The Death of The Humanities and What Should Be Done About It.

By Robert Hanna

“The Death of Socrates,” by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

***

You can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text of this essay HERE.

***

The Death of The Humanities and What Should Be Done About It

From the longstanding professional academic battle between “the two cultures,” namely,

[l]iterary intellectuals at one pole — at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists (Snow, 1959/2012: p. 4),

or more generally, between the arts or humanities on the one hand, and the formal and natural sciences on the other, one of these combatants has finally emerged as the permanent victor.

For the fact is, that contemporary college and university students generally hate the humanities disciplines — including the fine arts, history, English literature, non-English languages and literatures, and philosophy — and therefore are abandoning or avoiding them in droves (Barshay, 2021; Bradburn et al., 2022; Townsend and Bradburn, 2022).

The sharp decline in humanities enrollments in the USA, however, is only a surface symptom of a deeper malaise or predicament that’s not restricted to American colleges and universities, but is also worldwide, even in countries that might not be seeing actual sharp declines in humanities enrollments.[i]

Indeed, it’s time to admit frankly, first, that the “crisis in the humanities” (Schmidt, 2018) is over, not because anything has improved or even leveled out, but only because the humanities are now actually dead in the existential, sociocultural, and intellectual senses — i.e., they’re inauthentic, uncreative, irrelevant, and self-contradicting or at least self-stultifying, and second, that the humanities disciplines and their faculty, together with the other non-humanities disciplines and their faculty, administrations and administrators, and the students, themselves, have killed them.

I think that the principal causes and/or reasons for this sad and indeed tragic situation are fivefold, as follows.

First, there’s an all-pervasive dogmatic postmodernist relativism and radical skepticism about truth and knowledge, a hatred of science, a hatred of the Enlightenment, and a hatred of rationality, across all the humanities disciplines other than the social-institutionally dominant brand of professional academic philosophy — namely, post-classical Analytic philosophy — all of them marching under the Orwellian newspeak banner, DECOLONIZATION and POST-TRUTH.

Second, there’s an equally but oppositely all-pervasive dogmatic scientism and logical psychologism that’s self-contradictingly combined with logic-worship, within Analytic philosophy itself, fully mirroring a pervasive dogmatic commitment to the profoundly false and wrongheaded mechanistic worldview, across all the STEM fields — i.e., formal and natural Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — and their faculty, alike, all of them marching under the Orwellian newspeak banner, SCIENCE IS REAL.

Third, there’s an all-pervasive dogmatic coercive moralistic identitarian multiculturalist morality and sociopolitics, across all humanities and non-humanities disciplines and their faculty, administrations and administrators, and students, alike, all of them marching under the Orwellian newspeak banner, DIVERSITY, EQUITY, and INCLUSION.

Fourth, there’s an all-pervasive excessive reliance upon, use of, and valorization of — indeed, an addiction todigital technology, across all the humanities disciplines, but also fully shared by all other non-humanities disciplines and their faculty, administrations and administrators, and students, alike — super-charged, of course, by the adverse conditions of the 2020–2022 COVID-19 pandemic — all of them marching under the Orwellian newspeak banner, DIGITAL HUMANITIES, the METAVERSE, and the NET.

Fifth and finally, there’s an all-pervasive neoliberal ethos, valorizing technocratic corporate capitalism and systematically depreciating all other kinds of values, across all the humanities disciplines, but also fully shared by all non-humanities disciplines and their faculty, administrations and administrators, and students, alike, under the Orwellian newspeak banner of ENTREPRENEURSHIP, INNOVATION, and BEST PRACTICES FOR ALL STAKEHOLDERS.

The upshot of all this, is that the humanities disciplines and their faculty, together with all non-humanities disciplines and their faculty, administrations and administrators, and students, alike, have implicitly or explicitly and often scornfully rejected the very ideas of humanity, human dignity, and the human condition, as epistemically, metaphysically, morally, and sociopolitically robust, universal, and viable concepts.

But how could there ever be any authentic, creative, and defensible “humanities” disciplines without their being fully committed to epistemically, metaphysically, morally, and sociopolitically robust, universal, and viable concepts of humanity, human dignity, and the human condition?

