Humanities

From these shallow and uniformed reflections on the nature of "justification" it's obvious that Stanley Fish doesn't know much about the humanities:

To the question “of what use are the humanities?”, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said – even when it takes the form of Kronman’s inspiring cadences – diminishes the object of its supposed praise.

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, a frequent subject in courses in the humanities, had the following to say:

Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim. But a certain difference is found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produce them. Where there are ends apart from the actions, it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities. Now, as there are many actions, arts, and sciences, their ends also are many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity- as bridle-making and the other arts concerned with the equipment of horses fall under the art of riding, and this and every military action under strategy, in the same way other arts fall under yet others- in all of these the ends of the master arts are to be preferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued. It makes no difference whether the activities themselves are the ends of the actions, or something else apart from the activities, as in the case of the sciences just mentioned.

Sometimes, it seems, the justification for the activity is the activity itself.  When it is, it's still a justification. 

2 thoughts on “Humanities”

  1. What’s even more appalling is Fish is a professor in the humanities! The Aristotle selection is most welcome. This reminds me of Ann Althouse arguing that literature shouldn’t be taught in English classes, only non-fiction. I always find it sad when academics trash an entire field of study, and wonder if they ever actually talk to their colleagues.

  2. Strange that the man who wrote this:

    “They dont do anything, if by do is meant bring about effects in the world. And if they dont bring about effects in the world they cannot be justified except in relation to the pleasure they give to those who enjoy them.”

    Also said this (in bringing his Milton scholarship to bear on the issue of free speech):

    “But the difference between Milton and us is a difference in what we would exclude from the zone of “free speech”, not a difference between exclusion and inclusion. When Milton names Catholic discourse as the exception to his toleration he does so because in his view Catholic speech is subversive of everything speech, in general, is supposed to do — keep the conversation going, continue the search for Truth. In short, if speech is really to be free in the sense that he desires, Catholics cannot be allowed freely to produce it. This might seem paradoxical, but in fact it is Milton’s recognition of a general condition: free speech is what’s left over when you have determined which forms of speech cannot be permitted to flourish. The “free speech zone” emerges against the background of what has been excluded. Everyone begins by assuming what shouldn’t be said; otherwise there would be no point to saying anything.”

    Hmmmm. Seems like he views Milton as having a greater heuristic value than the pleasure it brought him to read the “Areopagitica.” Probably, Fish would object by reasoning that Milton’s work had not actual effect on the discourse of free speech, but that would seem more a complaint on his part and less an actual objection.

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