The Primary Purpose of the University is to Develop and Cultivate Critical Thinking

booksThere is no doubt that the subjects of Liberal Arts education, such as Philosophy, Ethics, Logic, Sociology, Anthropology, etc, – the Humanities as a whole – is the branch of knowledge that specifically deals with the study of what makes us human.

Hence, the value and importance of a Liberal Arts education!

In the words of Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University:

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

“Liberal learning introduces them to books and music, the science and philosophy that form disciplined yet creative habits of mind that are not reducible to the material circumstances of one’s life (though they may depend on those circumstances)… The habits of mind developed in a liberal arts context often result in combinations of focus and flexibility that make for intelligent, and sometimes courageous risk-taking for critical assessment for those risks.”

A Liberal Arts’ education is the source of critical thinking. Critical thinking is the capacity to think independently beyond the ordinary conception of prevailing reality.

Its mind is reason; while its heart is humanism. The precise utilization of critical thinking will undeniably lead our students to the joys of critical analysis which in turn will certainly give them the philosophical tools necessary and pertinent for the conscious and bold exercise of complex insights.

In the words of Chris Hedges, “The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience.

There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think.”

It is in this exact sense that I overwhelmingly subscribe to the contention advanced by Professor Azhari-Karim of Universiti Sains Malaysia Penang (“Arts on the losing end” – NST, May 9).

He said, “One way is to teach Philosophy once again. This subject has been long absent from the curriculum for undergraduates. The idea is to refocus attention on the Arts and Sciences as being in the very rubric of knowledge and re-emphasise the philosophy of knowledge as a starting point for all academic pursuits.”

This is in conformity with the argument of Ganesan Odayappen (“Education is beyond race and politics” – NST, May 2,) of Kuala Lumpur who said in his letter: “When we talk about educating a nation, we must understand clearly what it means, how it is going to be achieved and its objectives.

A nation which is striving to be a developed one needs tremendous human intellect and knowledge.”

A Liberal Arts education is absolutely necessary for the continuous progression and development of a country. There is no shadow of doubt that this type of education, which centers on humanism and universal reason, is truly beyond race, politics, religion, sex, gender, cultural background and other discriminatory categories.

In the stirring words of Professor A.C. Grayling:

“By ‘liberal education’ is meant education that includes literature, history and appreciation of the arts, and gives them equal weight with scientific and practical subjects.

“Education in these pursuits opens the possibility for us to live more reflectively and knowledgeably, especially about the range of human experience and sentiment, as it exists now and here, and in the past and elsewhere. That, in turn, makes us better understand the interests, needs and desires of others so that we can treat them with respect and sympathy is returned, rendering it mutual, the result is that the gaps, which can prompt friction between people, and even war in the end, come to be bridged or at least tolerated.

“Education must be a blend of the external and internal in order to create true humanness in a student. External education alone cannot confer human values and benefit the world.”

Humanism is the study of being a good man in the truest sense of the word; while the central aim of a Liberal Arts education is to further cultivate and harness the humanity of Man’s humanism.


65 Replies to “The Primary Purpose of the University is to Develop and Cultivate Critical Thinking”

  1. It seems the last thing our universities are doing is inculcating in our youth the tools necessary for critical thinking. The evidence being their willingness to drop everything the moment there is a call for a street rally to become cannon fodder for the multitude of political humbugs with an agenda. And the fact that the majority of today’s graduates are incapable of constructing simple sentences in the English language or even the vernacular. Also, our university students score consistently on the low end in international benchmarks. If the next generation is incapable of mastering the basics of learning, how then can we expect them to engage in simple discourse that involves more than rote memorization?

        1. The same argument can be made for call center agents. Or cruise ship staff. Or 3D animators. You didn’t mention any of those professions.

        2. i disagree… i’m still a bachelor’s student in cs and i take some part-time sys dev… and the salary and returns are also good…

        1. So…basically YOU are arguing that people shouldn’t take hard science engineering courses because YOU find them difficult and are incapable of taking up those professions. And that YOU are actually proud that YOU ARE TOO LAZY to work at anything that may require a lot of effort.

          I don’t know which is more appalling: YOUR implication getting a degree in Nursing is effortless or that LAZINESS is a virtue.

        2. At this point eduardo, you should realize by now that you are severely outmatched in terms of intellect here.
          Your post is full of FAIL just like YOU.

