UNDA Dr Clare Johnson: The wisdom of applying knowledge

30 Apr 2008

By The Record

Standing out from the crowd is not always easy. When a person applies for a job or admission into graduate school, or when they start to build their own business or enter into public service, any ‘edge’ they can gain over the rest of the field can be just what is needed to set them on the road to success and advancement.

Standing out from the crowd is something that comes naturally to graduates of The University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), because their tertiary education has required something more of them than just high-quality profession-specific knowledge and technical expertise.
At Australia’s only private Catholic university, UNDA students intentionally dedicate time in their academic programs to personal development of intellect, conscience and spirit.
Integrated into every degree program at UNDA, is the University’s unique Core Curriculum of semester-long units in Philosophy, Ethics and Theology.
The Core teaches students how to think critically and argue logically, how to challenge the status quo on issues of morality and principle, and how to respect the role of faith and spirituality in creating a just, free and fair society. 
In the spirit of the liberal-arts tradition of Catholic higher education, UNDA’s Core helps students to step outside their intellectual comfort zones through a learning process designed to help them to deal intelligently with unexpected challenges, to exercise right social conscience and to be receptive to the positive role that Christianity can play in Australian society.
The Philosophy Core unit considers questions like whether we should take personal responsibility for our actions, asking: Do we truly have free will?
If our lives are determined by our environment, upbringing and genetics, how can we be held responsible for our actions?  And if we are not responsible, then what is the point of praise for those actions that are worthy, or blame for those actions that are unworthy?
But, if we do indeed have free will, are we not then accountable for all of our actions, accepting whatever praise or blame we deserve? Philosophy utilises the Socratic Method of posing a series of questions designed to elicit answers that together lead to a position of logical soundness on particular issues.
The Ethics Core unit challenges students to consider how we can ‘know’ which actions are morally right and wrong, and asks by what standards we judge those actions to be right or wrong.  Ethics investigates why we act morally and whether this is a rational course of action.
Broader ethical theories are applied to practical case studies in which thorny real-world moral dilemmas are confronted, for example: under what circumstances can war be understood as a ‘just’ course of action?
How can the loss of human lives in war be justified morally?  Does the common good outweigh individual good? The Introduction to Theology Core unit studies key biblical texts, foundational questions of Christian history and theology, and the ongoing relevance of the Catholic Church today.  This unit explores ‘ultimate’ questions like: How did it all begin? What is faith?  Is there hope for sinners? What is the Kingdom of God and how can it be accessed? Can we believe in miracles? What purpose does suffering serve?  What happens after we die?
Addressing these confronting questions in an academic context challenges UNDA students to explore faith issues at a deeper level and to become aware of the importance of a faith perspective in the world.
The Core Curriculum trains UNDA graduates to open their minds to new ideas and to consider real-life problems utilising not only their profession-specific skill sets but also a range of intellectual, moral and spiritual tools that enable them to comprehend the world with a wide-angle lens informed by classical philosophy, virtue ethics and Christian theology. 
Employing the right knowledge at the right time is an act of applied wisdom, and this is what UNDA aims to train its graduates to do.

Dr Clare V. Johnson, Senior Lecturer in Theology, School of Philosophy and Theology, The University of Notre Dame Australia (Fremantle)