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Newman on Education


The training of the mind for Newman does not consist either in studying logic (though it may include that) or in the study of "how to think":...

newman789... one learns to think not by learning a science of thinking but by thinking about the ordinary objects of knowledge.  This is why, Newman says, "philosophy presupposes knowledge" and "requires a great deal of reading," for knowledge "is the indispensable condition of expansion of mind, and the instrument of attaining to it."  But the knowledge is strictly distinguished from the philosophy: merely to know is not to be educated.

He writes: "The enlargement consists, not merely in the passive reception into the mind of a number of ideas hitherto unknown to it, but in the mind's energetic and simultaneous action upon and towards and among those new ideas, which are rushing in upon it....There is no enlargement, unless there be a comparison of ideas one with another, as they come before the mind, and a systematizing of them....It is not the mere addition to our knowledge that is the illumination; but the locomotion, the movement onwards, of that mental centre, to which both what we know, and what we are learning, the accumulating mass of our acquirements, gravitates."

This enlargement of mind reaches its highest point in "a truly great intellect," which "possesses the knowledge, not only of things, but also of their mutual and true relations."

As Newman notes: "That only is true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referring them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence ... Possessed of this real illumination, the mind never views any part of the extended subject-matter of Knowledge without recollecting that it is but a part, or without the associations which spring from this recollection.  It makes every thing in some sort lead to every thing else; it would communicate the image of the whole to every separate portion, till that whole becomes in imagination like a spirit, every where pervading and penetrating its component parts, and giving them one definite meaning."



Father Ian Ker. "Newman on Education." an excerpt from "Mission and Governance Analysis and Commentary, St. John Henry Newman" (December 1, 2008).

This excerpt appeared in The Catholic Thing. It is from the article "Mission and Governance Analysis and Commentary, St. John Henry Newman" which was first published by The Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education.

The Author

ker2kerFather Ian Ker is an English Roman Catholic priest, scholar and author.  Father Ian Ker teaches theology at Oxford University, where he is a senior research fellow at Blackfriars, Oxford, and a member of the Faculty of Theology. Father Ker is generally regarded as the world's authority on John Henry Newman. He is the author of over twenty books, including: John Henry Newman: A Biography, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography, Mere Catholicism, and Passion For Truth: The Life of John Henry Newman.

Copyright © 2008 The Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education
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