Don’t Caricature the Humanities (Chronicle)

August 21, 2013, 11:57 am

By Geoff Shullenberger

Steven Pinker wants to save the humanities from themselves. In a bracing manifesto in The New Republic, he laments that humanists have consigned themselves to intellectual stagnation, departmental downsizing, and unemployment by ignoring advances in the natural sciences that could revolutionize their disciplines. He contends that humanist resistance to applications of cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to the study of history, art, and literature evinces a retrograde hostility to science and indeed the Enlightenment project.”

“Amidst a barrage of recent obituaries for the humanities, some wistful and some perversely gleeful, it is reassuring to hear Pinker declare that ‘there can be no replacement for the varieties of close reading, thick description, and deep immersion that erudite [humanist] scholars can apply’ and that the humanities ‘are indispensable to a civilized democracy.'”

The article seems as antagonistic (in some places) as Pinker’s “caricature” of the humanities. E.g.:

“While the humanities may well face extinction in a future dominated by this agenda, the sciences may thrive only at the cost of their soul.”

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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