          Punk Ass / Are you listening / Can you hear me
          Or are you deaf and dumb to my language
          Do the real words / Seem to hurt you
          We put’em up motherf*cker
          Gonna feel it / when I stamp it / on your forehead
          So you will never forget that you’re a reject
          And you’re no one / And you’re nothing
          Little impotent one”

    1. you would
      no doubt so we can continue to export people and rely on foreign remittances
      the country needs ICT people, engineers and home grown businesses with added value. manufacturing is the key.
      creativity and entrepreneurs, not trolls without a job

      1. You know, I was hoping to elicit some valid — possibly intelligent — reasoning other than cheap labor export from this buffoon eduardo. I’m thinking it’ll be a cold day in HELL before that happens. Or the day his idol BS Aquino proves he is interested in the opposite sex.

      1. Just trying to keep in tune with this post’s theme of prodding readers to do some thinking. 😉 Even if it is an opposing view.

      1. Perhaps eduardo is still thinking of reasons why.
        Seriously, he takes too long to think of anything if we even pose some questions to him.
        I guess he is having a hard time using his tiny brain(if he has any)

  2. The title supposes that the Universities PRIMARY purpose is to cultivate ‘critical thinking’? WELL no…it just is not. If a student can not think critically prior to arrival at the University, the student should not have graduated High School.
    The University and a college education are basically to show an employer :A) the student/graduate has learned the lessons taught in the curriculum studied and B) that the student/graduate can take directions, show up on time…in essence, be a good employee in the chosen field of study. The student has not learned anything that someone else has not learned before and so the University is a prepping point for competency at the field of study chosen, and little else. After graduating and performing at the field of study in real life the degree becomes li’l more than ‘toilet paper’, u kno what you can wipe with it.
    if the authors statement were true, no one would need to go to the University. While Critical thinking is a must, it is usually taken (again) at the University as an elective (outside of the ‘major’ pursued by the student)and during the first year of studies( if not taken in High School).
    after ‘Physical Education’, one of the more useless degrees is ‘Liberal Arts’, same goes for ancient ‘ethics’. These courses of studies just don’t lead to a whole lot of employment opportunities which is why the vast majority of students pursue an education.

    1. “The university and a college education are basically to show an employer…”

      I think that’s where the problem lies in all of these.

      1. The mistake is Glenn’s assumption that universities are supposed to instill in its graduates behaviors that will mold them into perfect, servile automatons for the corporate world with little or no imagination. He completely ignores the fact that there are valid research and development programs in leading universities in the US, Europe and, yes, even the Philippines, that advance human knowledge. They don’t exist just to parrot back knowledge that was discovered during the Roman empire.

        At the same time, there is nothing wrong with universities producing graduates who will find their way into the corporations they work with or even sponsor college programs. It should be a win-win situation. The schools get funding for their educational programs and research and development. The companies sponsoring them get a ready pool of graduates for employee hiring. It cuts down on the aimlessness new grads experience right out of college when trying to “find themselves” by giving them direction.

        And, by the way, the critical thinking bit comes in when the time comes around for the student to finally decide if he/she WANTS to become part of the corporate machinery. That only comes about after the college experience provides the TOOLS for critical thinking that were not relevant in primary school or secondary level education.

        1. I did not assume the people were to become what you said they would become, I just did not.Critical thinking is employed by most people prior to the university, as in when they decide which university to attend, for example. Critical thinking begins to be taught in 5th or 6th grade, even sooner. Discernment of facts is a basic tool that people continue to develop.The author seems insulted by my comment, but it is he who purports the preposterous if he thinks that ‘critical thinking’ is the primary function of the university. it is not necessary to do as he has suggested and write a lengthy paper on the matter(oh yeah, and I’ll wait for his critique!i’ll be right over there!).
          People pursue educations to prosper at a chosen field of study, pretty simple.
          Whether it should be that way, or not, is a moot point and irrelevant to the specificity of the statement made, that I disagree with.

    2. Glen, I don’t know what the fuck is your problem and what the fuck is your point!

      You think you’re good?

      Then, why don’t you write an article about the subject?

      All you do is to post here your stupid, preposterous and impertinent commentaries which has no basis whatsoever!

      Write an article and wait for my full detail analysis and deeper commentaries!


      1. No, your an infant who resorts to insults when someone disagrees with you. I neither cursed nor insulted you. and will not do so now. YOU THINK you are a radical, but surely you are mistaken.
        You can call an apple an orange, but it is still an apple.

