Parenting in America   /   Fall 2013   /    Short Takes

Not Quite the Heart of the Matter

In June the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published a report titled “The Heart of the Matter” describing the fragile state of the humanities and social sciences in the United States. Evidence of the problem and the near- and long-term practical consequences that follow can be found everywhere. Yet there is a growing sense that in a struggling economy, the humanities and social sciences are mere luxuries.

This is a serious problem that must be addressed. The humanities and social sciences, the authors rightly argue, “provide an intellectual framework and context for understanding and thriving in a changing world.” This knowledge not only allows “citizens to participate meaningfully in the democratic process” but also enables “us to participate in a global economy that requires understanding of diverse cultures and sensitivity to different perspectives.” Thomas Jefferson himself couldn't have put it better....

in June the American Academy of Arts and Sciences published a report titled “The Heart of the Matter” describing the fragile state of the humanities and social sciences in the United States. evidence of the problem and the near- and long-term practical consequences that follow can be found everywhere. yet there is a growing sense that in a struggling economy, the humanities and social sciences are mere luxuries.

This is a serious problem that must be addressed. The humanities and social sciences, the authors rightly argue, “provide an intellectual framework and context for understanding and thriving in a changing world.” This knowledge not only allows “citizens to participate meaningfully in the demo- cratic process” but also enables “us to participate in a global economy that requires understanding of diverse cultures and sensitivity to different perspectives.” Thomas Je erson himself couldn’t have put it better.

There is, then, much to commend in the academy report. it’s clearly a move in the right direction. And yet it fails to acknowledge the many problems within the humanities and social sciences them- selves—the fragmentation of elds and sub elds leading to a lack of coherence, the often-frivolous nature of what is studied, the absence of judg- ment about what constitutes serious work, the openly ideological character of signi cant strands of work in these elds, and so on.

There is an even more troubling aspect of the report. The humanities and social sciences— rightly understood—ultimately address what makes us human as individuals and as communi- ties. Through these elds, we come to understand the human condition, what makes life meaningful, and what de nes the humane ideal. These matters are complex, to be sure, but they are always inextricably normative in character. We cannot understand the human condition—and therefore practice the humanities and social sciences well— unless we take the moral and ethical aspects of the human experience seriously.

While the report mentions the word “skills” 40 times, there is not a single mention of the words “morality,” “virtue,” “justice,” “truth,” “beauty,”

“public good,” and the “good”; only one mention of the term “common good”; and only passing mention of the words “ethics” and “religion.” By ignoring the intrinsically normative dimensions of human existence, the report ironically fails to address the real “heart of the matter.” Doing so, it sadly re ects the very same weakness plaguing many of the dominant theories and methodolo- gies in the humanities and social sciences.

see the full report at: <http://www.humanities- commission.org/_pdf/hss_Report.pdf>.

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