05 July 2008

The Humanities

A debate over the role of the humanities, is underway, a debate that goes beyond the usual inanities on the subject.

Last year, Anthony Kronman wrote a book with the scathing title "Education's End."
His point was that somebody at the university needs to focus on the question of the meaning of life, and that the departments of art, literature, and philosophy have abdicated this role -- at the expense of the whole institution.

Stanley Fish replied with a piece on the New York Times' blog in January of this year, "Will the Humanities Save Us?"

The humanities, said Fish (in his usual icon-smashing mode) give pleasure to those who enjoy them, but they've been over-sold, they have no broad character-building role. Kronman's book is Fish's prime example of the over-selling. Its a pretty idea, Fish says, but there is no evidence that people who study the humanities lead better lives than anyone else in any recognizable sense of 'better,' so it isn't clear how they'd play the salvific role he postulates for them.

This led Wilfred M. McClay, in the Summer issue of The Wilson Quarterly, to discuss Kronman, Fish and much else.

More on this line tomorrow.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.