        1. Really? If I am an infant, then you are just a sperm!

          I am mistaken? Wow!

          Then, show that you are right!

          Give us your view, write your article and let us see!

          It is my view that the PRIMARY DUTY OF A UNIVERSITY IS TO DEVELOP AND CULTIVATE CRITICAL THINKING! You disagree with that, no problem, but don’t call an institution which does not do so as a university but a cemetery, a diploma mill or a barracks!

          There’s a difference between us!

          Your concept of university is a complete opposite of mine!

          I teach not simply to earn a living, teaching is my life! My duty is to teach my lads to THINK FOR THEMSELVES! TO THINK INDEPENDENTLY, NOT MERELY HOW TO THINK!

          I will wait for your paper!

        2. I already did, and a full essay is not necessary. The difference between us is I do not insult those who disagree with me, just because they do so. The useless nursing degrees (that were supposed to prepare the nursing students for jobs as nurses in those places, failed to do so. Most ended up as orderlies, with their Filipino nursing degrees wiping their patients asses! OK? get it now, dip-shit!) that can’t pass for one in the USA/Canada/Europe is but ONE example of the degree mills that almost all schools in the filippines are, and I do not give a shit if you disagree.
          if it pleases ME, I won’t read anymore of your ridiculous essays.
          The difference between you and me? YOU make ME laugh! radical philosopher and all,LOL!!!

        3. Yeah, I get it now, Mr. Deep Shit! You studied just to be a worker! So, go now to your factory or corporation and work!

          You are not a human being but a mere appendage of the machine! What a shame!

          PS: Deep shit, don’t forget to clock out ha? Why?? Because your bloody company may deduct some time from the labor that you’ve rendered! Enjoy your being a wage slave!

        4. u do not know me, and I do not work for anyone.and you are the employee of a university, so who is the wage slave, huh?

          People, just ask a few, attend universities to go out and become productive members of society.
          While others become ‘university men’ and sit on their ass’s and teach because they can’t do anything else. and still others become arrogant in their cushy surroundings and have the nerve to call others names while referring to themselves as, among other things, ‘radical thinkers’ and ‘revolutionary teachers’. Ur insults make me laugh (for more than one reason) even harder at you because you think you know what is going on when, in fact, you haven’t got a clue.
          Critical thinking just is NOT the primary purpose of any university I ever attended, nor anyone else I know, so stop kidding yourself.
          Just because the university preps students for the real world of working in a chosen field to become productive members of society does not make it wrong, nor does it support your position.
          I was not going to answer any more of your insults but your suppositions about what you think I do and how I live my life are just plain wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.and those statements are just more clueless suppositions by you.You can not deny that you do not know a thing about me, regardless of whatever it is you think you know.
          btw, there is nothing wrong about working for a living. You and your high-brow attitude would get you a G.F.B. where I grew up if ya barked that B.S. at any working man.
          You should be a comedian, coz ya make me laugh.

      2. @ Jose Mario DV

        In your own words, what exactly is critical thinking? What is a radical philosopher and a revolutionary teacher as you claim you are?

        In this day and age you can not raise a family romantisizing about how great the golden age of philosophy was. I think it’s time for you to fast forward your time clock and say hello to the 21st century.

        1. @la702

          Say your words to the Occupy Movement! Tell that to the Global Anonymous Movement!

          You should say hello to the global financial crisis, which is the distinctive feature of your 21st century!

          Also, say your words to the parents of that University of the Philippines student who committed suicide because she cannot pay the bloody fees!

          I understand that you don’t know what critical thinking is, because you belong to the 21st century; while I still belong to the Enlightenment Age.

          On that score, you will never ever understand a radical philosopher like me and you will never ever appreciate the value of a revolutionary teacher, despite the fact that the salary is so meager and the condition of the ground is so harsh, hard and a complete struggle!

          It is on that sense too, that I will never ever understand your 21st century! Whatever the hell that means!

      1. “Univeristy == Corporate’s Factory”

        Oversimplification. This is Glenn’s original position — the “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (and grade school, and high school)” point of view. It’s an unfair characterization and offensive to anyone who got their direction at uni.

        1. Not really John. Being an employee is but one thing a person can be with a degree from a university. Spelling all of the things one can do is beyond the scope of this article.
          The single point I am making is that the primary purpose of the University IS NOT what the author states, that is it. The illustration used is but an illustration to counter-point the statement made by the author.
          It is a must to critically think, but it is not the primary purpose of the University.

