Subproject 6

The Responsibility of the University for the Unity of Academic Knowledge

Project leader: prof. dr. René van Woudenberg


Universities are centers of science, as well as of the humanities. (From a continental perspective ‘science’ or ‘Wissenschaft’, of course, includes the humanities.) One aim of science, as well as of the humanities, is to provide us with knowledge and understanding of, and insight in, the world—these are among their deliverances. However, there is one world, but there are many academic disciplines, which raises the question how they relate. Since universities are places where the primary epistemic responsibilities are epistemic, universities have a special responsibility to develop views on this. The key questions of this project are:

  1. How, from an epistemological perspective, do the many deliverances of the sciences and the humanities relate to each other, and to the one world?

  2. Are universities responsible for developing and communicating views about how the deliverances of the academic disciplines hang together?

Since universities are centers of the sciences as well as of the humanities, it is one of the epistemic responsibilities of the university to have views on how the deliverances of the sciences and the humanities relate. This matter has received and virtually no attention from philosophers, ethicists and university officials. This part of the project aims to explicate why universities have this responsibility. This part is based upon the idea that, generally speaking, responsibilities are grounded in values, and that having a view on how the academic disciplines hang together is of (great) value.

This project, that enters the realms of abstract philosophy, will be made concrete by two case studies—one of the meaning of (written or spoken) words, and the other of a complex social phenomenon: the operation of a university. The aim of the case studies is to show that if we only use the conceptual framework of the natural sciences, these phenomena cannot in any meaningful sense be understood.