- John Henry Newman: Man of Lettersby Mary Katherine Tillman
In her collection of essays, John Henry Newman: A Man of Letters, Mary Katherine Tillman seeks to do justice to the particularity of Newman's "thought in the manifold variety of its written expressions" while drawing attention to his understanding of the kind of philosophical habit of mind that shapes the process of acquiring an "enlarged vision of the bearings and relations of things to one another and to the whole" (pp. 11, 317). Accordingly, she argues that the "key methodological principle, across the entire spectrum" of Newman's thought, is "his understanding and 'realization'-in-use of his own notion of 'view'" (p. 17). The employment of this principle can be seen in Newman's engagement with various fields of knowledge (for example, philosophy, theology, history, and education), topics (for example, the relationship between faith and reason, the role that imagination plays in education, monasticism, phenomenology, and the illative sense), and historical figures (for example, Plato, Aristotle, Monet, Pascal, and Dilthey).
A fundamental claim in the volume is that views "cannot tell the truth whole, but they may capture aspects of it" (p. 21). This point coheres well with Newman's thought that the attempt to acquire a deeper understanding of things calls for more than a single disciplinary perspective. Views "are the elements or moments of polarities." They encapsulate and disclose "the way things stand with that object, understood from such and such a particular, discriminating position or vantage point" (pp. 17–18). Moreover, the cultivation of a philosophical habit of mind rarely if ever happens in isolation and from one angle or perspective. Instead, the process is profoundly social and cumulative. It calls for a complex network of social and intellectual practices and presupposes a trained and stable intellect, refined and enhanced by disciplined reflection and vibrant practices. Thus, the practice of [End Page 582]gleaning insights from others plays a fundamental role in enabling one to move from a particular set of claims to a more comprehensive understanding of things. As Newman shows in the Idea of a University, for example, the evaluative process in which a trained intellect makes connections occurs by "piecemeal and accumulation … by the comparison, the combination, the mutual correction, the continual adaptation, of many partial notions, by the employment, concentration, and joint action of many faculties and exercises of the mind." 1
The emphasis on Newman's concept of view highlights the extent to which we evaluate things from a particular point of view. More importantly, the "ordered concatenation of views that results from a university education, as the mind gradually develops, and if the desire is there, should lead to an integrated and philosophical habit of mind, the aim and goal of that education" (p. 21). In other words, Newman was deeply interested in the formative practices, processes, and habits that enable people to develop their cognitive capacities and enlarge their intellectual horizons. In particular, he sought to clarify how a properly formed and trained intellect acquires an integrative habit of mind.
Given Tillman's engagement with a wide range of topics and areas of investigation, the interdisciplinary scope of the volume seems fitting and warrants our attention and critical engagement. 2
1. John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University, ed. I. T. Ker (Oxford, 1976), 134.
2. For example, the epistemological role that a right state of heart plays in the pursuit of truth.