Friday, August 11, 2017

Two Essays on the University

Josef Pieper, What Does "Academic" Mean?: Two Essays on the Chances of the University Today. Translated by Dan Farrelly and introduction by James V. Schall. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine's Press, 2015. 82 pages. ISBN 978-1-58731-933-4

This short book contains two lectures that Josef Pieper presented at the University of Munster in Germany in 1950. This is the first time it has been published in English. These two essays analyzes the purpose of the university and what does the word "Academic" mean and how its meaning is related to the purpose of the university. Pieper traces the word, academic, to Plato's academy. Pieper thinks the primary thrust of the academic is theoretical, not practical. The second essay focuses on how philosophy's subject is the totality of being.

James V. Schall wrote the introduction to this book. He states that a university "is not an economic or business corporation, nor is it a political institution. It is not a church, a union, or a club. While it has relations to and dealings with all of these otherwise existing institutions of culture and public order, it is itself. It is 'set apart' lest the highest things we can know through serious reflection be neglected" (ix). Schall is saying that the university has its own purpose and that purpose is to know the truth of things. It is a place where "everything can be discussed--not just discussed, but known as true or false. We need to know the purpose of the University to know whether or not it is achieving its purpose. It does seem that the university tends to seek other things, instead, of its true purpose.

An important point of this book is the role of philosophy in the university. Pieper says that philosophy is not really a subject, it is an act. It is the act of philosophizing. Schall asserts, "philosophy means individuals in every discipline, students and thinkers, who think philosophically, who have the habit of confronting what actually is " (x). Philosophy is openness to the whole of reality. This point and this book is related to Pieper's book on leisure. There must be a place set apart from to normal business to contemplate the whole of reality.

Another point made by Pieper is that philosophy must be open to knowledge in all disciplines, even theology. In addition, he believes philosophy "exists in conversation and listening as demonstrated in Plato's dialogues. He believes that Plato's Academy is still the model for the modern university. He states that Plato's academy was a philosophical school. Based on this fact, academic means philosophical and an academic institution is a philosophical one. Philosophical means theoretical, not practical. Theoretical basically means, "an attitude towards the world which is only concerned with the fact that things reveals themselves as they are." This requires a silence, and a listening to what is.  To be "aiming at truth and nothing else is the essence of theoria" (8).

Josef Pieper has covered much ground in this short book. He helps us to remember the purpose of the university and the role of philosophy in the university. In addition, he shows us that the focus of the university should be achieving truth or knowing the truth of things and this is achieved through focusing on the theoretical.

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