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By Kenneth Garcia (auth.)

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On the positive side, the Council called on Catholics to engage modern thought and culture, and to collaborate with their non-Catholic peers for the betterment of society. Catholic colleges liberated themselves from heteronomous church control, improved their academic quality, and adopted principles of academic freedom. There was also a negative side. Because Catholic educators did not have their own theological framework for understanding academic freedom— or better, didn’t employ the principles they did have in the tradition—they adopted the dominant secular principles, often uncritically.

16 Schelling attempted to create a system of knowledge, or meta-philosophy, that could integrate all the fragmented disciplines into a unity of consciousness. Take the natural sciences, for instance. 17 Knowledge of the finite in itself is impossible without also knowing the infinite soul that permeates nature. 18 Here Schelling is criticizing Descartes’s diremption, or division, of reality into two separate spheres—res cogitans and res extensa —without any intrinsic relation between them. This 40 Academic Freedom Cartesian view fundamentally changed humans’ attitude toward nature, leaving us with a purely mechanistic rather than an organic view of nature.

Is it not a settled principle that each academic discipline is autonomous, with its own defined subject matter and methods? Are scholars not free to pursue knowledge within their disciplines without taking theological concerns into account? Is not the modern university founded on this principle? The answer is yes, but a brief examination of the principle underlying the autonomy of the sciences is warranted here. 45 The sciences are abstractions conceived by scientists, who, in agreement with one other, have decided to focus on, and limit their inquiries to, a restricted dimension of reality.

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