But the line between Smith and Friedman is not a straight one, as Mr Stedman Jones points out. Smith thought one of the state’s jobs should be to build public works and forge institutions that would otherwise fail under market pressure. Here he sounds more like Franklin Roosevelt. Smith believed the state should fund schools, bridges and roads. Friedman said that was the job of the private sector.
Having trailed the chapters comprising section II of the Companion I now present my co-editor’s piece.
Michael Oakeshott’s writings on education form one of the most attractive aspects of his philosophy and have duly garnered considerable attention. They evoke an ideal of liberal learning for its own sake, freed from the narrowing necessities of practical life and social purpose. This ideal is summed up in Oakeshott’s famous image of the university as a “conversation” between the various modes of understanding that make up our civilization, a conversation that has no predetermined course or destination, an “unrehearsed intellectual adventure” (VLL 39). Of this ideal, Noel Annan wrote: “It was the finest evocation of “the idea of the university’ since Newman; and more subtle and persuasive.” As I hope to show, however, Oakeshott’s philosophy of education is not without its difficulties, and these difficulties largely mirror the ones that run through his philosophy as a whole. In its formalism, conceptual compartmentalization, and rigid separation of theory and practice, Oakeshott’s philosophy of education does not adequately address the problems of specialization, intellectual fragmentation, and cultural isolation that currently afflict education, especially higher education, today.
This is a strange book. From the title, one might expect that it would take up Oakeshott’s complicated understanding and deployment of skepticism throughout his philosophical career; perhaps also his relationship to such favorite skeptical authors as Montaigne, Hobbes, Pascal, Hume, and F. H. Bradley. But Aryeh Botwinick has something else in mind in his book; something both more ambitious and less satisfying. Instead of providing a detailed analysis of Oakeshott’s own views on and uses of skepticism, Botwinick uses Oakeshott to illustrate a larger thesis about how skepticism—which he construes largely in terms of a radical antifoundationalism—issues in a profoundly religious or mystical view of the world. This is not an uninteresting thesis, but whether it captures what is most important and distinctive about Oakeshott’s skepticism or his philosophy in general is doubtful.
Adrien Guillemin tells me that that the French translation of Michael Oakeshott’s “On Being Conservative” has been released by Les Editions du Félin in Paris with a Preface and a biographical epilogue. He continues: “The book has already been welcomed by a nice editorial in Le Monde and one on the cultural channel of Radio France.” Congratulations to Adrien for this enterprising effort and for seeing it through to fruition some two years after he first made contact regarding copyright.
This Oakeshott reference from Colorado College’s website, notable because many so-called “liberal” arts colleges are only nominally “liberal” in the Oakeshottian sense. Check out Oakeshott’s essay “A Place of Learning” and other essays of his from The Voice of Liberal Learning. Paul Franco has written an essay for the “Companion” entitled “Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education“.
It’s not just talk. It’s “an endless unrehearsed intellectual adventure,” the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott told a crowd at the college in 1975 during a week-long visit that left him delighted and impressed by the faculty, the students, and the magnificent setting.
It’s a conversation, Oakeshott said, “in which, in imagination, we enter into a variety of modes of understanding the world and ourselves.” Here, he saw unlimited opportunities to learn and to reflect on learning. This is the tradition you’ll draw upon as you navigate this place of learning, block by block.
Spend an intense three and a half weeks reading Shakespeare, then another pondering the social value of video games, then perhaps another examining RNA with a professor who shares the joy of a science-glimpse into what makes us human. You’ll write, you’ll read, you’ll paint or sing or calculate or contemplate. You’ll take a deep breath and at some point it will all make sense. You’re learning to understand, and you know it’s a lifelong conversation.