Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education

Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education

Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education

Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education

Synopsis

How can higher education today create a community of critical thinkers and searchers for truth that transcends the boundaries of class, gender, and nation? Philosopher and classicist Martha C. Nussbaum takes up the challenge of conservative critics of academe to argue persuasively that sustained reform in the aim and content of liberal education is the most vital and invigorating force in higher education.

Excerpt

This book began from many experiences stored up from twenty years of teaching at Harvard, Brown, and the University of Chicago and from travels to dozens of American campuses, both as a visiting lecturer and as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Professor. During the latter program I visited ten campuses for three days each, in each case teaching three or four undergraduate classes (in either philosophy or classics) as well as giving public lectures to students and faculty and holding many informal office hours. The Council for Philosophical Studies has a similar program, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which I regularly participate. The aim of both programs is to bring speakers to campuses that might otherwise be unable to afford such visits. As time went on, I found myself comparing what I had experienced with what I read in books about higher education; frequently I felt that the reports did not correctly represent the overall situation in our colleges and universities. I began to express this discontent in review pieces written for the New York Review of Books and the New Republic.

My own approach was, and is, philosophical. I intend to argue for a particular norm of citizenship and to make educational proposals in the light of that ideal. But philosophy should not be written in detachment from real life, and it is therefore important to me to ground my proposals in understanding of current developments in American colleges and universities. This experiential basis is all the more important since the general public may well have internalized a picture of these developments that is incomplete or even seriously misleading. It seems important, too, to stress the variety of American students and colleges, in order to make proposals that would not be too abstract to be useful. This project neither attempts nor requires a statistical survey; it will not furnish data about how many college English courses study Shakespeare or how many institutions teach . . .

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