IAJBS 22nd Annual World Forum Jesuit Province of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya

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Robert Brancatelli
Robert Brancatelli

A Tale of Two Prepositional Phrases: Business as 'Noble Vocation'

In the 1970s classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig identified two dimensions of every institution: the material and the existential (Pirsig, 1974). The material consists of tangible assets. For instance, a university occupies a physical location with buildings, laboratories, and lecture halls. As a legal entity, it also owns property, collects tuition, and sets academic and administrative policy. Its existential dimension, on the other hand, is intangible. This consists of teaching students how to think rationally, which, Pirsig believed, is the “real” work of higher education. A university is a “state of mind” whose purpose lies beyond brick and mortar, no matter how attractive the campus or fabled its history (Pirsig, 1974). The existential dimension is so important that Pirsig called the university a “Church of Reason,” claiming that “[t]he real university is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself” (Pirsig, 1974).