Scientists and philosophers rallied to the defence of the beleaguered humanities at a panel discussion organised by the British Philosophical Association last week.
Speaking at the London School of Economics on Valuing the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund distinguished service professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago, said the arguments for the disciplines “should persuade anyone committed to democracy, even if the arts are not important to them personally”.
“Studying Plato, for example, helps you to accept nothing on trust and to think things through – and that can help democracies survive the present onslaught of sound bites and moral insults,” she said.
Lord Rees, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, agreed that “a liberal education can help us get beyond tabloid slogans”. As president of the Royal Society, he said, he had made common cause with his counterpart at the British Academy, Sir Adam Roberts, in defending the humanities – even though he had stopped short of joining him on a sponsored cycle ride from Land’s End to John o’Groats.
Richard Smith said he wanted “to defend the humanities on behalf of medicine – which is engaged in an unwinnable battle against death, suffering and pain”. Dr Smith, the former editor of the British Medical Journal, is now an honorary professor at the University of Warwick and director of the Ovations initiative to combat chronic disease in the developing world.
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