Martha Nussbaum Responds to Recent Cuts in Humanities Departments
Cuts in the humanities are bad for business and bad for democracy. Even if a nation’s only goal were economic prosperity, the humanities supply essential ingredients for a healthy business culture.
Nations such as China and Singapore, which previously ignored the humanities, are now aggressively promoting them, because they have concluded that the cultivation of the imagination through the study of literature, film, and the other arts is essential to fostering creativity and innovation. They also have found that teaching critical thinking and argumentation (a skill associated with courses in philosophy) is essential in order to foster healthy debate inside a business world that might too easily become complacent or corrupt.
We in the U.S. are moving away from the humanities just at the time that our rivals are discovering their worth. But a healthy business culture is not all that life in America is about.
We also pride ourselves on our open democracy, and on the freedoms of speech and the press that make our political life one in which the people rule. To keep democracy vital, we urgently need the abilities that the humanities foster. First, we need critical thinking: the ability to debate respectfully with others, to tell a good argument from a bad one, to examine tradition and prejudice in a Socratic spirit.