Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Why the Humanities Matter Today: In Defense of Liberal Education

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Why the Humanities Matter Today: In Defense of Liberal Education

Article excerpt

As a professor of religious studies, I should be an easy sell for a book -titled Why the Humanities Matter Today: In Defense of Liberal Education. After all, even if the authors in this book of six essays do not speak directly to my dedication to the humanities, they should provide me with arguments to use in defense of the liberal arts or at least in defense of liberal education.

In the introduction, the editor, Lee Trepanier, states that many defenses of the humanities are "essentially religious arguments which are effective only if you happen to believe in them first." The same could be said of this collection of essays.

While some of the essays in the collection make points that would be useful in defending liberal education, the quality of writing is uneven. If you are interested in defending the humanities. Why the Humanities Matter Today will proside you with some good and original arguments to whip out in a debate. Anyone not already sympathetic to the cause, however, is unlikely to wade through these arguments in order to be persuaded.

The authors, all but one of whom are at Southern Utah State University, offer their own perspectives on why the humanities matter, using the methods and content of their respective disciplines. In one of the most compelling essays, "Is Philosophy Impractical? Yes and No, but That's Precisely Why We Need It," Kristopher G. Phillips undermines the argument that only practical subjects should be taught by using philosophy's careful parsing of language to point out that, when people make that argument, they usually do not have a good working definition of the term practical.

Phillips works through several definitions of practical, only to point out that, given both changing workplaces and the trajectory of knowledge acquisition, it is hard to determine what will or will not be practical. Referencing Sen. Marco Rubios comment that the United States needs more welders and fewer philosophers, he points out that we need far fewer welders than we did before automation and globalization. Also, centuries lapsed before Galileo's assertion that the earth moved around the sun was considered 'practical? knowledge.

Similarly strong is James W. I Iarrison's 'The Limits of Language as a Liberal Art? and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's 'Letter to Lord Chanclos,' which argues that a discipline's relevance lies not with the discipline per se, but with society - and it depends on how society wants to think and grow. …

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