January 14, 2008

The Study of the Humanities

Here are two fascinating articles from the New York Times about the study of humanities, written by a professor of the humanities, Stanley Fish.

To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good.

As an English major I was very intrigued by his thoughts. I loved being a humanities student. Literary theory was one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given by any teacher or professor. After acquiring that tool I found that I enjoyed all literature, movies, plays and even art more. I loved being able to take a stanza of a poem and open it up like a treasure chest. My philosophy class in college drove me crazy - there were no right answers with Socrates - just more questions! And I had always been one who believed in a right answer. But as I continued to read and discuss and question I came to hold the freedom of interpretation supported by knowledge and critical thinking. Those were other gifts given to me by my humanities professors: the art of interpretation, knowledge to know the value of more knowledge and the fine tuning of my critical thinking skills. There are definite wrongs and rights of course, but what I think the motivation of a character is compared to what you think it is is not one of them.

I also agree with Stanley Fish and his commenter when they say that the study of humanities brings about more informed and interesting people. The kind you want to have dinner parties with. In what I hope is not a form of snobbery, my favorite conversations have usually involved a book, some wine, chocolate and another lover of the humanities.

So how did I end up married to a physicist? :)

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