Repost-From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Full review-essay here.

Nussbaum’s book can be found here.

 “Nussbaum sees the university as under attack from two directions, one represented by conservative critics, such as Allan Bloom, George Will, and Roger Kimball, who accuse the university of fostering relativism, trendy “political correctness,” and an ignorance of, if not downright antipathy toward, the standards of reason and the canon of Great Literature that the university, they believe, should be defending. The other threat comes from groups, including some feminists and advocates of racial and ethnic difference, who have also challenged the traditions of the university, questioning its reliance upon Western- or male-centered rationality and a canon that is insufficiently inclusive of the contributions of nondominant groups.”

This is insightful.  Perhaps, like Camille Paglia, you are genuinely concerned that humanities departments have given too free a home to equality ideologues, feminists and relativists, and that this has spilled back out into the culture at large.   Yet, popular political thinkers on the right, like George Will (and Paglia herself who’s not on the right), aren’t deep enough to get at the root of the problem as Nussbaum is here defining it:  classical learning.

So what does Nussbaum suggest?

“Between these two lines of attack, she believes, the university must articulate a conception of itself that defends the standards of reason, while remaining open to new points of view; that preserves the intellectual traditions and canons that define U.S. culture, while consciously broadening the curriculum to expose students to traditions which diverge from their own and which, in their difference, may confront students with an awareness of their own parochialism; that remain respectful and tolerant of many points of view without lapsing into relativism; and in short, that manages to prepare students simultaneously to be citizens of U.S. society, and cosmopolitans, “citizens of the world.”

This has always struck me as a little too broad of a vision to maintain (too heavy on the gender and equality side of things, too much of its time and part of feminist logic I find has little to no place for me and can threaten the classics), though I certainly respect the attempt.  We should aim to be citizens of the world and in the best Aristotelian sense (such depth and breadth may be in fact necessary). But is it enough within this framework?

Our author remains skeptical, and finds that the book didn’t quite meet Nussbaum’s own aims:

“In all of this, I think, we return to the narrow conception of philosophy that drives Nussbaum’s argument. By equating philosophy with the defense of Socratic reason, and by refusing to consider that this mode of analysis may not provide the universal discourse for resolving disagreements even within this society, let alone on a global scale, Nussbaum ends up providing, on the whole, a conception of liberal education that diverges very little from the secular university’s present self-conception.”

An interesting review.   Obviously, there’s more depth here than I’ve addressed.

Related On This Site:-Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  The limits of globalism? Martha Nussbaum In Dissent–Violence On The Left: Nandigram And The Communists Of West Bengal …Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy…A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche Connection

Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

Full post here.

If you’ve studied in a humanities department, you’ve probably noticed a divide between what you read and wrote there and the culture at large: movies, videos, music videos, songs, broadcast news etc… which (as Camille Paglia argues) is the culture for a majority of Americans.

The author Frank Donoghue, whom Fish reviews, argues that it’s a losing proposition to even try and work against this tide, mostly for financial reasons:

“Such a vision of restored stability,” says Donoghue, “is a delusion” because the conditions to which many seek a return – healthy humanities departments populated by tenure-track professors who discuss books with adoring students in a cloistered setting – have largely vanished. Except in a few private wealthy universities (functioning almost as museums), the splendid and supported irrelevance of humanist inquiry for its own sake is already a thing of the past.

The departments are not self-sustaining, and it’s evident from within.

I would argue that much of Donoghue’s thinking has likely been influenced by the idea that because there is a lack of a central vision of what liberal learning ought to consist of (in part due to the influences of Continental postmodernist thinkers, the tail end of Existentialism etc. again this is a Paglian view of things, with some Allan Bloom thrown in)…

…as a result race, identity, gender politics, and all manner of other interests (many politically left) have helped filled the void.  I won’t argue that these groups don’t contain a lot of truth as many others on the political right are doing.

I will argue that from the current state of Humanities departments… these ideas are informing our politics and shaping public opinion…and the political and idealogical reactions to them (on the right)…for better or worse.

So does Donoghue have a solution?:

“In his preface, Donoghue tells us that he will “offer nothing in the way of uplifting solutions to the problems [he] describes.” In the end, however, he can’t resist recommending something and he advises humanists to acquire “a thorough familiarity with how the university works,” for “only by studying the institutional histories of scholarly research, of tenure, of academic status, and . . . of the ever-changing college curriculum, can we prepare ourselves for the future.” “

Not really, though what he does offer seems practical.


As mentioned:  I have some doubts about Fish’s larger interpretation of affairs…a tendency to view the arts, humanities, and philosophy itself through a certain lens.  (Fish teaches a course on conservative philosophy..hopefully in the better sense of that word…conservare…).

See Also On This Site: Martha Nussbaum saw this coming a while ago, but is her platform broad enough?: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful

Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities:Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment