Skip to main content

The Aims of Higher Education

Problems of Morality and Justice

In this book, philosopher Harry Brighouse and Spencer Foundation president Michael McPherson bring together leading philosophers to think about some of the most fundamental questions that higher education faces. Looking beyond the din of arguments over how universities should be financed, how they should be run, and what their contributions to the economy are, the contributors to this volume set their sights on higher issues: ones of moral and political value. The result is an accessible clarification of the crucial concepts and goals we so often skip over—even as they underlie our educational policies and practices.
The contributors tackle the biggest questions in higher education: What are the proper aims of the university? What role do the liberal arts play in fulfilling those aims? What is the justification for the humanities? How should we conceive of critical reflection, and how should we teach it to our students? How should professors approach their intellectual relationship with students, both in social interaction and through curriculum? What obligations do elite institutions have to correct for their historical role in racial and social inequality? And, perhaps most important of all: How can the university serve as a model of justice? The result is a refreshingly thoughtful approach to higher education and what it can, and should, be doing. 

192 pages | 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Education: Education--General Studies, Higher Education, Philosophy of Education

Philosophy: General Philosophy, Philosophy of Society


“In this book, Brighouse and McPherson marshal leading philosophers to discuss not just the usual economic benefits of higher education (though that notion figures into most of the discussions) but also how morality and justice fit into it. Amy Gutmann, renowned for her extraordinary book Democratic Education (1987), begins the analysis by making a case for the liberal arts as necessary for any pre-professional education. Along the same line, the humanities are defended by other contributors as necessary for understanding the purpose and function of education. The contributors’ observations are lively, not defensive, and they do not require an either/or commitment. Other contributors in the volume emphasize developing definite character traits and skills in students and helping students learn which experts to trust; they also emphasize the need for student and faculty diversity—not just for signaling justice but for epistemological uses as well. Contributors also highlight the obligation that elite, private colleges (represented by most of the contributors, though they believe their suggestions fit public colleges as well) must ‘contribute to corrective justice.’ The book concludes with suggestions for future research on values in higher education. . . . Recommended”


“This collection of essays is valuable in reminding all of us that higher education both raises profound moral and philosophical issues and, at its best, encourages faculty and students to be more conscious of the importance of such issues, better prepared intellectually and personally to confront them, and, yes, wiser. These essays are also a useful antidote to the arrogance too often represented by strident assertions that ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ Issues of consequence rarely lend themselves to one-sentence answers.”

William G. Bowen, president emeritus of Princeton University

“With all the understandable attention being paid to the economics of higher education, it is wonderful to focus also on the many moral issues in play. Brighouse and McPherson—and their superb team of contributors—challenge us all to step back and consider ethical dimensions underlying how and what we teach, the distribution of educational resources by the government and by colleges, and so much more. What a provocative and engaging volume.”

Morton O. Schapiro, president of Northwestern University

“This is an ambitious volume, providing valuable philosophical tools to tackle three critical policy questions within higher education: What should the content of curricula and pedagogies be? Who should have access to college education? And what should be the relationship between higher education and broader society?” 

Danielle Allen, coeditor of Education, Justice, and Democracy

Table of Contents

Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson
One/ Introduction: Problems of Morality and Justice in Higher Education
Amy Gutmann
Two/ What Makes a University Education Worthwhile?
Christopher Bertram
Three/ Defending the Humanities in a Liberal Society
Paul Weithman
Four/ Academic Friendship
Kyla Ebels-Duggan
Five/ Autonomy as Intellectual Virtue
Allen Buchanan
Six/ Education and Social Moral Epistemology
Lionel K. McPherson
Seven/ Righting Historical Injustice in Higher Education
Erin I. Kelly
Eight/ Modeling Justice in Higher Education
Harry Brighouse and Michael McPherson
Nine/ Conclusion: Future Research on Values in Higher Education

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press