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Intellect with values

| Monday, February 22, 2016

I learned a lot from my high school English teacher, but one of the most memorable pieces of advice he gave me was after graduation, when he spoke of the human intellect as a two-edged sword, often a temptress from a Christ-centered core. In our pursuit of knowledge, we can easily lose a sense of what really matters, namely our relationships with God and others. I’ve found this temptation to be a relevant issue for me in my first year here and wonder if other college students realize how easy it is for us to take intellectualism down the wrong path.

One of the defining qualities of Notre Dame is that the University’s pursuit of excellence is aimed toward something greater than the individual. It’s hard to keep sight of this mission in practice. Despite our best intentions, I think we all struggle with this issue and ought to give it more consideration as the most serious challenge of our vocation as students.

Man’s intellect is an astonishing gift. Through it, he has the power to improve his own condition, to alleviate the suffering of those around him, to grow in understanding of both God and his own self. It’s a big world out there with an unfortunate amount of suffering, but equipped with our own intelligence, we can come to grips with that world and help ourselves and others work through it. As Christ said in the Gospel of Luke, “to whom much has been given, much will be required.” Many gifts, often extraordinarily intellectual ones, can be found in Notre Dame students, and so it becomes even more important to consider the purpose behind our own academic pursuits.

We cannot approach our studies with an “anything goes” mentality, or we will abuse the great power that has been entrusted to us. There can be something dangerous about knowledge for the sake of knowledge. This kind of intellectualism is narcissistic in nature and takes us away from self-understanding or lives lived for others. This is where our societal individualism is taking us, toward a civilization based on one’s own accomplishments for personal glory and recognition. It’s time to get ourselves off that track.

It is our utmost duty to work for good in our day-to-day life and most especially with our intellect. While we can’t spend every moment of our lives saving orphans or curing cancer, we’ve been entrusted with a great responsibility to others, ourselves and God. In every academic pursuit, we have to ask ourselves, what will make this pursuit valuable?

In my eyes, a noble and valuable intellectual pursuit makes clearer our relationship with God or others; it sharpens our moral sensibilities; ideally, it helps us understand and improve the human condition. That’s an intellectualism with values, one that gives meaning to our time here on campus and inspires action as educated citizens many years after we leave.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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