Knowledge, an end in itself

In arguing that knowledge was as distinct from morality as it was from utility, Newman was not denying that benefits would accrue from intellectual activity pursued for its own sake; this becomes clear when he writes of the effects and indirect benefits of a university education. ‘If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world.’ (Idea of a university)

This amounts to saying that intellectual virtues are substantial goods which are inseparable from their economic and social usefulness, even if this usefulness is not their main aim. Newman’s attitude is summed up in his working principle that ‘though the useful is not always good, the good is always useful’. (Idea of a university)

Likewise, while maintaining the theoretical autonomy of knowledge from morality, Newman maintains that in practice a link exists between them and that there is no clear division between the natural and supernatural orders: ‘We attain to heaven by using this world well, though it is to pass away; we perfect our nature, not by undoing it, but by adding to it what is more than nature, and directing it towards aims higher than its own.’ In both cases education entails benefits which extend beyond the purely intellectual. (Idea of a university)


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