This paradox is particularly self-evident in the not uncommon phenomenon of so-called “humanists” who also glibly self-identify as posthumanists or transhumanists (Gare, 2021).

Nietzsche said: God is dead and we have killed him (Nietzsche, 2001: pp. 119–120, §125).

Foucault said: since God is dead, then humanity is dead too, and they have killed each other (Foucault, 1970: pp. 340–343).

And I’m saying: since humanity, human dignity, and the human condition are all dead, and have been killed by the professional academy itself, then the humanities are dead too.

Now, what is to be done?

In view of the critical analysis I presented above, I strongly believe that there are twelve things that should be done, as follows.

1. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize postmodernism and its relativism, radical skepticism, anti-science, anti-Enlightenment, and anti-rationality,completely reject them, and then send them all down into the ash-heap of history.

2. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend a realistic and anti-skeptical theory of truth, theory of knowledge, theory of science, theory of enlightenment, and theory of human rationality.

3. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize post-classical Analytic philosophy and its scientism and logical-psychologism-&-logic-worship, completely reject them, and then send them all down into the ash-heap of history.

4. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend an anti-scientistic theory of science and an anti-psychologistic yet also non-logic-worshipping theory of logic.

5. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize the mechanistic worldview, completely reject it, and then send it down into the ash-heap of history.

6. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend an anti-mechanistic, neo-organicist worldview.

7. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize identitarian multiculturalist morality and politics, completely reject them, and then send them down into the ash-heap of history.

8. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend a theory of human dignity and a dignitarian morality and politics.

9. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize the excessive reliance upon, use of, and valorization of, digital technology, completely reject them, and then send them down into the ash-heap of history.

10. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend a theory of digital technology and its proper uses, and then act accordingly by controlling and restricting our uses of it.

11. We should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly criticize neoliberalism-driven technocratic corporate capitalist institutions of higher education, and then send them down into the ash-heap of history.

12. Correspondingly, we should carefully, rigorously, and thoroughly present and defend a post-technocratic-corporate-capitalist, dignitarian alternative to contemporary higher education — higher education without commodification — and then act accordingly by designing, constructing, and sustaining new educational social institutions that realize this alternative to the greatest possible extent.

If we did all of these things, then we’d have authentic, creative, and defensible humanities.

Of course, each and every one of these things is massively more easily said than done, although, whether taken individually or conjointly, they’re certainly neither logically, metaphysically, technologically, or humanly impossible, and indeed not even sociopolitically impossible.

Indeed, I and my philosophical collaborators have laid out the philosophical groundwork for all of these things (Gare, 2017, 2021; Hanna, 2006a, 2006b, 2008, 2015, 2018a, 2018b, 2018c, 2018d, 2021a, 2021b, 2021c, 2022a, 2022b; Hanna and Maiese, 2019; Hanna and Paans, 2020, 2021, 2022; Maiese et al., 2022).

All this preliminary work, in turn, collectively presents a comprehensive and original solution to the classical “two cultures” problem (Snow, 1959/2012) with which I began this essay, according to which the humanities and the formal or natural sciences, alike, along with the applied arts, applied sciences, social sciences, and religion and spirituality, are all included under a single multifaceted and multi-structured intellectual, aesthetic/artistic, moral, and sociopolitical culture, The Uniscience, in which “science” has the maximally broad sense of “an organized body of knowledge,” and according to which all of its constituent organized bodies of knowledge are epistemically founded on a single multifunctional method and mode-of-cognition, creative piety (Hanna, 2022b).

By way of clarification, and deploying some neologistic terminology and novel notions that are defined and defended in the preliminary work mentioned two paragraphs above, creative piety is

the meta-cognitive acknowledgment of specifically how it is that organic, generative thought-shapers radically restructure some or another determinate domain of representational content, thereby revealing new rich structures in that domain, as represented from a higher-order perspective, and producing correspondingly shaped human thoughts that are original insights with respect to that domain.

Creative piety has a multiplicity of modes, one for each of the many “organized bodies of knowledge” comprehended by The Uniscience.

But in each of its modes, creative piety constitutes a meta-cognitive Gestalt-shift and a “Copernican revolution” in human thinking.

More specifically, creative piety is the ultimate human cognitive source of all paradigm shifts and scientific revolutions in Thomas Kuhn’s senses of those terms (Kuhn, 1970).

