WHY SHOULD THE HUMANITIES MATTER FOR BUSINESS MAJORS?

 

If a society's people don't know their own history or that or other nations, how could that affect the decisions they make, such as in government (including voting) or business?  What are the dangers of "cultural amnesia"?

 

*"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness . . . Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it."‑‑George Santayana (1863-1953)

 

What values are we to choose?  How should we think about choosing values?  Learning about history and the humanities help us to think more systematically about what the purpose of life should be.  The purpose of philosophy is to consider how knowledge is gained and what the ultimate structure of reality is, including the basis of morality (ethics).

 

*"The unexamined life is not worth living"--Socrates (469-399 b.c.)

 

"Moreover, the intensity with which I went at my work repressed problems that I ought to have faced.  A good many perplexities were smothered by the daily rush.  In writing these memoirs I became increasingly astonished to realized that before 1944 I so rarely‑‑in fact almost never‑‑found the time to reflect about myself or my own activities, that I never gave my own existence a thought.  Today, in retrospect, I often have the feeling that something swooped me up off the ground at the time, wrenched me from all my roots, and beamed a host of alien forces upon me."--Albert Speer, Nazi armaments minister, Inside the Third Reich.

 

The dangers of professional specialization:  Intelligent in one area of life, such as at work, but unwise in others.  May be successful on job, yet failure with family life, in dealing with the government, or others in the community.  This is why general education exists for four-year degrees.

 

"A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standard of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists.  One or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  The response was cold:  it was also negative."  C.P Snow (1905-), The Two Cultures, 1959.

 

"No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you never should trust the experts.  If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome:  if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent:  if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.  They all require to have their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense."--Lord Salisbury (1830-1903), English prime minister.

 

This view is the opposite of Plato's, who believed in rule by experts in The Republic.  Why should the false, or partially false, ideas of the past be investigated?

 

There is a need for balance and cooperation between different professional specializations.  The different disciplines need "checks and balances" against each other, similar to how the three branches of the U.S. federal government are organized.

 

"Let us take, for instance, man himself as our object of contemplation; then at once we shall find we can view him in a variety of relations; and according to those relations are the sciences which he is the subject-matter, and according to our acquaintance with them is our possession of a true knowledge of him.  We may view him in relation to the material elements of his body, or to his mental constitution, or to his household and family, or to the community in which he lives, or to the Being who made him; and in consequence we treat of him respectively are physiologists, or as moral philosophers, or as writers of economics, or of politics, or as theologians. . . . On the other hand, according as we are only physiologists, or only politicians, or only moralists, so is our idea of man more or less unreal; we do not take in the whole of him, and the defect is greater or less, in proportion as the relation is, or is not, important, which is omitted, whether his relation to God or to his king, or to his children, or to his own component parts.  And if there be one relation, about which we know nothing at all except that it exists, then our knowledge of him, confessedly and to our own consciousness, deficient and partial, and that, I repeat, in proportion to the importance of the relation."--John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-90), The Idea of a University.

 

Why then should we study humanities in a business college?

 

Learning about the humanities more about learning a method for dealing with the big questions in life, rather than telling what the ultimate answers are.  The limits of human reason.  They teach about how to make value judgments more systematically, instead of just taking things for granted.  The limits to pragmatism, "being a practical man of action, not a thinker."  How do you take action effectively without knowing what to do?  The problem of explaining technological progress and moral stagnation, of putting men on the moon, yet fearing atomic warfare.

 

Selective perception:  Is the glass half full or half empty?  Historical factual errors different from omissions or misinterpretations of those facts based upon some pre-existing ideology.  Marxism's half-truths:  The superstructure's interactions with the mode of production aren't just one way.  Value judgments determine what is deemed to matter or be important.