My response to an essay prompt for a continuing scholarship at UT:
‘I might begin by raising an objection to the manner in which this prompt is framed. It insists that I explain why I think ‘the academic
program for which [I am] enrolled will help [me] reach [my] goals.’ This, I feel, accepts uncritically the modern assumption that one’s education must cohere with a specified goal. The implications of this mindset are ineluctably utilitarian.
The sole purpose of education is the liberation of the mind and the salvation of the soul. Any program of study that does not accede to this proposition is good to be cast out. If I have at any point during my time at UT distinguished myself in an academic context it is at least partly because I hold half-baked explanations for the
vocationalization of education in particularly low regard. Any benefits derived from the pursuit of knowledge that accrue to society or to the individual are residual, say I.
Yet the residual benefits of a liberal education are legion. Crede experto. Foremost among them is the capacity to formulate and express one’s thoughts with force and efficacy. My Philosophy courses have taught me to eradicate as best I can superfluous and contradictory words from my prose. They have enabled me to distinguish between a sound and an unsound argument. My History courses have grounded my political speculations in precedent. Furthermore, they’ve given me some sense of what the past can and cannot tell us about the present and the future. My Literature and Science courses have exposed me to the intellectual heritage whence I come. As an aspiring professor, mastery (or at the very least familiarity) with that legacy is incumbent upon me. I have a much better grasp upon the Scientific
Method and the sorts of problems that it can and cannot address. I am conversant in fundamental concepts of mathematics and Physics. I am
well on my way to becoming what cricketers affectionately call an ‘All-Rounder.’
Consider the society constituted by a multiplicity of such individuals, pursuing as they do a collective ascent from out the Platonic Cave. Quite in contrast to our present era of gape and
gloat, it defines itself by its independence from externals. It is driven by a desire to attain human excellence. Note that excellence in this context is not pegged to some quantifiable achievement. It
is, rather, a mode of existing. It is what one ‘is’ rather than what one ‘does.’ The ideal society, the society amicable to a liberal education, obsesses over the definition of this mode of existing. It
seeks through the rigorous discipline of the body and mind to impose this definition upon one’s surroundings. It recoils when it sees the
gratification of the senses displace the primacy of the intellect.
Pity the tyrant who tries to subjugate such a society. His attempts to placate the prospective subjects’ ingrained sense of Justice with appeals to self-interest and sensuality will arouse more
indignation than consent. Such indignation will arise not because he is transgressing upon the superficial conventions by which we express
our ‘patriotism’-Budweiser’s attempt to commercialize an American soldier’s return from Afghanistan during the Super Bowl springs
immediately to mind-but because by so doing he tramples upon universals intelligible to inquiring individuals. Such a society-the Republic-in which knowledge is reverenced and virtue rewarded is
brought about when we acknowledge that education is an end rather than a means, that human beings are not automatonic cogs to be
inserted and extricated at will from the revolving wheel of commerce.’