In The Uniscience, as Blaise Pascal so crisply and lucidly puts it,

[w]e know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them. (Pascal, 1995: #110, p. 28)

I call this Pascal’s Dictum.

As I’m construing it, Pascal’s Dictum says that all science whatsoever — again, in the maximally broad sense of “an organized body of knowledge,” including the formal sciences, natural sciences, applied sciences, humanities, applied arts, social sciences, and religious experience and spirituality — has an essentially embodied, essentially non-conceptual, and essentially sensible (where sensibility includes desire, feeling, passion, and all forms of essentially embodied imagination) grounding in creative piety, which thereby also takes its place foundationally beneath (i) deduction, (ii) rational intuition, (iii) induction, and (iv) C.S. Peirce’s “abduction,” aka “hypothesis,” aka “inference to the best explanation” (Douven, 2017), as the fifth and most basic method and mode-of-cognition in all the sciences.

Creative piety is most basic, and indeed it’s a cognitive foundation for all of the “organized bodies of knowledge” comprehended by The Uniscience, precisely because the applications of any of the other four classical methods and modes-of-cognition — deduction, rational intuition, induction, and abduction — presuppose the establishment of some or another overarching Kuhnian cognitive framework or paradigm that shapes those applications.

In any case, granting me for the purposes of argument the sociopolitical possibility, and the philosophical grounding I’ve just sketched, for the realization of authentic, creative, relevant, and defensible humanities, one huge question remains, which is whether any or all of these twelve recommendations I listed above should be acted upon inside the professional academy as it currently exists, or outside the professional academy as it currently exists?

On the one hand, by virtue of having a small circle of personal acquaintances inside professional academic philosophy, together with having followed the online Philosophy in Europe list of professional academic philosophical conferences, events, jobs, publications, workshops, etc. (PHILOS-L, 2022) very closely for several months, I think that certainly there are some people inside the professional academy who would be onboard with some or all of my twelve recommendations.

But, on the other hand, by virtue of forty years of first-hand experience inside the existing professional academy, at all levels from idealistic, romantic undergraduate to angry, rebellious tenured full professor and early retirement (Hanna, 2020), I think that (i) because the professional academy is itself the killer of the humanities, and (ii) because too many people inside that destructive, deforming social institution have strong vested interests in things remaining exactly the same way they are now, for the foreseeable future, it will never, ever radically devolve and reform itself in the twelve ways I recommended, perhaps not even in one of those ways.

Therefore, these recommendations should be acted upon outside the existing professional academy; and if that’s correct, then the issue of economic possibility would naturally arise.

Or in other words, and more assertorically put, authentic, creative, relevant, and defensible humanities outside the professional academy are really and truly within our reach, provided that we secure sufficient funding.

— Failing that, however, and now riffing on Field of Dreams, we should just build them, and it will come.

NOTE

[i] For example, in Germany, where contemporary undergraduate enrollments in the Geisteswissenchaften — i.e., “humanities” or “human sciences” — subjects are only slightly lower than undergraduate enrollments in STEM subjects. I’m grateful to Andreas Keller for supplying me with this information.

REFERENCES

(Barshay, 2021). Barshay, J. “PROOF POINTS: The Number of College Graduates in The Humanities.” The Hechinger Report. 22 November. Available online at URL = <https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-the-number-of-college-graduates-in-the-humanities-drops-for-the-eighth-consecutive-year/>.

(Bradburn et al., 2022). Bradburn, N.Fuqua, C., Taylor, J. and Townsend, R.B. “State of the Humanities 2022: From Graduate Education to the Workforce.” Candid: Issue Lab. 22 April. Available online at URL = <https://search.issuelab.org/resource/state-of-the-humanities-2022-from-graduate-education-to-the-workforce.html>.

(Douven, 2017). Douven, I. “Abduction.” In E.N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer Edition. Available online at URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/abduction/>.

(Foucault, 1970). Foucault, M. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage.

(Gare, 2017). Gare, A. Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization: A Manifesto for the Future. London: Routledge.

(Gare, 2021). Gare, A. “Against Posthumanism: Posthumanism as the World Vision of House-Slaves.” Borderless Philosophy 4: 1–56. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/bp-4-2021-arran-gare-against-posthumanism-posthumanism-as-the-world-vision-of-house-slaves>.

