Monday, October 15, 2007

What ails the humanities

Even a half-century ago, the question of life's meaning had a more central and respected place in higher education than it does today. Institutions of higher learning felt they had the right and duty to address, in an explicit and disciplined way, the question of how to spend one's life, of what to care about and why, of which relations, projects, and pleasures are capable of giving life purpose and value. The responsibility for doing this fell in particular to the humanities.

Since the 1960s, the humanities have largely abandoned this responsibility, under pressure from the modern research ideal. The result has been a deepening anxiety within these disciplines about the nature and value of their contribution to higher education. The culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past 40 years has sought to allay this anxiety by offering teachers of the humanities a new role as the champions of racial justice and other liberal values. These values are fundamental and worthy of support. But by converting them from political to pedagogical values, the humanities have not strengthened their authority but compromised it instead.
--Anthony Kronman, "Against Political Correctness: A Liberal's Cri de Coeur," Yale Alumni Magazine

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