Defense of the Humanities

Ok, time for the obligatory “defense of the humanities” post. I’ve more or less managed to put it off for about 15 months. But, it’s time.

Since there’s some debate about what exactly constitutes the humanities, I’ll give my list (there’s some crossover with social sciences): anthropology, classics, history, language, literature, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, and sociology. Not an all inclusive list, to be sure.

Why do these matter?

I have big three reasons and innumerable minor ones.

First, the humanities rarely reach definitive conclusions. The lack of definitiveness comes from the object of study: humanity. Since we are constantly evolving and changing on the socio-psychological levels, every aspect of our study of ourselves is continually evolving and changing. The lack of definitiveness also makes us more open to changing ideas, more able to shift how we think about things, and more adaptable in many ways.

Second, the humanities encourage empathy to at least some degree. Through studying the humanities, we learn to see things from other perspectives and other backgrounds. This is an immersive process as we delve deeper into other cultures, histories, and societies. This capability has many obvious uses outside the classroom – such as international relations, business (both domestic and international), and public relations.

There are also more tangible benefits. The clear one is that studying the humanities leads to a better understanding of people and existence. They also teach us how to conduct research, analysis, and interpretation in ways that other fields don’t. Not better ways, just different ways. They also teach us to think. Many other fields require graduate research that is basically being an assistant on someone else’s research project. In virtually all of the humanities, graduate research is the student’s from concept to publication. This is also a significant amount of independence. We also learn, after years of reading, to acquire, process, and analyze a lot of data efficiently because that is what we do for every class and writing project we undertake. Finally, many of the humanities teach us effective argumentation through closely studying writing and public speaking.

I’ve even read a number of articles in the last couple years in which top business executives say they favor humanities majors as hires over MBAs and related degrees.

But, don’t take my word for it. Check out:

Harvard Business Review

Business Insider

Forbes

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