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To do so is to behave like a man who has fallen deeply in love and asks his companion if he might act on his emotions by measuring the distance between her elbow and her shoulder blade. In the modern academy, an art historian, on being stirred to tears by the tenderness and serenity he detects in a work by a 14th-century Florentine painter, typically ends up answering his emotions by writing a monograph, as irreproachable as it is bloodless, on the history of paint manufacture in the age of Giotto.

It was in the 16th century that the greatest anti-academic scholar of the West launched his attack on the bias of universities. Michel de Montaigne, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the great texts, nevertheless deplored the way in which academics tended to privilege learning over wisdom. “I gladly come back to the theme of the absurdity of our education: its end has not been to make us good and wise, but learned. And, to a large extent, it has succeeded.

“It has not taught us to seek virtue and to embrace wisdom: it has impressed upon us their derivation and their etymology. We readily inquire, ‘Does he know Greek or Latin?’ ‘Can he write poetry and prose?’ But what matters most is what we put last: ‘Has he become better and wiser?’”

So in idle moments, I dream of an ideal new sort of institution which could welcome Montaigne, or indeed Nietzsche, Goethe or Kierkegaard – a University of Life that would give students the tools to master their lives through the study of culture rather than using culture just for the sake of passing an exam.

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