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Prescribing the Life of the Mind
An Essay on the Purpose of the University, the Aims of Liberal Education, the Competence of Citizens, and the Cultivation of Practical Reason
Charles W. Anderson


A distinguished political philosopher with years of experience teaching in undergraduate liberal arts programs, Anderson shows how the ideal of practical reason can reconcile academia's research aims with public expectations for universities: the preparation of citizens, the training of professionals, the communication of a cultural inheritance. It is not good enough, he contends, to simply say that the university should stick to the great books of the classic tradition, or to denounce this tradition and declare that all important questions are a matter of personal or cultural choice. By applying the methods of practical reason, instead, teachers and students will think critically about the essential purposes of any human activity and the underlying arguments of any text.

"This is to be an essay on liberal education. I will be looking for the hard, enduring core of the curriculum, for the things that every educated person should know, and know how to do. I will be respectful of tradition, but my mind is fundamentallly on the future. This does not mean I have a premonition of things to come. Nor do I have a political program to promote—if that means I want to use education to promote a particular vision of social reform. Rather, I simply want to ask how we can best go on from here. What can we do to better prepare people to think, plan, judge, empathize, wonder, hypothesize, criticize, test, invent, and imagine? There are, I earnestly hope we can agree, the sorts of things that we actually expect the university to empower people to do." —excerpt from first chapter of Prescribing the Life of the Mind.

From reviews of the first edition:

"I like Charles W. Anderson. I like his book.... My first inclination, on reading a few pages, was to invite him to dinner and conversations that would, I am certain, run far into the night. Why? In a mere 160 pages Anderson trenchantly probes the present state of 'the university' and then proposes to draw from its own logic and present activity (not from some idealized model) a 'prescription' for the recovery of its health.... The university must have principles and standards — principles and standards, he argues, that are really there in its history and operation but which require contemporary rethinking and reapplication."—Henry C. Johnso Jr., Review of Politics

"Political scientist Anderson provides, in this slim volume, a reasoned argument for the liberal arts and for the link between liberal education and what he calls 'practical reason.' He criticizes the modern American university for giving up its time-honored responsibility to provide a thoughtful, coherent, and well-articulated education to undergraduates, and argues that if the university is to prosper, it must return to a variation of its roots and provide a thoughtful liberal education.... Students, he asserts, should be taught to think and to reason, and that the university is neither a 'trade school' nor a repository of what is 'currently popular' in intellectual life." —Choice

Charles W. Anderson is the Glenn B. and Cleone Orr Hawkins Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His earlier books published by the University of Wisconsin Press are The Political Economy of Modern Spain and The Political Economy of Mexico, co-authored by William P. Glade, Jr. He is also the author of A Deeper Freedom, published with the UW Press in 2002.

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June 1993
LC: 92-045196 LA
192 pp.  6 x 9

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ISBN 978-0-299-13834-9
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The 1993 cloth edition, ISBN 978-0-299-13830-1, is out of print.


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