Who Laid Waste to the Humanities?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thomas Sowell, commenting on a recent editorial alleging that conservatives like to "trash" the humanities, offers the following rebuttal:

[Leftist] professors have trashed the liberal arts, by converting so many liberal arts courses into indoctrination centers for left-wing causes and fads, instead of courses where students learn how to weigh conflicting views of the world for themselves. Now a professor of English, one of the most fad-ridden of the liberal arts today, blames conservative critics for the low esteem in which liberal arts are held.
This reminds me of numerous similar comments made by Ayn Rand on that score decades ago, such as this one:
The disintegration of philosophy in the nineteenth century and its collapse in the twentieth have led to a similar, though much slower and less obvious, process in the course of modern science.

Today's frantic development in the field of technology has a quality reminiscent of the days preceding the economic crash of 1929: riding on the momentum of the past, on the unacknowledged remnants of an Aristotelian epistemology, it is a hectic, feverish expansion, heedless of the fact that its theoretical account is long since overdrawn -- that in the field of scientific theory, unable to integrate or interpret their own data, scientists are abetting the resurgence of a primitive mysticism. In the humanities, however, the crash is past, the depression has set in, and the collapse of science is all but complete.

The clearest evidence of it may be seen in such comparatively young sciences as psychology and political economy... [bold added]
That noted, Rand was clear that ordinary Americans -- her "man on the street" -- felt an understandable, but mistaken contempt for philosophy and the humanities as such, based on a passing familiarity with their twisted, modern versions. Rand was always careful to note the value of these fields, as she did with the title of her famous West Point address, "Philosophy: Who Needs It". Not all conservatives seem to hold this realization, and some even seem eager to cash in on the disaffection. Sowell is not among them, but I think there is room for him to criticize some of his conservative brethren.

-- CAV

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