Monday, January 7, 2008


The warmish temps here on the island this past weekend convinced the son that fishing would be a good idea. Despite my caution that it might be a tad colder down by the seaside and the bountiful schools of fin were likely gone, sluggish, or holed up in deep water we did indeed pull out the tackle and walk down the road to the harbor.

It was all good fun until the repeated casting got boring, the action changed to pulling out creatures from the muck, the jeans got wet, and the sharp breeze off the water put a freeze on the whole experience.


So in the NYT today Stanley Fish [clever, huh?] had a few choice things to say about the Humanities.

Will the Humanities Save Us?


First, the title. Isn't Fish stretching for effect what people expect from the Humanities in the first place? How dramatic! "Save Us?" Look, the Humanities ain't gonna save us [whatever the hell that means] folks, no matter what. OK, so Fish admits as much in the essay.

Forget the title. Where Fish pushes buttons is with his suggestion that the Humanities don't hold a strong place, outside of themselves, in the academic experience. His overall stance seems to create a model for education that adheres to a vocational framework. Not that there's anything wrong with a vocational or skills education mind you. Look, if some dipshit plows into me and I'm spurting blood all over the twisted metal of my minivan, I don't want a philosopher on site ruminating on the effects of our hurried human condition. I need one dude powering up the jaws of life and another applying arterial pressure.

But what about this from Fish:

"Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say...."

The Humanities don't serve a larger good? Really? I'll admit that anyone would be hard-pressed to draw a specific line of "good" from a humanities classroom to some specific goodness out in the world that can be measured into a "larger" context [wait, and are we talking economic good only?]. But have we lost the corner of our intellect that suggests engaging our brains with the interesting thinkers and ideas from the past is a worthy good?


solobreak said...

Relax Fred. The poor dude is just suffering from mommy issues and a small apartment, so he's kicking you in the gnads.

Yeah, higher ed has never exactly been rooted in survival skills. Consider Fish a turncoat in the class war that hasn't fully broken out...yet.

solobreak said...

Oh yeah Fred, I didn't read it either. Sorry, online reg to read ads just irritates me. Used to be able to get around it by rejecting their cookie, maybe you still can, but I don't care enough to even make the 3 clicks. Anyhow, Francine also commented on this essay, if you've not seen it already. Party on Garth.

megA said...

hmmmmm will the humanities save us. . .


they can give everyone the ability to see things from multiple perspectives and acknowledge that there may not be one right answer.

there are still colleges like st johns in md that are strictly liberal arts.

most of those types of folks go on to graduate work that is more specific. and we all know that college is the new high school . . .