Archive for September, 2013

Thomas Nagel’s newish book, Mind and Cosmos, challenges some long-worshiped idols of the  scientific priesthood of naturalistic materialism.

A brief summary of the book, “The Core of Mind and Cosmos,” by Nagel himself can be found  here in the New York Times.

The key takeaway from Nagel’s argument is that the reductionistic science based on naturalistic materialism simply cannot account for the world as actually lived and experienced.He argues that “the wide popularity among philosophers and scientists of (a), the outlook of psychophysical reductionism, is due not only to the great prestige of the physical sciences but to the feeling that this is the best defense against the dreaded (d), the theistic interventionist outlook” [emphasis added]. However, as someone who finds psychophysical accounts of the universe self-evidently false and others completely implausible, he still doesn’t want to Continue reading

Two articles worth reading again, one recent, one from a couple of years ago, highlight why the liberal arts are crucial for our future.

The first, published in 2011, is a report from Inside Higher Ed about how Chinese universities have begun to realize the necessity of the liberal arts for creating and sustaining a culture worth having.

Studying Latin and Greek in China

“While Chinese universities are discussed in the United States as science and engineering-focused, narrowly so, Sun Yat-sen University is part of a growing movement in China to promote general education — which includes global (meaning Western) philosophy and culture.

“Boya College at Sun Yat-sen is a liberal arts institution at which an intense general education sequence in the first two years includes elements of Chinese culture (classical literature, calligraphy, history) and also considerable study of Western civilization, with every student taking not only English, but also Latin, Greek, and courses focused on specific authors (Homer, Herodotus, Dante) and periods (such as ancient Hebrew civilization). Courses also focus on such topics as political philosophy and musicology.

All classes are taught in small groups, with students required to participate, to read individually and respond to great works, and to write extensively. Beyond writing requirements for class, each student must write one 5,000-word essay each month on any topic not related to a course.

Gan said that the program — along with summer institutes along the same lines appearing at other universities — reflects a desire to break out of the “overly specialist training” that has dominated Chinese universities. “What has been lacking” in Chinese universities, he said, “has been the humanities.” 

These programs, he said, are needed because they are part of being a well-educated person. “I don’t believe general education can help a worker find a better job,” he said. “The danger in today’s global capitalist age is that money is seen as the highest value, but there is other value — in thinking — that has much higher value than money, and that is the purpose of general education.” [Emphasis added]

The second, more recent article in the Huffington Post by the president of Gordon College (MA) notes that the liberal arts are perhaps the most practical and important element for our educational and cultural future. The reason is rooted in their integrative character. They help us understand how we and the things around relate to one another. A specialist may be quite expert, but without a broader, integrative understanding and appreciation how that specialization fits in the wider world, it will often become worthless or, worse, reductionistic or even tyrannical.

D. Michael Lindsay writes,

Certainly, the twentieth century was an era of specialization, with a number of highly specific majors ballooning to match the highly specific requirements of a specialized job market. But our 21st century has already demonstrated that it will be an era of integration, not specialization. Those most likely to make an impact in this new generation will have a broad, holistic knowledge base and a drive to connect disparate interests through innovative problem solving. As I’ve noted before, the liberal arts approach prepares students to think holistically, drawing together many schools of thought and disciplinary approaches.

Indeed, the pendulum of popular opinion may have already begun its swing back toward a healthy respect for the humanities and social sciences. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences — a large cohort of public and private sector leaders and educators including presidents of major corporations and universities — recently released a report, The Heart of the Matter, which stresses the indispensability of the disciplines. What’s more, it does so chiefly by considering who is fit to lead in the 21st century: “Who will lead America into a bright future?” the report asks. Their answer? “Citizens who are educated in the broadest possible sense, so that they can participate in their own governance and engage with the world. An adaptable and creative workforce…” The Commission understands the vital importance of holistic thinking in the century to come. [Emphasis added]

Some private colleges are cutting tuition by as much as $10k in hopes of luring more students, but few are apparently biting. With so many colleges overpriced for minimal value, it will be hard to attract new students by price reduction alone. In today’s economy, it’s all about true educational value for the price.