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Why the Humanities Matter

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humanities-studiesBy Dr. William Overton
Faculty Director, School of Arts and Humanities

Francisco de Goya in 1798, deeply horrified by the senselessness and carnage of war, produced a graphic work of art he entitled, “The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters.” One need only view his etching to understand what Goya had envisioned and what history has proven true. The carnage of war has been multiplied many times over by the creations of science and technology. Science has indeed released the monsters of mass destruction upon humanity.

What has happened to humanity, to the human-ness that each individual must cherish? Indeed, what, if any, is the future of humanity?  In this, the digital age, has the “Sleep of Reason” catapulted science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses to unwarranted prominent position in the current educational system that relegates the humanities to limbo? Is there any defense of the liberal arts and the humanities in this age?

The true value of the study of the liberal arts and the humanities resides in the concept of a moral compass–developing a sense of what it truly means to be human and to exercise the powers of reason. What would be the nature of a world without that moral compass taught by the wisdom of countless previous ages?

In reality, the digital age should prove a boon to the study of the humanities through increased exposure to the Great Ideas and the Great Books. Further, one might hope for a bright future through a joining of science and the humanities.

Science can truly be considered the child of philosophy. Aristotle, revered today as the first polymath, was not only a philosopher but a scientist. In fact, he was the leading scientist of his time and for several ages to follow. Aristotle was someone who, as a student of mine once remarked, “just thought a lot.” While he was as yet unfamiliar with the scientific method of experimentation, observation, replication, and conclusions based on that process, his reasoning allowed him to think in that broad expanse open to truly awakened reason.

 

Science paired with the humanities awakens true reason and can propel humanity toward a brighter future. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant declared, “human beings belong to the kingdom of ends, and are not to be used as tools to accomplish the selfish ends of others.” If used in tandem with the sciences, the humanities can help students and individuals to make logical and humane decisions.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Overton holds a PhD degree in Adult Education, Research Emphasis, an MA in English, and an MPA. He has been with APUS since 2005 and is a Professor of English. He is a Director of Faculty in the School of Arts and Humanities. He served in the United States Army as an NCO. 

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