The Uses of Knowledge: Selections from the Idea of a University - Education seems to have some special importance for Americans. From the earliest days the little log school was looked upon as an indispensable institution in every pioneer community. Since then our educational establishments have grown amazingly in every region of the country, and yet they always seem to remain inadequate to meet the demand. Clearly, knowledge must have some special importance or value for the American mind.
But what is its value? Why do we seek knowledge? What is its utility? We do not seem to have reached any general agreement about the answer to the question. This book presents an answer by John Henry Newman, first made in a series of lectures over a hundred years ago, and later published in a book that has since become a literary and educational classic. The Idea of a University was composed oi two main sections, the first of which was entitled “University Teaching,” and the second, “University Subjects.” In the first section of the book Newman developed the essential outline of his views on university education. Of the nine lectures which made up this first section of the book, four are reprinted here, under a new title, The Uses of Knowledge. From the second section of the book three passages have been added here, in Appendices, to suggest certain amplifications of his thought made by Newman in some of his later lectures.
Because the book from which these four lectures are taken is integrated very closely, as a whole unit of thought, no complete view of Newman’s meaning can be grasped from any of the parts. Each of his main ideas, to be fully and justly comprehended, must be seen in the context of the whole book. For this reason the broad scheme of Newman’s thought has been presented in a “General Argument.” The student is urged to give particular attention to this digest, in order to provide himself with a framework of reference for the study of the four lectures included in the present hook. With the help of this General Argument, it is hoped that the student will be able to see these four lectures in their true relationship to the whole of Newman’s thought.
Some readers may wish to go back to The Idea of a University in order to see Newman’s argument in its complete elaboration. The four lectures which are reproduced here will abundantly reveal his special ability to elaborate and quality his ideas with a rich texture of precise detail. In this lies some of the peculiar strength of Newman’s thought, and one of the special excellences of his style. The reader who becomes aware of this distinction of thought and expression will be led back to the whole book, fully assured of the reward to be found in a complete statement of a great idea.
Why are we seeking knowledge? What is its value? Its utility? If we as students are really concerned, we shall find in Newman’s book a very suggestive answer to these questions.