A democratic society must make space for the humanities, says philosopher

Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have rightly been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens, says philosopher Martha Nussbaum. But recently, she argues, thinking about the aims of education has gone disturbingly awry both in the United States and abroad.

“Anxiously focused on national economic growth, we increasingly treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens,” says Dr. Nussbaum. She is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, a chair which includes appointments in the philosophy department, law school, and divinity school.

She argues that society must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product in her manifesto, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, published in 2011 by Princeton University Press.

“This short-sighted focus on profitable skills has eroded our ability to criticize authority, reduced our sympathy with the marginalized and different, and damaged our competence to deal with complex global problems,” Nussbaum says. “And the loss of these basic capacities jeopardizes the health of democracies and the hope of a decent world.”

She will draw on stories of troubling--and hopeful--educational developments from around the world in a free public lecture to kick off the 2011/12 Humanities Research Group Distinguished Speakers Series on Tuesday, September 20.

“We are very excited to have attracted a public intellectual of Dr. Nussbaum’s standing to Windsor,” says the group’s director, Antonio Rossini. “She makes a passionate case for the importance of the liberal arts at all levels of education.”

Dr. Rossini praises Nussbaum’s ability to make her disciplines relevant to public discourse.

“She is excellent at explaining the value of philosophy and ethics to issues of current concern,” he says. “This is the key to her success as an educator who has cultivated a wide audience.”

The Distinguished Speakers Series will bring a number of important thinkers to campus, beginning with Nussbaum’s lecture, “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities,” on Tuesday, September 20. Like all the lectures in this series, it is free and open to the public and will begin at 7 p.m. in Assumption University’s Freed Orman Conference Centre.

Others in the series include:

  • Jason Brown, Dalhousie University, “A Hard Day’s Math: The Connections Between Mathematics and Music,” November 10, 2011
  • Domenico Pietropaolo, University of Toronto, “Performance text and the Impromptu tradition,” February 9, 2012
  • Tracy Davis, Northwestern University, “How Historical is Spectatorship?: Knowledge, Expertise, Insight, and Taste among Racialized and Gendered Audiences in Mid-Victorian Britain,” March 15, 2012
  • Fr. James K. McConica, C.S.B., Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies, “What are Universities for?” March 22, 2012

Learn more on the Humanities Research Group’s Web site, www.uwindsor.ca/hrg.