It is hard to see why any sensible person would enrol in a humanities degree at the present time. A common argument used to be that the humanities taught students how to think. A science degree transmitted knowledge in a particular discipline, while history, philosophy or English inculcated capacities of critical thinking that could be applied in many areas of life. The humanities embodied a freedom of mind that would be useful whatever students did after they left university.
This is not an argument that can be made today. “Critical thinking” has become a cluster of progressive dogmas, which are handed down as if they were self-evident truths. Students learn an intra-academic argot – intersectionality, hetero-normativity and the like — that has zero utility in the world in which they will go on to live.
They also learn that disagreement in ethics and politics is illegitimate. Anyone who departs from the prevailing progressive consensus is not just mistaken but malevolent. When enforced in universities, this is a prescription for censorship and conformism. What is being inculcated is not freedom of mind, but freedom from thought. Losing the ability to think while attending a university may be considered a misfortune. Incurring fifty or sixty thousand pounds of debt in order to do so looks like carelessness.John Gray, “Why the humanities can’t be saved” at Unherd
Unless, of course, the graduates’ righteousness has reached such a peak that they feel good about forcing everyone else to pay instead.
The main question is how this happened and Gray’s thesis is that liberalism itself led inevitably to the collapse of standards (which now threatens the sciences): “Many lament the collapse of standards of truth and evidence in higher education. But what is their remedy? To restore rationality, no doubt. It seems not to have occurred to them that this may not be possible. For the most part, those who lament the condition of the humanities are evangelists for the Socratism that has led the humanities to where they are now.”
Agree, disagree, read the whole thing.
Note: Your news writer (O’Leary for News) took Eng Lang Lit fifty years ago when it led to a career in teaching English language or literature, librarianship, journalism/book editing, or for some, writing fiction. But the world our courses catered to is gone. Unfortunately, so are its aspirations and standards. They will come back, of course, but in a different form, maybe in a different civilization.
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