An Intellectual History of Sophism versus Virtue
Chapter 4: Virtue and Early Academia in the US
At the time Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776 with its use of sophism to criticize English universities, the English colonies in America had been established on a sound economic basis. Moreover unlike England where capitalism as an economic system had to change the social and ethical world view of religion into a world view more in tune with a commercial society (Tawney 1998 and Weber 1958), early settlers in the colonies drew their motivation from economic gain as well as from religious freedom. Consequently when Christian and commercially minded men formed colleges, they started with a mission of virtue in terms of the maintenance of a religious worldview. This chapter will describe the rise of academia in the US during the period 1630 to 1860, when Christianity reigned supreme in educational circles. We will see that early colleges, using the endowment model of both public and private funds, offered an education that had the mission of teaching students what it meant to live a life of virtue as defined by Christians. We will also see, however, that during this early period civic and educational leaders followed Adam Smith and became advocates for sophism in academia. Even as they were using Smith’s sophism to argue for adding more competition to academia, economics was changing. In England Jeremy Bentham was setting forth a new model of competition based on utilitarianism. His model had links to sophism but when he applied it to education, he retained the endowment model....
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