(Hanna, 2006a). Hanna, R. Rationality and Logic. Cambridge: MIT Press. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2006b). Hanna, R. “Rationality and the Ethics of Logic.” Journal of Philosophy 103: 67–100. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2015). Hanna, R. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge . THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 5. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018a). Hanna, R. Preface and General Introduction, Supplementary Essays, and General Bibliography. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 1. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018b). Hanna, R. Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018c). Hanna, R. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 3. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2018d). Hanna, R., Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise. THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4. New York: Nova Science. Available online in preview HERE.

(Hanna, 2020). Hanna, R. “Consequences of Consequences: Against Professional Philosophy, Anarcho- or Borderless Philosophy, and Rorty’s Role.” Borderless Philosophy 3: 39–84. Available online HERE.

(Hanna, 2021a). Hanna, R., The Fate of Analysis: Analytic Philosophy From Frege to The Ash-Heap of History. New York: Mad Duck Coalition. Affordably available in hardcover, softcover, and Epub at URL = <https://themadduckcoalition.org/product/the-fate-of-analysis/>.

(Hanna, 2021b). Hanna, R. “Our Sociable Sociality: A Postscript to The Mind-Body Politic,” Borderless Philosophy 4: 57–96. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/bp4-2021-robert-hanna-our-sociable-sociality-a-postscript-to-the-mind-body-politic>.

(Hanna, 2021c). Hanna, R. “A Theory of Human Dignity.” Unpublished MS. Available online HERE.

(Hanna, 2022a) Hanna, R. “Six Studies in The Decline and Fall of Professional Academic Philosophy, And a Real and Relevant Alternative.” Borderless Philosophy 5: 48–130. Available online at URL = <https://www.cckp.space/single-post/bp-5-2022-robert-hanna-six-studies-in-the-decline-and-fall-of-professional-philosophy-48-130>.

(Hanna, 2022b). Hanna, R. The Philosophy of the Future: Uniscience and the Modern World. Unpublished MS. Available online HERE.

(Hanna and Paans, 2020). Hanna, R. and Paans, O. “This is the Way the World Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, and A Philosophy of the Future.” Cosmos & History 16, 2 (2020): 1–53. Available online at URL = <https://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/865>.

(Hanna and Paans, 2021). Hanna, R. and Paans, O. “Thought-Shapers.” Cosmos & History 17, 1: 1–72. Available online at URL = <http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/923>.

(Hanna and Paans, 2022). Hanna, R. and Paans, O. “Creative Piety and Neo-Utopianism: Cultivating Our Global Garden.” Cosmos & History 18, 1: 1–82. Available online at URL = <https://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/article/view/1017>.

(Kuhn, 1970). Kuhn, T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd edn., Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press.

(Maiese and Hanna, 2019). Maiese, M. and Hanna, R. The Mind-Body Politic. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Available online in preview HERE.

(Maiese et al., 2022). Maiese, M. et al. “The Shape of Lives to Come.” Frontiers in Psychology Research Topics. Available online at URL = <https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/25439/the-shape-of-lives-to-come>.

(Nietzsche, 2001). Nietzsche, F. The Gay Science. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

(Pascal, 1995). Pascal, B. Pensées. Trans. A.J. Krailsheimer. Rev. edn., London: Penguin, 1995.

(PHILOS-L, 2022). PHILOS-L Homepage. “PHILOS-L@LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK.” Univ. of Liverpool. Available online = <https://listserv.liv.ac.uk/cgi-bin/wa?A0=PHILOS-L>.

(Schmidt, 2018). Schmidt, B. “The Humanities Are In Crisis.” The Atlantic. 23 August. Available online at URL = <https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/the-humanitiesface-a-crisisof-confidence/567565/>.

(Snow, 1959/2012). Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures. Cambridge: Canto/Cambridge Univ. Press.

(Townsend and Bradburn, 2022). Townsend, R.B. and Bradburn, N. (eds.), “The State of the Humanities Circa 2022.” Daedelus 151. Available online at URL = <https://direct.mit.edu/daed/article/151/3/11/112685>.

AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 717

Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Monday 12 September 2022

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.