Farewell to Judgment

By Scruton, Roger | The American Spectator, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Farewell to Judgment


Scruton, Roger, The American Spectator


THE SCIENCES AIM TO EXPLAIN THE WORLD: they build theories that are tested through experiment, and which describe the workings of nature and the deep connections between cause and effect. Nothing like that is true of the humanities. The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart. Shakespeare doesn't teach us what to believe; he shows us how to feel- case by case, person by person, mood by mood.

As universities expanded, the humanities began to displace the sciences in the curriculum. Students wished to use their time at university to cultivate their leisure interests and to improve their souls rather than to learn hard facts and complex theories. And there arose a serious question as to why universities were devoting their resources to subjects that made so little discernible difference in the wider world. What good do the humanities do, and why should students take three or four years out of their lives in order to read books which, if they were interested, they would read in any case, and which, if they were not interested, would never do them the least bit of good?

In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities- women's studies, gay studies, and the like- which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they. And since there is no cogent justification for women's studies that does not dwell upon the subject's ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms. The inevitable result was the delegitimizing of English. Unlike women's studies, which has impeccable feminist credentials (why else was it invented?), English focuses on the works of dead white European males whose values would be found offensive by young people today. So maybe such a subject should not be studied, or studied only as a lesson in social pathology.

People of my generation were taught to believe that there are human universals that remain constant from age to age. We were taught to study literature in order to sympathize with life in all its forms. It doesn't matter, we were told, if Shakespeare's political assumptions do not coincide with ours. His plays do not aim to indoctrinate; they aim to present believable characters in believable situations, and to do so in heightened language that would set our imaginations and our sympathies on fire. Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is notpo/zizcaZjudgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty. And that is how you justify the study of English, as a training in this other kind of judgment, which leaves politics behind.

This other kind of judgment used to be called "taste." When the humanities emerged in the late 18th century it was in order to develop taste in literature, art, and music. And so it remained right down to the time of my youth. The central discipline of a subject like English was criticism, and you taught criticism by getting students to raise questions about their own and others' emotions, and by exploring the ways in which literature can both ennoble and demean the human condition. It was not an easy task, but there were examples to follow- great critics like R. P. Blackmur, F. R. Leavis, William Empson, and T. S. Eliot, who had raised the study of literature to a level of seriousness that justified its claim to be an academic subject.

The same was true of art history and musicology. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Farewell to Judgment
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.