What are the Humanities for?

Humanities_wall_art05_20981Why study humanities? Once considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life, the humanities have slipped into endangered species status. The number of college students majoring in the humanities has been falling since the 1970’s and, today it is plummeting, according to a recent study by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Arguably, unlike the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), it is difficult to assess their impact on the GDP, employment rates or the stock market… therefore one might reasonably question: are the humanities worth it?

This is what John Horgan came up with while teaching a course at Stevens Institute of Technology:

If I do my job, by the end of this course you’ll question all authorities, including me. You’ll question what you’ve been told about the nature of reality, about the purpose of life, about what it mean to be a good person. Because that, for me, is the point of the humanities: they keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty (John Horgan, “Why Study Humanities? What I Tell Engineering Freshmen“)

Now, draw your own conclusions.


Featured Image: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Humanities Building Chalk Graffiti

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