Henry Newman's The Idea of a University is a landmark in the field of education. His definition of knowledge or education is truly unique. He treats it philosophically and scientifically rather than emotionally and fancifully. He does not see the subject, like Bacon, from the viewpoint of a utilitarian or pragmatic or expedient thinker. He sees it both realistically and spiritually. His main objective in defining knowledge is the enlargement of mind, the widening and cultivation of intellect and the purification of thought.
Knowlwdge: according to Newman, "knowledge is a state or condition of mind". Such knowledge is the permanent attribute of mind. In this essay, Newman is of the opinion that knowledge is something which is a power. He says. "I only say that, prior to its being a power, it is a good; that it is, not only an instrument, but an end. I know well it may resolve itself into an art, and terminate in a mechanical process, and in tangible fruit; but it also may fall back upon that Reason which informs it, and resolve itself into Philosophy. In one case it is called Useful Knowledge, in the other Liberal"
He thinks that knowledge is a complete whole. It is the overall ideas of a person over all the branches of it. Newman thinks all branches of knowledge are bound together. They are not isolated, separated and independent from each other. Since one God has created the whole of the subject matter of knowledge. All branches of knowledge are inseparably connected. And this inseparable knowledge of all branches of it is called knowledge. Newman says, "all branches of knowledge are connected together, because the subject-matter of knowledge is intimately united in itself, as being the acts and the work of the Creator."
Relation between Knowledge and Learning: Knowledge and Learning are deeply interrelated. When various learnings are assembled together, they take the form of knowledge. As various branches of trees, make a complete knowledge, various branches of learning make a whole knowledge. While knowledge is a whole, learning is a part of that whole. Newman calls this learning mere knowledge while he calls the complete form of the various branches of learning liberal knowledge.
Now the question is how the knowledge of various sciences can be achieved. According to Newman a University can play a vital role in this respect. In fact a University offers ample opportunity to acquire multiple types of knowledge even if the student "can not persue every subject which is open to them". Actually in a University, students of various subjects, professors and experts of various sciences very often and very naturally assemble together and exchange views and opinions regarding their studies and knowledge. Thus they can get the correct notion of their own pursuits. Thus the people think that a University is a place for acquiring a great deal of knowledge on a great many subjects.
Types of Knowledge: He shows that there are two methods of education/knowledge: they are philosophical and mechanical.
He says, "here I do but say that there are two ways of using Knowledge, and in matter of fact those who use it in one way are not likely to use it in the other, or at least in a very limited measure. You see, then, here are two methods of Education; the end of the one is to be philosophical, of the other to be mechanical; the one rises towards general ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is particular and external"
Newman finds his ground in favour of philosophical or liberal education. He says that liberal education is "the business of a University ". The function of liberal education is mental rather than physical. It is not characterized by physical instruction. It is the exercise of inner faculty, the cultivation of the intellect. It is the exercise of reason and of mind. The target of liberal education is not to produce geniuses or heroes like Shakespeare,
Newman points out that the function of a UNIVERSITY education is to produce a group of people who are literate and cultured. The main purpose of University education is to produce gentleman who are full of common sense and who could be master of any situation.
Newman, on the other hand, stands against the mechanical education method which gives preference of instruction and aims at immediate outcome of the process. But Newman does not consider the type of education as knowledge: "I only say that, prior to its being a power, it is a good; that it is, not only an instrument, but an end. I know well it may resolve itself into an art, and terminate in a mechanical process, and in tangible fruit; but it also may fall back upon that Reason which informs it, and resolve itself into Philosophy. In one case it is called Useful Knowledge"
Aim of Liberal knowledge: the liberal knowledge or knowledge of various posts of branches helps a man to comprehend the outlines of knowledge. All these things ultimately make him independent, confident, calm, cool and wise. NEWMAN defines these attributes or philosophical habits because these inspire precisely the value of every truth, which is anywhere to be found.
End of philosophical knowledge: According to Newman the liberal or philosophical knowledge "has a very real and sufficient end". Such philosophical knowledge is an end itself. He says that liberal education viewed in itself is simply the cultivation of the intellect. It's objective in the intellectual excellence. Thus by knowledge he means something intellectual. KNOWLEDGE means the capability of taking a view of things. It is knowledge which helps a person to see more than the senses. It is knowledge which teaches a man to examine what he sees argumentatively and logically. Thus knowledge is expressed through argument. Now it can be said that all the dignity worth of knowledge lie in its connection with reason. Here Newman says if any knowledge is good, it is knowledge impregnated with reason.