that teaching students to think, by developing their capacity for practical reason, can provide a unifying mission for the university and an integrating theme for the curriculum. A distinguished political philosopher with years of experience teaching in undergraduate liberal arts programs, Anderson shows here how the ideal of practical reason can reconcile academia's research aims with public expectations for universities: the preparation of citizens, the training of professionals, the communication of a cultural inheritance. It is not good enough, he contends, to simply say that the university should stick to the great books of the classic tradition, or to denounce this tradition and declare that all important questions are a matter of personal or cultural choice. By applying the methods of practical reason, teachers and students will think critically about the essential purposes of any human activity and the underlying arguments of any text. They will have standards of excellence and rigor to use as tools in all fields. Prescribing the Life of the Mind suggests that the exercise of practical reason can accommodate and bring together the diverse factions and points of view now at war in the universities: the scientists and the humanists, those who teach classic rationalism andthose who insist on postmodernist perspectives. Readers both within and beyond the academic community will welcome Anderson's practical and thoughtful approach. In addition to his convincing arguments, Anderson makes specific curriculum-building suggestions that should promote lively, healthy, and useful discussions.
 

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Contents

Liberal Education and Practical Reason
3
The Rationale of the Going Concern
22
What Do We Expect a University to Do?
40
What Can We Know? What Are We Entitled to Teach?
61
The Mystery of Teaching and Learning
79
The Cultivation of Practical Reason
96
The Core of the Curriculum
121
The Governance of the University
146
Notes
163
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About the author (1993)

Charles W. Anderson is the Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His earlier books published by the University of Wisconsin Press are The Political Economy of Modern Spain and The Political Economy of Mexico, co-authored by William P. Glade, Jr.

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