Thoughtfulness as the Aim of Liberal Education?

Leon Kass

Leon Kass

Each year, a senior scholar at the University of Chicago is chosen to deliver the Aims of Education address to incoming students. (An archive of the addresses since 1995 can be found online.) In 1981, Leon R. Kass delivered perhaps the best known of the addresses, “The Aims of Liberal Education.” After dismissing several other goals as insufficient as the fundamental aim of liberal education (i.e. as opposed to education for professional training), or as objectives that can be better achieved elsewhere, Kass proposes thoughtfulness:

What, then, could be left for the aim of liberal education if we exclude professional training, research and scholarship, general broadening and culture, the arts of learning, and familiarity with the intellectual tradition? I have already hinted at my answer: Not the adding of new truths to the world, not the transmission of old truths to the young, but the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own. More simply, liberal education is education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good. (86-87, emphasis added)

Leon R. Kass, “The Aims of Liberal Education,” published in The Aims of Education, edited by John W. Boyer. Copies are pretty hard to come by – I could not find one for sale anywhere, so check your local library.

What do you think? Is thoughtfulness the aim of liberal education?

Photo Credit: U.S. President’s Council on Bioethics, via Wikipedia

Updated 10:12 AM: Fixed typo in title

Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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One Comment

  • Micheal Hickerson commented on August 26, 2010 Reply

    Another perspective on thoughtfulness:

    If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful. Thoughtfulness is free and burns on time and empathy.

    A quote from graphic designer (and Portland State professor) Frank Chimero, via the 37 Signals blog.

    Mutatis mutandis, I think there are applications to academia and other fields besides design.

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