Education's End

Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Education's End
    Book Description:

    The question of what living is for-of what one should care about and why-is the most important question a person can ask. Yet under the influence of the modern research ideal, our colleges and universities have expelled this question from their classrooms, judging it unfit for organized study. In this eloquent and carefully considered book, Tony Kronman explores why this has happened and calls for the restoration of life's most important question to an honored place in higher education.

    The author contrasts an earlier era in American education, when the question of the meaning of life was at the center of instruction, with our own times, when this question has been largely abandoned by college and university teachers. In particular, teachers of the humanities, who once felt a special responsibility to guide their students in exploring the question of what living is for, have lost confidence in their authority to do so. And they have lost sight of the question itself in the blinding fog of political correctness that has dominated their disciplines for the past forty years.

    Yet Kronman sees a readiness for change--a longing among teachers as well as students to engage questions of ultimate meaning. He urges a revival of the humanities' lost tradition of studying the meaning of life through the careful but critical reading of great works of literary and philosophical imagination. And he offers here the charter document of that revival.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13816-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    In the fall of 1965, I was a sophomore at Williams College—for the second time. The year before, I had left Williams to work as an organizer for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was an exciting time to be in college. Black students in the South were at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Their courage had set an example for the world to admire. In the North, the (mostly white) student leaders of SDS had begun a movement of their own for social and economic change. The Port Huron Statement of 1962 was their manifesto....

  5. 1 What Is Living For?
    (pp. 9-36)

    Our lives are the most precious resource we possess, and the question of how to spend them is the most important question we face. The lives we actually lead are the more-or-less well-thought-out answers we give to this question. Our answers depend, of course, on what we value and where we find fulfillment. How should I spend my life? That question immediately invites another. What do I most care about and why? For the sake of what—or who—am I living? What is my life for?

    But what sort of question is this exactly? There are philosophers who have...

  6. 2 Secular Humanism
    (pp. 37-90)

    There are more than six thousand institutions of higher education in America.¹ “Institution” is a colorless word, and I use it for that reason. For the variety of colleges and universities in America today is so vast that only a word with almost no content could possibly encompass them all.

    There are the great research universities, with their graduate programs, professional schools, and specialized facilities for advanced research; the residential liberal arts colleges, devoted to undergraduate education; the two-year state and community colleges, serving for the most part a local population and providing career training as well as a preparation...

  7. 3 The Research Ideal
    (pp. 91-136)

    In 1918, the great social historian Max Weber delivered a lecture at Munich University titled “Scholarship as a Vocation.”¹ It was one of his last and most passionate statements. In his lecture, Weber sought to describe the inner meaning of a scholarly career—its spiritual significance for the scholar himself. Toward the end, Weber’s words rise to a near-religious crescendo as he struggles, with great feeling, to explain how a life of academic research can still be experienced as a calling, in the original sense of that word, in “our godless and prophetless time.” But Weber begins on a more...

  8. 4 Political Correctness
    (pp. 137-204)

    By the early 1970s, the humanities were floundering. Ideological rifts were widening. Traditional ways of teaching had lost much of their authority, and there was worried talk of a “crisis” in the humanities.¹ To many it seemed less clear than it had a quarter century before, when Harvard published its famous report on the aims of liberal education, what the humanities are supposed to do and why their doing it is important.²

    In this anxious and excited environment, a new set of ideas began to gain currency. The first idea was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement and is...

  9. 5 Spirit in an Age of Science
    (pp. 205-260)

    The authority of the natural sciences is today unrivaled. Their intellectual foundations are secure. Teachers and students working in these fields know what they are doing and why it is important. Most social scientists feel similarly about the value of their work. They too believe in its intellectual integrity and practical importance. This is clearest in the case of economics, the most rigorous of the social sciences and the one by which all the others now measure their achievements. In our colleges and universities today, the prevailing mood in the natural and social sciences is thus one of healthy self-regard....

    (pp. 261-266)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 267-296)
  12. Index
    (pp. 297-308)