MacIntyre Post #3: Emergence of the University

It was because the thirteenth-century European universities, developing out of conjunctions of the academic ambitions of masters, the desire for increased power by rulers, and the striving for upwards mobility by students, became scenes of intellectual conflict, places where the fundamental issues that divided and defined the age were articulated, that their history provides the setting for the emergence of the Catholic philosophical tradition (65).

Interesting. MacIntyre posits that this set of factors made philosophy important and laid the groundwork for arguments to happen about the nature of things. He lists student ambitions, professor ambitions and the ambitions of the rulers as the contributing factors because they intersected and conflicted.

This shows at least one thing that I hadn’t thought about before I read it: that universities were never pure palaces devoted to learning simply as a good in itself. It always involved ambitions of the players comprising the system, but still, I think there is a difference today.

Looking at the university nowadays, we still find that the students have ambitions (to get jobs), that professors often seek academic glory or at least prestige, and certainly the rulers seek to use universities to provide qualified candidates for jobs and generally to fix society. Legislators tend to think that if we can just get enough kids through college, all societal ills will evaporate.

Somehow, I don’t think these particular ambitions converge today to make the university a setting for philosophical conflict. Rather, students and rulers see it as a tool.

MacIntyre doesn’t think universities today deal with philosophy adequately either. What do you think? What factors would make the university a philosophically challenging place? Are they the same factors that did this in the Middle Ages?


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