- Is Morality a Non-aim of Education?
John Mearsheimer’s address is a lucid and powerfully written document regarding the aims of education as implemented, and as he argues should be implemented, at the University of Chicago. It would certainly not be easy to argue with, and perhaps even harder to express more clearly, succinctly, and convincingly, the three main goals of undergraduate teaching at the University of Chicago: “Critical Thinking” (learning how to ask big questions, how to argue coherently, how to think for oneself about major issues), “Broadening Intellectual Horizons” (exposure to a variety of disciplines and a wide range of essential questions about human society), and “Promoting Self-Awareness” (attaining a better sense of one’s abilities, interests, and limitations).
The problem arose for me in reading Mearsheimer’s non-aims of education. I agree completely with the first, “Providing Truth.” If the University of Chicago provided truth, it would cease to educate, for it would teach students what to think rather than how to do so. The second, however, “Teaching Morality,” stunned me. Here Mearsheimer does not simply mean that the University of Chicago does not teach a specific morality (Christian, politically correct, Buddhist, etc.) which would, of course, be tantamount to providing truth. He means that the University of Chicago and “all other major colleges and universities in this country” are “remarkably amoral” institutions where there is “little effort to provide [the student] with moral guidance” and where “courses that discuss ethics or morality in any detail . . . do not exist.”
This symposium is an attempt to discover not only whether this is indeed the case at the University of Chicago and the other major educational institutions in the United States but whether it should be. The responses that follow Mearsheimer’s address, written by people of [End Page 136] diverse academic experience, focus specifically on the question of teaching morality as it is defined by Mearsheimer. We have printed his talk in its entirety, however, so that this particular question can be read in its original context where the play of ideas and the emphasis on the shock of intellectual confrontation invite the very symposium we have organized. .