In a shockingly cynical piece, Milton scholar Stanley Fish contends that the humanities’ only purpose is to keep people like him employed:
…keeping something you value alive by artificial, and even coercive, means (and distribution requirements are a form of coercion) is better than allowing them to die, if only because you may now die (get fired) with them, a fate that some visionary faculty members may now be suffering. I have always had trouble believing in the high-minded case for a core curriculum — that it preserves and transmits the best that has been thought and said — but I believe fully in the core curriculum as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists. But the point seems to be moot. It’s too late to turn back the clock.
Fortunately, the commenters transcend the author’s misanthropy:
The humanities became irrelevant by trying to be scientific. It ought to be intuitive that there is no scientific basis for understanding the products of the imagination. The purpose of teaching the humanities is to teach us about ourselves, our values, our beliefs, and give us a sound moral basis for making important decisions. Unfortunately, the critics began to think of themselves, and their turgid theoretical constructs, as more important to the humanities than the authors, works, and noble ideas they professed to their students. The study of the humanities became an effete conceit that left most students with a distaste for perusing serious works of art and a preference for the shallow and generic. Good riddance to them. May those with a thirst for art in their lives discover them on their own in all their vitality and learn to revere them as their authors intended.
If we have to ask, “Will the humanities save us?” aren’t we lost already?
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