The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The End of the Humanities?

On March 1st, I commented on Stanley Fish's review of The Last Professor. In his review, Fish remarked that philosophy, literature, art and the other subjects of the humanities are not generally perceived as having practical use. Fish and others argue that they shouldn't.

But I think the view that study of the humanities is uplifting, but impractical, contains a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the practical.

Most students are not wealthy enough to go to college without a concern for a consequent career. This has been true in the U.S. since its inception. Before the G.I. bill and more recent, massive federal loans and grants, in the main, only the wealthy could afford to spend four adult years studying and not working.

Consequently, most college students need to learn knowledge and skills that will enable them to find lucrative work. They need to learn knowledge and skills that are immediately applicable in the workforce. 

But they also need to learn knowledge and skills (cognitive, emotional and social) that will enable them to make effective and excellent professional and personal decisions.

What those who push quick professionalization in college miss is the power of the humanities to affect professional life. 

Philosophy and art, to take two of the humanities, are of immense importance in human life -every life. Everyone lives with some kind of philosophy, whether they've identified it to themselves or not. And art, through literature, music, and the visual arts, embodies many different ways of approaching life. As such, art can be a powerful influence in shaping a person's approach. As Aristotle argued, music can teach the young the habit of how to feel.  The visual arts can embody ways of carrying oneself, and of looking at the world. Literature can show ways of living, and what men of different characters do.

An education including these studies makes the student more aware and knowledgeable about what choices and values are open to them. It provides a much higher level of consciousness about oneself, one's culture, and human possibilities.  It empowers the student to make better decisions in the long run. Better personal and professional decisions.

Thus, the spiritual and the practical integrate.

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