I. The Persecution and Destruction of the Humanities...

at the hands of the sciences, engineering, and capitalism triumphant.

Myth or reality?

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the field of humanities includes, but is not limited to, the following subjects:
  • Modern languages
  • Classical languages
  • Linguistics
  • Literature
  • History
  • Jurisprudence
  • Philosophy
  • Archaeology
  • Comparative religion
  • Ethics
  • History, criticism and theory of the arts
Art and music left tangible evidence in the prehistoric record tens of thousands of years before we had writing and concrete evidence of history and philosophy, but the surely the impulses behind them are ancient as well.  The Western tradition in philosophy, science and history all have their origin in ancient Greek civilization.  Philosophy and science show their first traces in works of the Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, who seem to have sought for naturalistic explanations for the phenomena of the world.

Philosophy's greatest contribution seems to have been critical thinking, and under it's influence science rapidly took shape, finding its expression in the first truly great scientist, Aristotle, whose insights would not be decisively superseded for nearly two thousand years.  Only in the last few hundred years has science separated itself from philosophy.

It's commonplace today to hear of the decline of the liberal arts and the humanities.  Now that being a student typically involves piling on a lot of debt, students are eager to major in something that can pay the bills*.  So are the lessons of the humanities less relevant to the task of making one's way in life and, crucially, paying the bills?

I'm inclined to think so.  The defense of the humanities is usually stated in terms of their mission to help us understand the world, and our place in it.  That mission has been severely eroded by encroachment of science into the traditional roles of the humanities.  Do you want to understand human nature?  Maybe you should study Darwin, anthropology, and psychology rather than Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel.

The evolutionist George Gaylord Simpson rather infamously wrote:

“The question “What is man?” is probably the most profound that can be asked by man. It has always been central to any system of philosophy or theology…. The point I want to make now is that all attempts to answer that question before 1859 are worthless and that we will be better off if we ignore them completely.” ― George Gaylord Simpson, Tempo and Mode in Evolution
Over the top?  No doubt.  With a kernel of truth?  Indeed. (to be continued)

*My philosophy prof: "what's the difference between a Domino's pizza and a philosophy degree?  The pizza can feed a family of four."


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