Un Début dans la Vie Humaine: Michael Oakeshott on Education

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.