IX. The Present Need for Genuine Liberal Education

Though the relevance of liberal education for human nature is profound, few men appear to be aware of its importance, and those who are aware seem only to be imperfectly conscious of it. Yet despite our overwhelming preoccupation with practical matters, the desire to know does not altogether escape any of us. Hence Aristotle can say, at the beginning of the Metaphysics, that “men are by nature philosophers, lovers of wisdom.”

It is true, further, that men cannot remain ignorant of the need to educate themselves about philosophical matters without consequences. To remain in such a state is to live in a way that is less than human. Socrates had this in mind when he judged that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” To deny philosophy on the other hand is impossible. “You say,” writes Aristotle in a celebrated dilemma, “one must philosophize. Then you must philosophize. You say one should not philosophize. Then (to prove your contention) you must philosophize. In any case you must philosophize.”

The questions pursued by liberal education are inescapable. So long as man exists these questions will emerge, and if they are not answerable truthfully, then man lives enslaved in darkness or in error. And when a doctrine such as that of academic freedom rules over all efforts to pursue these questions, as is the case in our times, we become like those silly women of whom the Apostle says that they are “always learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (II Tim. 3:7) We remain slaves.

A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education

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“I thank you so much for what you are doing at Thomas Aquinas College. I hope there will always be a Thomas Aquinas College. Your contributions to the Church and the world are marvelous to behold.”

– John Cardinal O’Connor (†)

Archbishop of New York