Social Freedom as the Purpose of the Modern University

Shane O'Neill, Nicholas H. Smith

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    What is the fundamental purpose that justifies the existence of the modern university? The answer proposed in the paper is: the promotion of social freedom. The paper begins by distinguishing social freedom from negative freedom and reflective freedom along the lines proposed by other theorists of social freedom, such as Frederick Neuhouser and Axel Honneth. After noting the need for a more developed account of the university than has so far been provided by these other theorists, the paper analyses the various dimensions in which universities have, at their best, promoted social freedom. The paper then explains why it is through the promotion of social, as distinct from negative or reflective freedom, that universities fulfil their purpose. It concludes with some reflections on how this understanding of the purpose of the university fits an “immanent” model of social criticism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages23
    JournalPhilosophy and Theory in Higher Education
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


    • Purpose of the modern university
    • theories of freedom
    • social freedom
    • impact of research
    • immanent criticism


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