A trained intellect

Among the intellectual infirmities of the untrained intellect that Newman lists are those of (unconscious) self-contradiction; the inability to see difficulties in difficult subjects; mental obstinacy and prejudice; and the intemperate holding of opinions. When the intellect has been ‘properly trained and formed to have a connected view or grasp of things’, it results in ‘good sense, sobriety of thought, reasonableness, candour, self-command, and steadiness of view’. In some it might develop the habits of business and the power of influencing people; in others, the talent of intellectual research. But in all ‘it will be a faculty of entering with comparative ease into any subject of thought, and of taking up with aptitude any science or profession’. (Idea of a university)

Newman develops this line of reasoning as follows: ‘It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself, while it lives in the world, and which has resources for its happiness at home when it cannot go abroad. He has a gift which serves him in public, and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar, and with which failure and disappointment have a charm.’ (Idea of a university)

Newman’s point is illustrated succinctly by the former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who recalled a classics lecturer at Oxford who began his second-year lecture course by reminding them, that, apart from the few who would become teachers or dons, ‘nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view is the main, if not the sole purpose of education’ (‘Oxford Remembered’, The Times, 18 October 1975).


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