Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Other People’s Ideas, Part 2

In last week’s entry, I spotlighted other people’s arguments about the value of the humanities. For the sake of simplicity, I omitted one of the most prominent writers of the subject. Stanley Fish, a Dean Emeritus for the College of Liberal Arts (University of Chicago), writes a blog for the New York Times online. His writings deal with many topics, not just the humanities. Nonetheless, the state of the humanities recurs in his entries.

In one entry, Fish reviews Anthony Kronman’s book Education’s End (see my October entry entitled “Book Report” for my assessment of it). In it, Fish argues that the humanities need no justification because justification “confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance.” The humanities, he concludes, are their own good.

In a follow-up, Fish answers some of the responses to his blog and clarifies his opinions. When he wrote that the humanities are without justification, he is not saying that they are worthless. Rather, the humanities need no justification because they are valuable in their own right.

Fish also reviews Frank Donoghue’s book The Last Professors. In it, Donoghue views the current state of the humanities as the culmination of a century-long attack. (To be perfectly honest, I find Donoghue’s study to be too bleak. Just because some people criticized the humanities not mean that they changed the cultural assessment of them. As I try to show in some of my entries, the debates about the humanities go back millennia.)

In another entry, Fish assesses a “translation” of Milton’s Paradise Lost… into modern English. His lengthy assessment demonstrates that a simple summary of a classic—even a summary of equal length—is no substitute for the original.

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