20.372 New Year's greeting

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 1 Jan 2007 16:21:45 +0000

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 20, No. 372.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 01 Jan 2007 16:10:10 +0000
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: New Year's greeting

Dear colleagues,

Ordinarily I don't send a New Year's greeting to round out the
hopeful banging of pots in the night and the muttering of resolutions
the next morning. But a kind gift of a URL brought into my computer
the collected works of John Stuart Mill (from
http://oll.libertyfund.org/Home3/Author.php?recordID=0172), and so
his "Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St Andrews". It
seemed to me, reading Mill's words, that at least this particular
looking into the past would be a far better way of resolving for the
future than a futile swearing off of delights. It seems to me that we
have sworn off, or rather tragically let slip, the very qualities of a
university that delighted Mill as he formally took up his honourary
duties. These are the subject of the following paragraph. No more his
"tolerably general agreement about what a University is not". The
more we widen access, as we have been widening it, the poorer we get.

The relationship between Mill's 19th-century England and the ideal he
articulates is complex, which I take to mean neither non-existant nor
deterministic. The masculine pronoun is there to remind us that we
have made social progress in some respects, and few, none here, would
argue that a monopoly of men in Victorian higher education had a
causal relationship to its admirable qualities. Dickensian visions, in
movies resurrected for Christmas, have recently reminded us that
Victorian lower education could be very low indeed.

But still the past, Mill's past, makes for the finest sort of resolution
that we should rebuild what is being torn down, don't you think?

So, to the inspiring words:

>The proper function of a University in national education is tolerably
>well understood. At least there is a tolerably general agreement about
>what a University is not. It is not a place of professional education.
>Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men
>for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not
>to make skilful lawyers, or physicians, or engineers, but capable and
>cultivated human beings. It is very right that there should be public
>facilities for the study of professions. It is well that there should be
>Schools of Law, and of Medicine, and it would be welt if there were
>schools of engineering, and the industrial arts. The countries which
>have such restitutions are greatly the better for them; and there is
>something to be said for having them m the same localities, and under
>the same general superintendence, as the establishments devoted to
>education properly so called. But these things are no part of what every
>generation owes to the next, as that on which its civilization and worth
>will principally depend. They are needed only by a comparatively few,
>who are under the strongest private inducements to acquire them by their
>own efforts, and even those few do not require them until after their
>education, m the ordinary sense, has been completed. Whether those whose
>speciality they are, will learn them as a branch of intelligence or as a
>mere trade, and whether, having learnt them, they will make a wise and
>conscientious use of them or the reverse, depends less on the manner m
>which they are taught their profession, than upon what sort of minds
>they bring to it--what kind of intelligence, and of conscience, the
>general system of education has developed in them. Men are men before
>they are lawyers, or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers: and if
>you make them capable and sensible men, they will make themselves
>capable and sensible lawyers or physicians. What professional men should
>carry away with them from an University, is not professional knowledge,
>but that which should direct the use of their professional knowledge,
>and bring the light of general culture to illuminate the technicalities
>of a special pursuit. Men may be competent lawyers without general
>education, but it depends on general education to make them philosophic
>lawyers--who demand, and are capable of apprehending, principles,
>instead of merely cramming their memory with details. And so of all
>other useful pursuits, mechanical included. Education makes a man a more
>intelligent shoemaker, if that be his occupation, but not by teaching
>him how to make shoes: it does so by the mental exercise it gives, and
>the habits it impresses.

All the best for 2007!


Dr Willard McCarty | Reader in Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London |
Received on Mon Jan 01 2007 - 11:42:59 EST

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