Thoughts on "The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom"

Francis B. Randall

Professor Francis B. Randall is professor emeritus of Russian history at Sarah Lawrence College. He is an experienced warrior in the defense of academic freedom, who played a key role in the "Sarah Lawrence Laughter Case" of 1993.

Since I consider myself a liberal of the liberals, in the tradition of Bryan, TR, Wilson, FDR, Truman and LBJ, let me declare that I find the article, “The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom,” by Mr. Peter Wood, who, I believe, considers himself a conservative, to be informed and thoughtful, cogent, persuasive and convincing, relevant and needful, temperate, civil and civilized—and noble.

Thought #1: I believe the arguments and conclusions in this article are consistent with the philosophy and spirit of Aristotle (with whom I strongly suspect Mr. Wood is familiar), about reality, truth and the pursuit of truth, the setting of human lives in communities, etc., though the discussions of modern ways and institutions in it were not, of course, explicitly set forth by Aristotle.

Thought #2: I believe the arguments and conclusions in this article are consistent with the philosophy and spirit of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Prussian Minister of Education in the later Napoleonic period (with whom I also strongly suspect that Mr. Wood is familiar).

Von Humboldt’s once famous Four Principles of the University were not all identical with Mr. Wood’s, but their consonance is, I believe, clear.

Wissenschaftlichkeit, clumsily translatable as “scientificness,” meaning that teachers and students in a university should educatedly pursue the truth as they honestly see it, not uncritically preach and uncritically accept the dogmas of the Lutheran Church and the Prussian state. In German, there were/are not only the Naturwissenschaften—natural  sciences, and the Sozialwissenschaften—social sciences—but also the Geisteswissenschaften—intellectual sciences, which in English and French are called the humanities—suggesting an opposition, where the German rightly suggests a unity.

Zwecklosigkeit, literally, “purposelessness,” but meaning, rather, that university education should not be only for acquiring technical skills to secure jobs in church, state and the professions, but should aim for a high intellectual understanding of the various aspects of humanity and the universe. This is the hardest of von Humboldt’s principles to argue for in American higher education today.

Innerlichkeit, the hope that what is learned in a university will not only train and equip the students, but will also and more importantly be internalized, will transform their inner selves, ways, natures, beings. Not unrelated to Christian and especially Protestant traditions of the Inner Light. Easier to urge now for philosophy, theology, history, the major natural sciences, literature and the arts, than for courses in electrical engineering, television production and driver education.

Bildung or Bildungskeit, literally “picturing” or “picturingness,” but in the German Romantic sense, here, “the formation of character,” as in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister—a Bildungsroman—“a novel of the formation of (Wilhelm’s) character.” The hope was for the developmental, stage by stage broadening, deepening, and ethicalization of the students’ in the end completely interlinked and interfused intellects and characters—the most Platonic of von Humboldt’s principles.

Von Humboldt also urged and institutionalized Lehrfreiheit, the right, ability, and desirability of a teacher to teach a variety of subjects as he thought best, and not just as the church, state or university administration demanded. And Lernfreiheit, the right, ability and desirability of a student to study a variety of subjects as he thought best. And the first formulated argument for what was later be called “academic freedom”—though not as sweeping as the 20th Century American statements of academic freedom that Mr. Wood analyzes so thoughtfully.


Image Credit: Public Domain.

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