Let’s take it from the top: Why?

Of the five Ws we’re taught in school, the most important one we tackle in the humanities is why?

So let me turn that statement in on itself: Why study the humanities?

My professor at The Institute of French Cultural Studies at Dartmouth College put it best when he relayed a story from his graduate days to us. Someone asked in reference to his degree, “So what are you going to do with that?” He aptly replied, “Live a good life.”

While a degree in the humanities is not immediately associated with a large salary, it is associated with flexibility of time and a chance to live surrounded by the “luxurious” subjects. And, perhaps unexpectedly to some, the humanities are also connected to critical thinking, but I will explore that further in my next post. Also, as I learned from my ninth grade English teacher: isn’t luxury actually a necessity? Johns Hopkins celebrated 100 Years of Humanities in their Fall 2015 Arts and Sciences Magazine. Featured were the Gilman Hall renovation and biographies of alumni.

A physician might argue that reading Shakespeare or Cervantes never saved anyone’s life and an engineer might argue that nothing of value was ever constructed out of Plato or Socrates. Both are right; both are wrong. The products of the humanities are not material but they far from immaterial. We produce every time we sit down to read or write. We are relevant in our eternity. The Humanities are eternal by their very nature. One can not understand the work of Jacques Derrida without first returning to the ancients. Before you object that all subjects are pyramidal in nature, allow me to add that what sets the humanities pyramid of knowledge apart is the slower speed with which they are amended. This slower speed allows for ideas to marinade and come to a fuller fruition, as is evident in the writing process.

The bottom line? Take the time to get to know the humanities. And enjoy the luxury while making use of the critical thinking skills they provide. Isn’t it ironic and amazing that they can offer those two things simultaneously?

In that spirit, next week I will cover Fareed Zakaria’s In Defense of a Liberal Education.


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