Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dying of the Humanities

Margaret Soltan finds the following comment in a discussion of the woes of Florida's higher education system:
"Poetry and philosophy and the rest do not put food on the table, solve global warming or do other things that improve our lives."

This reminds me that I've wanted to link to AHA President Gabrielle Spiegel's comments on whether anyone has ever "died of the humanities:"
"Anyone who says 'no one ever died of the humanities' has not thought much about what happens when states claim the right to define what humanity is, or who is good and who is evil, and therefore justify movements like ethnic cleansing. Given the current situation of the world, I can't think of anything more important than reaffirming the intrinsic humanity of all peoples, however different ethnically, religiously, politically, or even medically. The great and abiding task of the humanities is to cultivate appreciation for the immense variety of the ways that peoples and societies live and think. One of the reasons I like teaching medieval history is that, as the modern West's historical 'other,' it sounds this message on a daily basis, and demonstrates its deep truth in a thousand different ways. The notion that there is something that can be called 'a life unworthy of life' should become, quite simply, unthinkable. The humanities teach this most importantly of all the disciplines, in that they require an imaginative, not merely objective or logical, investment in their investigations."

Everyone has their own exact spin on this, but the common link is that the humanities matter because ideas matter. After all, the very fact that science today is seen as something that should lead to practical improvements in life, in other words, that the most important purpose of science is to produce technology, is an idea that developed over centuries.



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