An antidote to the media

Newman had ambitions for the university to regain its position as a centre of influence in society, rather than allow the press to monopolise this function. He recognized that both had a role to play, even if the press was often vulgar, irresponsible and usurpatory.

Dissatisfied that the ‘authority, which in former times was lodged in Universities, now resides in very great measure in that literary world’ of periodicals, whose writers ‘can give no better guarantee for the philosophical truth of their principles than their popularity at the moment, and their happy conformity in ethical character to the age which admires them’, Newman suggests that a proper university training would provide an antidote to the insatiable ‘demand for a reckless originality of thought, and a sparkling plausibility of argument’ that periodical literature supplies – and he speaks as someone who wrote for periodicals nearly all his life. Any university training worth its name should stimulate the student’s powers into action and prevent a merely passive reception of images and ideas, which so much of the electronic gadgetry now on offer to students promotes.

‘Let him once gain this habit of method, of starting from fixed points, of making his ground good as he goes, of distinguishing what he knows from what he does not know, and I conceive he will be gradually initiated into the largest and truest philosophical views, and will feel nothing but impatience and disgust at the random theories and imposing sophistries and dashing paradoxes, which carry away half-formed and superficial intellects.’ (Idea of a university)

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