Liberal Education and the Teleological Question; or Why Should a Dentist Read Chaucer?


  • Kenneth B. McIntyre

Correspondence: Kenneth B. McIntyre, Political Science, Sam Houston State University, 1901 Avenue I, Huntsville, TX 77341, USA.



This essay consists of an examination of the work of three thinkers who conceive of liberal education primarily in teleological terms, and, implicitly if not explicitly, attempt to offer some answer to the question: what does it mean to be fully human? John Henry Newman, T. S. Eliot, and Josef Pieper developed their understanding of liberal education from their own intellectual and religious experience, which was informed by a specifically Christian conception of the place of education in a fully developed human life. I suggest that the strength of their understanding of liberal education derives from its connection to the various small cohesive religious communities to which they were connected. Nonetheless, this insularity was also the primary weakness because each writer ended universalising what was in fact a particular and unique cultural and religious experience instead of providing convincing proof of a single human nature with a single telos. I will contrast this teleological conception of liberal education with that of Michael Oakeshott and his student Kenneth Minogue, both of whom wrote about education in a post-religious era in which the earlier consensus had completely broken down. They both celebrated the variety of practices which human beings have invented for themselves over the past several centuries (and past several millennia), and did not appear to suffer from the lack of any unifying single human telos. I will suggest that their understanding of practice insulated them from the need for a single unifying telos.