The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice

Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson, The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

Harry Brighouse, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Michael McPherson, the president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College, have edited a marvelous collection in The Aims of Higher Education: Problems of Morality and Justice. It is wise to pay attention to both sides of the title. They have brought together an admirable assortment of philosophers to consider what, in fact, higher education aims to accomplish. It’s not that economists or historians can’t do a good job answering this question, but rather, as Brighouse put it, “philosophers are like optometrists for ideas,” they help us clarify fine gradations when gradations are needed. (Think about what an optometrist asks you: is “1” or “2” clearer? How about “3” or “4”.) Thus, when Christopher Bertram of the University of Bristol takes on Martha Nussbaum well-regarded defense of the humanities, it’s not to disagree with it, but rather to point out with sharpness and clarity, which elements of the argument are essential, and which unnecessary. Why, one may ask, is such fine gradation needed? Largely because, as the editors argue, those of us in higher education are doing a poor job of explaining exactly what it is that we’re doing and why it is deserving of public support. This edited volume will certainly help in that regard.