Not such a bad habit

January 29, 2009

When it comes to Cardinal Newman, Gary Day gives us neither "knowledge" nor "information" ("Get wise to the product", 22 January).

Newman didn't coin the expression "knowledge for its own sake" and The Idea of a University was not published in 1854. In calling its fifth section "knowledge its own end", Newman was careful to spell out what he meant by that phrase, more careful than Day has been in reading him: "Knowledge ... is valuable for what its very presence in us does for us after the manner of a habit, even though it be turned to no further account."

For Day to spend paragraphs arguing that, in an impossible and unintended sense of the term, knowledge for its own sake is an impossibility is frankly silly.

The "habit" in question produces, in Newman's words, "freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation and wisdom". Is it really the case that by arguing for knowledge on such grounds we are giving opponents of liberal education "a loaded gun and promising to stand still"? If so, we are in trouble.

One remedy stands tall on all our horizons. Asked to name an example of someone who has learnt Newman's "habit" in the tough cradle of knowledge that combines history, method, discourse, philosophy and vocation, I would point to the new President of the US. Perhaps there is hope for us after all.

David Roberts

Newman University College.

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