        2. I’ll put it another way. The uni experience can be valuable in spite of what course the student pursues. You may start out taking up a business degree and end up in fine arts. Or you may drop out altogether and pursue a technical vocation. And there are those who stay the course and work in their chosen fields.

          Success (or satisfaction) is greatest when the educational system of the uni (both its people and its programs) inculcate in the individual the skills necessary to live their lives, to think critically, and the tools necessary to learn. Whether the student finishes his degree is secondary if he/she in the end is a well rounded person.

          You can argue that people need to learn those skills during their formative years or should learn them from their parents. The reality is that for most of us, it isn’t until we participate in the singular experience of something like uni life that these skills are forged. And these are likely the ones that will define us as individuals throughout the rest of our lives. That is why more than technical capability and academics, experiencing life in the university forms the whole of a person’s education at this stage of life.

  3. What I have learned from my AB Humanities in Ateneo is that humans are so flawed and fallible that they shoot themselves in the foot. That is what most classic literature and Great Books seem to tell me: the mistakes and sufferings of man are mostly their own doing. That especially applies to Filipinos. If humans don’t shape up, we’ll continue to see all the world evils propagate as they please.

  4. dumb lazy scmuck
    clueless about everything
    the personification of why the country is in a mess
    at least he gives people a laugh and demonstrates the idiocy inherent in those without education

    1. You are the mess. Look at Japan. They are a first world and developed country because they are united as one. Not like you, inggit sa mga nagawa ng kasalukuyang rehimen at ayaw pa sumanib sa tama.

      1. Masasabi mo bang tama parin ang kasalukuyang regime ni panot? Eh sa simula palang ng term niya puro kapalpakan na.

        You really are a stupid sack of shit, no wonder you always get your ass kicked here.

      2. i doubt you have ever been to japan – i have
        you compare chalk and cheese
        and they do not have dumb schmucks saying the future is to train nurses!!
        they are technology and innovation based
        it really is like talking to a 6 year old.
        now get back to mummy, or better still learn something rather than keep displaying your idiocy.
        what a plonker
        bottom of the heap and too stupid to know it.
        ignorance is bliss in your sh!t hole clearly.

      3. The Japanese did shoot themselves in the foot: in World War 2. They learned the lesson and decided that intentionally building up on “Japanese Pride” was not the way. Instead, they took on western influences, such as industrialism and popular culture, and churned out industrial giants and the manga/anime phenomenon.

        But they’re not as united as you think. I believe Japanese have a lot of dissension and disagreement among themselves too. They just know how to succeed DESPITE that. Unlike Filipinos who have insane insistence that they see everything eye to eye.

      4. Sa kultura iyan. You never realized that we are a dysfunctional people with a dysfunctional culture.

        Also, you’re a filthy liar. The country was never united to begin with. Back then, Main-ila had issues with the Spanish. Visayas followed. Mindanao could give two rats a&&es and held their own well. And it still happens to this very day, with the same people sitting in the imperial city of Manila who think everywhere in the Philippines should be like what Manila is.

        Inggit ka lang, in fact, that’s because we are critical thinkers. Pakiusap, mapapahiya ka lang sa mga ginagawa mo. Huwag ka na lang magsalita dahil WALA KANG ALAM. 😛

        I’m sure hindi ka na magsasalita after this. That will please me, a LOT. 😀

      5. I’ll add that what help Japan succeed is because they know how to add value.

        Japan has a low natural resource [1] so one will wonder how on earth they’ve rise. It’s because Japan import raw material, add value on them (i.e. create finish product like cars, electronics, etc.), and export them.

        Here’s an article [2] that shows how one nation becomes rich.



  5. I like Philosophy and related studies that induces critical thinking. But relegating such learning in the four corners of the classroom (which sounds more like cementing a worlview through the “theories”) is something that must be re-evaluated by the academia in general. I am also critical of Humanism especially atheistic humanists,(guys like Sartre) because these guys have ideas that only self-deluded bastards can believe on. A notable one would be on the issue on the meaning, value and purpose of life in relation to the existence of God. It would be best that the academia be critical to itself first and be honest on itself before it even preaches to the masses of its “wisdom” and “knowledge.” To be honest, I have a great degree of frustration to the academia especially on the field of biological sciences. The worldview comes first to most of these guys before the scientific evidence.

