This series of 6 lectures is intended for graduates and undergraduates interested in the challenge of how we best defend the work of the humanities in today's political and economic climates. The lectures offer a critical taxonomy of the ways in which advocacy for the humanities conventionally proceeds. Don't expect polemic. My aim is to put the arguments through their paces: to work out the strengths and weakness of each kind of justification, and to see what is left standing at the end.
A note on audience: the lectures should be as relevant to American as to British students. Many of the most influential contributors to the debate in recent years have been American. Part of my purpose, in the first two lectures especially, is to try to clarify the differences in the American and British education systems and political contexts and therefore in the kinds of defence available.
Intrinsic Value, or Value for Their Own Sake
Sixth and final lecture First lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the philosophical idea of intrinsic value, or the humanities as valuable for its own sake. Most of the other justifications treated in these lectures are consequentialist, resting on a conviction that the humanities have good effects in the world by their impact on our cultural life, our happiness, our politics. That consequentialism will be attractive to anyone tasked with demonstrating the humanities' public benefit, but it neglects what has often been thought of as the 'intrinsic value' of the objects studied. This lecture works closely with philosophy of value to describe the difficulties in the way of securing claims to intrinsic value. It explores some of the most influential of recent efforts to hang onto the term-including critical and poetic writings by Geoffrey Hill. It then develops in its place a more readily defensible claim that the areas of study we now call 'the humanities' have value 'for their own sake'. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Democracy Needs Us
Fifth lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the idea that a flourishing democracy needs the Humanities. This is the most ambitious argument now regularly heard for the humanities in Britain and more widely-close to a piety for many of their advocates. It has a proximate source in the American liberal arts tradition and prominent recent exponents in Martha Nussbaum, Geoffrey Harpham, and (in the UK) Francis Mulhern. Its longer roots lie in Socrates' claim to be 'a sort of gadfly, given to the polis'. This lecture puts the argument to the test, examining the strengths but also the weaknesses of the claim, and making a case for adapting and modernizing what was, in its origins, a description of the philosopher as isolated agitant (not, as it now needs to be, a description befitting institutionally-based professionals). Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
The Humanities' Contribution to Happiness
Fourth lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the Humanities' contribution to happiness. Lecture 4 explores the claim that the humanities have a contribution to make to our individual and collective happiness. This may be their least trusted line of defence now, within the academy, but it has a distinguished history and renewed topicality within government at the time of writing. Efforts to understand gains to the public good in ways that go deeper than economic benefits have received serious attention in recent years, and there have been warm encouragements to think of the emotions and passions as, themselves, goods. The lecture works closely with the philosophy of John Stuart Mill in order to lay out the grounds for a qualitative hedonistic argument for the humanities-testing its weight as a means of rebalancing arguments that stress too exclusively the humanities' critical function. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
How Useful are the Humanities?
First lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the ideas of use and usefulness in the context of the value of the humanities. There is an old line of argument that the humanities are necessarily (even laudably) useless, or at a remove from accounts of practical ends and economic utility. This has been a common line of resistance to political economists from Adam Smith onwards who have stressed usefulness as a desirable aim of publicly funded education. More recent advocates for the humanities have worked hard to invert the long-standing defence, demonstrating that they make a significant contribution to the knowledge economy and to the economy proper. The first half of this lecture explores the changing disposition of humanities advocates to the idea of instrumentalism. The second half treats Matthew Arnold's efforts to find a route out of the familiar structural opposition between use and uselessness- reading Culture and Anarchy (1869) alongside the reports Arnold wrote during the same period as an Education Department inspector of schools and universities. For Arnold, a controlled appeal to 'use' entails a point about public values, but also a point about the language in which we debate and uphold such values. I argue that Arnold's conclusion retains validity, and need not bring in its train his high-cultural assumptions. In short, I make a case for a 'modern Arnoldianism' with respect to use value. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
Distinction (the distinctive character and work of the Humanities)
Second lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses how the humanities is distinct from other academic disciplines. This lecture pursues a definition of the humanities that can accurately account for the distinctive kinds of work done under their aegis and discriminate them credibly from other intellectual fields. It examines the history of two and three cultures arguments as they have helped and hindered that work of definition thus far. It then explores in depth the role of characterology in justifications for the humanities that rest (as all justifications must, at some level) on the perception that they possess distinctive objects of study and a distinctive understanding of what constitutes knowledge Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/
First lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the broad political and social context in which to place these lectures. Reading list available. Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/