IASH Intellectual and Literary History Public Seminar Series

Cultures and Values


Trivial Pursuits: Virtue and Truth in the Liberal Arts

The history of universities in the West from their beginnings in the late eleventh century, through the critical Romantic rethinking in Germany, and on to the modern models in America, Britain and Australia, shows several consistent binary features. Should a university be private or public? Is knowledge treated there as a means or an end? Is research or teaching its principal function? And most intriguingly, does it deliver to the student some kind of “virtue” (character, life-meaning), or some kind of “truth” (pure or applied knowledge): is it a place of value or a place of fact? To most of these questions, of course, one might answer “both”: but the binary still exposes some important fault lines. Can we still discern these fault lines in modern Australian or international universities? How do the Ramsay Centre’s plans for a new degree respond to these questions?


Simon Haines is CEO of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation in Sydney. He is also Professor of English at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and a founding Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. He is the author or editor of five books including the prizewinning Reader in European Romanticism (Bloomsbury, 2010, 2nd paperback edition 2014) and Poetry and Philosophy from Homer to Rousseau (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), as well as articles, book chapters and papers on subjects including Shakespeare  and recognition, Romantic poetry, the modern self, and time in philosophy and art. An edited volume on Shakespeare and Value is forthcoming (Routledge, 2018).


Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower (Building #1)