  6. Your fine article would not have called forth any comment in the Britain that I grew up in – we “saw these things as self-evident”.

    But I have slowly come to think that the liberal arts and the humanities can only be of value if they are well taught, and that in the scrabble for employment a degree in physics, medicine or engineering is more likely to pay off in financial terms. I have encouraged my children in those directions whilst relying on myself to ensure that they are none the less “well read”.

    1. Andrew, why the issue is always employment? Ha?

      How about living a virtuous life?

      Why always money? How about values and morality and ethics?

      1. Jose – good point!

        Perhaps there is a collective failure of nerve, in the face of glum economic prospects and global overpopulation, or perhaps – and I think this is quite likely – there has been a coarsening of our society, globally. Perhaps our culture is really in decline?

        (Or perhaps I should stop reading Gibbon?)

        1. I think the steady deterioration of human culture was evident the moment they started airing “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” This current generation actually embraces and celebrates apathy.

        2. Andrew, all your answers are correct, just want to add that our global problems as a whole are also manifestation of an unjust international economic system!

          We have to return to our basic human roots!

          PS: Though, I am no fan of Gibbon, don’t stop from reading him!

          We have to read everything!

          Our duty is to improve ourselves — continuously!

          Warm regards!

  7. I favour Glenn’s approach very much. But I want to take it one step further. I think that its the duty and task of parents to prepare their kids for the hard, mean & harsh outside world. Kids should be taught how to defend themselves (the first step towards how to “debate”).

    1. Shouldn’t the first step be inculcating in your children an ideal to believe in? They need to have some THING to defend. I mean before you go on teaching them how to debate and defend themselves. Isn’t it the best approach to create a foundation in our youth that teaches them to be open to new ideas yet able to discriminate based on a set of core values without being chauvinistic or biased?

      Incidentally — I believe the idea the author was going for is that the student’s time at uni is best served by the school doing its utmost to develop tools in the individual that enable them to make their own decisions. Not handing out academic credits for a course elective. If course credits were the only reason then the parents wasted time and money sending their children to college.

      1. @Johnny,

        Of course that is the foundation of how to defend one’s self. Something to defend can be self-esteem, self-worthyness, self-actualisation, self-confidence. And also to show the kids that arguments should be valid and have merit. And sometimes its not worth to defend one’s self (to debate with others) by standing above all parties and say nothing anymore especially when the other party/parties is using non-sense arguments.

        1. To add: partents should also teach their kids to be critical and to encourage to do research and not taking things for granted. So that they can add more (common) knowledge. In short: to learn to think outside the box.

        2. At school in a small town in Mindanao, the girl who in due course became my wife stuck her hand up in Religious Education class and asked, “Please, who wrote the Bible?”.

          She was sent out of the class.

          The effect has lasted the rest of her life! 😉

        3. And this is where I have to disagree with Glenn. The best uni education is supposed to hone and temper the skills that have been planted in the child’s formative years and expanded during his/her secondary education. In a lot of cases, college courses can completely transform an individual’s thinking. Although in most of the cases I’ve encountered, it’s usually the influence of a specific teacher that accomplishes this and not the educational system.

          If the uni just churns out robots without the proper context for framing the knowledge it imparts to the student, it isn’t a very good institution for learning after all.

  8. sir, i just want to tell you how much i admire you and your political and economical point in life

    that is all

  9. @Andrew,

    I am not shocked that that happens in Phili. Its probably a sign of disrespect to the teacher (and the writers of the bible) to ask such a critical question.

    Most poeple in Phili cant handle such critical questions. I think that is the real sign of poverty, mental poverty. And a sign of poor education.

    Pls promote and keep on encouraging such behavior as done by your partner. In the end she will be victorious.

  10. @Johnny,

    are there no PTE’s where the behavior of a teacher can be put on the table? During my years as a college student, we – together with all other class presidents – we made sure one teacher got sacked bec of poor teaching qualities. Power to the students!!!

  11. From reading the comments above, and any other comments, i always wonder, why is it that arguing and destructive debate is always present? Is it inherent, even for the so called intellectuals, to prove that they are really intellectuals? I wonder if the energy spent on criticizing each other’s opinion can really help our country. In my opinion, to form a good solution, everyone must discuss in a healthy manner, not proving to one’s self that he is smarter than the other.

  12. “The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, The Catholic University of the Philippines”

    Isn’t it such an oxymoron, mates? Hehehe!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.