The Case for the Humanities

There isn't one, anymore than there is an answer to the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Perhaps that is why everyone is having so much trouble coming up with a reason for their demise. It's the Marxists, John Ellis says (hat tip to millinerd). No, it's the departments and their ideals of expertise, says Mark Taylor (as reviewed by David Bell). But who says that the humanities were ever beating their wife (if only metaphorically) in the first place? It's a trick question. So I'm here to say, the next time that somebody asks you, "Why are the humanities relevant?", don't answer! You can't. The question (as Patrick J. Deenan has shown, hat tip to ProfMondo) is rigged. It's like asking humanity to defend itself for loving language and logic, music and art, wisdom and beauty. Why study the humanities? Not because they will make us better citizens (although they might). Not because they will make our lives physically more comfortable or enable us to build better engines or cure cancer. But because one of the things that human beings do is reflect on what it means to be a human being and to wonder at the many forms of expression this reflection has taken. That's it. Take this reflection away and we might as well be robots. Or beasts. Comfortable, well-built robots or healthy beasts, to be sure, but no longer ourselves. Not human. Certainly not angels, who if they do not have bodies or minds, at least have the intelligence to reason. Now, as to why someone might want to pay someone else who has spent a lifetime thinking about language and logic, art and music, wisdom and beauty to help him or her share in this reflection, that's another matter. What price should we put on understanding ourselves as human beings?


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