The worn out battles of “humanities vs sciences” have been fought a thousand times and yet, you can still pick up the scent of doubt about “true values” of humanities in the opinion pieces. I am looking at Will the Humanities Save Us?, Stanley Fish and the response by Dan Edelstein in here.
I am going to disagree with Fish when he surmises that the only answer to “what good is humanities for anyway?” is a form of humanities for the sake of humanities rationale, similar to the 19th century artistic movement, “art for art’s sake”. The idea being that such questions are so utilitarian that they only apply to sciences. Fish posits that attempts at finding practical justifications for the existence of arts and social studies fail to point to a solid product, the way a vaccine can be an epitome for science. But of course that is not true. I can think of examples where art and journalism have changed the course of history for the better. How forces of social awakening have secured rights for individuals where it not existed before. Perhaps most dramatic of all, human beings avoided a super-scientific total annihilation in the 60s through mutual tolerance and communication.
Let us flip the question. What good has science (in its isolated concentrate form) has done for us. And why not stretch the meaning of “us” just a little bit to include human beings, animals and the planet altogether because things start to look different at this level. We have eradicated the infectious diseases but we are still unable to convince parents to vaccinate their children (+). And all the peer-reviewed journals in the world are not enough to change a politicians mind about climate change. These doubts about liberal arts are absurd to me. As an engineer, I can clearly see how the positivist attitude of STEM can become completely oblivious to human condition. We owe it to STEM students an education that meaningfully connects them to their community and environment.
This post was updated after publication, apologies to the readers.