The Great Soul and the Big University

The entire existential project behind Karl Jaspers’ Idea of the University involves integrating a professor’s research with students’ search for their own selves.

The Socratic teacher turns his students away from himself and back onto themselves; he hides in paradoxes, makes himself inaccessible. The intimate relationship between student and teacher here is not one of submission, but of a contest for truth.

David Brooks asks that universities seek again for “Big Souledness” and character building as a part of their mandate.

“…apply the humanities. The social sciences are not shy about applying their disciplines to real life. But literary critics, philosophers and art historians are shy about applying their knowledge to real life because it might seem too Oprahesque or self-helpy. They are afraid of being prescriptive because they idolize individual choice. But the great works of art and literature have a lot to say on how to tackle the concrete challenges of living, like how to escape the chains of public opinion, how to cope with grief or how to build loving friendships. Instead of organizing classes around academic concepts — 19th-century French literature — more could be organized around the concrete challenges students will face in the first decade after graduation. It’s tough to know how much philosophical instruction anybody can absorb at age 20, before most of life has happened, but seeds can be planted.

Source: The Big University – The New York Times

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