The Berkeley Institute was founded in 2013 to explore and pass on the enduring principles of reason and order that underlie intellectual and academic inquiry. These principles enable clear and generous engagement with contemporary intellectual and academic life. They can help students negotiate the diverse array of specialized expertise that confronts them in university study, to find the grounds of intellectual coherence in what they often experience as the fragmented and unrelated menu of courses they take there. And they can help students find productive relations between their intellectual work and their religious or moral commitments.
The Berkeley Institute is especially committed to preparing students for positions of academic and intellectual leadership. Its programs, for undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley and other area schools, help them achieve an integrated education and prepare themselves for academic careers through exploration of classical traditions and a sustained, open, and rigorous encounter with contemporary thought. By these means, we prepare them to join the life of the American university confidently, thoughtfully, and with integrity.
Finally, the Berkeley Institute seeks to form a community of scholars both at Berkeley and elsewhere to support these efforts and exchange ideas through conferences, and programs; and, eventually, at supporting the research of graduate students and younger faculty who promise to make a difference to the culture of American higher education.
In the last half-century, the American university has enjoyed an unparalleled success in producing and refining new knowledge. But it has quietly lost confidence in its capacity to find any grounds of coherence in it, or any forms of wisdom that could order it to the public good. As the many academic disciplines proliferate new forms of expertise, the academic profession as a whole has grown shy about spelling out the rational principles on which these achievements could be assessed, weighed, and valued in relation to each other and to the human good. And it has not even tried to shape an education that would train its students to recognize and use those principles in the service of integrated understanding or of human flourishing. The results are university faculty whose specialized knowledge outstrips their commitment to wide-ranging rational exchange; a student population that knows neither classical and religious traditions nor the arts of thinking they developed; and an intellectual culture whose wide array of specialized expertise often expresses a dull uniformity of received ideas.
At prestigious universities like UC Berkeley, students find an opportunity to participate in intellectual discovery of the most advanced kind. But they do not receive a comparable training in the intellectual principles that would help them organize and build on what they learn, to make it a means of achieving clear intellects, virtuous lives, and flourishing communities. Indeed, they often hear that such ambitions are naive, and that the deep questions they entail should be relegated to private taste or choice. In particular, they hear that religious and classically rational accounts of the human person and human ends are out of place in informed intellectual discussion. Such conventional and uninformed dismissals discourage robust discussion of basic questions. But they also keep students from acquiring the most enduring tools of rigorous, engaged, responsible thinking. Serious exposure to the intellectual giants of western tradition—to Thucydides, Vergil, St. Augustine, or Pascal, for example—often leads students to find a new confidence and independence in addressing the conventional assumptions that surround them. Such works can also be the basis for more extended formation in these traditions and their intellectual resources, so that they can move into, learn from, weigh, criticize, and contribute to contemporary academic disciplines with discerning and informed confidence.