Trivial Pursuits: Wisdom and Truth in the Liberal Arts


The history of universities in the West from their beginnings in the late eleventh century, through the critical Romantic rethinking in Germany, and on to the modern models in America, Britain and Australia, shows several consistent binary features. Should a university be private or public? Is knowledge treated there as a means or an end? Is research or teaching its principal function? And most intriguingly, does it deliver to the student some kind of "wisdom" (character, life-meaning), or some kind of "truth" (pure or applied knowledge): is it a place of value or a place of fact? To each of these questions, of course, one could arguably answer "both": but the binary still exposes some important fault lines, especially in the liberal arts, with their foundations in the medieval "trivium" (hence the title). Can we still discern these fault lines in modern Australian or international universities?

Professor Simon Haines is the CEO for the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation. He is also the Chair Professor of English and Director of the Research Centre for Human Values at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities and a former Head of the School of Humanities at ANU. His monograph books include Poetry and Philosophy from Homer to Rousseau (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) and Redemption in Poetry and Philosophy (Baylor, 2013). He co-edited the prizewinning European Romanticism: A Reader (Bloomsbury, 2nd ed. 2014). His latest book is the edited volume Shakespeare and Value (Routledge, 2018).

The ANU Emeritus Faculty Annual Lecture will be chaired by Professor James Fox, Chair of the ANU Emeritus Faculty. The introduction will be given by Professor Amin Saikal, AM FASSA, Director of the ANU Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies and the vote of thanks by Richard Rigby, Emeritus Professor, ANU College of Asia and Pacific and Founding Executive Director, ANU China Institute.

This event is free and open to the public.