Martha C. Nussbaum Interviewed on the Humanities, Mythmaking, and International Development
On a cold January day in Chicago, Martha C. Nussbaum, the well-lauded philosopher and 2017 Jefferson Lecturer, spoke with NEH Chairman William Adams about the advantages of a humanities education, her passion for ancient Greek and Roman literature, her work at the University of Chicago law school, and her contributions to the field of international development. Several other topics were broached, and still many others could have been added to the agenda, given the extraordinary range of Nussbaum’s thought, which flows mightily across disciplines to better understand the wellsprings of human flourishing and what obstacles stand in the way.
WILLIAM D. ADAMS: Your book Not for Profit made the case for the importance of the humanities in American democratic life. Have things changed substantially since it was published in 2010?
MARTHA C. NUSSBAUM: Data on humanities majors is still a source of concern, but there’s been a big increase in total enrollments in humanities courses in community colleges. And in adult education, too, there’s been a huge upsurge. The preface to the new edition of my book gives data and sources on all this.
We are lucky in the United States to have our liberal arts system. In most countries, if you go to university, you have to decide for all English literature or no literature, all philosophy or no philosophy. But we have a system that is one part general education and one part specialization. If your parents say you’ve got to major in computer science, you can do that. But you can also take general education courses in the humanities, and usually you have to.