Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What exactly do people think people in the Humanities do with their time?

David Brooks at The New Yorker explains how only science can help make the next generation less shallow, "filling the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy."

Wow -- good to know how much of my time I've wasted as a scholar and teacher in the humanities. And here I thought I'd been teaching texts, skills, and personal-interactive habits that aided in the understanding of other people and underlying patterns of thought, action, and writing; the recognition of shortcomings (intellectual and otherwise); and the imagining of alternate futures, not to mention the actual pasts that make them possible even to imagine, much less attain. I wish The New Yorker had told me back in 1994 that only science, and none of the other disciplines that explore "emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding" -- not to mention attachments, imagination, empathy, perception, discernment, meaning, and the importance of "the mental virtues that lead to practical wisdom" --  could tell us anything of value about humanity. I certainly wouldn't have wasted my time studying, writing, and teaching in the humanities. How dare we even call them that?! I'd have stopped studying religion, philosophy, and literature, and I certainly wouldn't have bothered becoming an ethicist.

Alas, too late for me to avoid those wasted years. But, now that I've heard of this new study of human nature -- something our so-called-humanities obviously have no interest in -- I'm sure I'll have no problem living the type of emotionally active, critically engaged, imaginative, social existence in question. Of course, which emotions, in what measure, when, and with what limits? How do I choose what to engage with and how? How do I know whether my imagination has left something important out, or clung to an unnecessary assumption? Too bad there's no way for me to learn about what others have thought of these questions, to encounter both texts and actual human beings that push me to ask them, and to attempt to articulate an answer, even when the issue is more complex than which gelato to have. I suppose I'll have to wait until science can do that.

No comments:

Post a Comment