Monday, September 17, 2007

Moral Relativism Wins

The New York Times has a bit up on the Canon (Culture) Wars and how they have affected academia. It centers around a discussion of Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind.

Today it’s generally agreed that the multiculturalists won the canon wars. Reading lists were broadened to include more works by women and minority writers, and most scholars consider that a positive development. Yet 20 years later, there’s a more complicated sense of the costs and benefits of those transformations. Here, the lines aren’t drawn between right and left in the traditional political sense, but between those who defend the idea of a distinct body of knowledge and texts that students should master and those who focus more on modes of inquiry and interpretation. However polarizing Bloom may have been, many of the issues he raised still resonate — especially when it comes to the place of the humanities on campus and in the culture.
Here comes the punch line. And on the first page too!
All this reflects what the philosopher Martha Nussbaum today describes as a “loss of respect for the humanities as essential ingredients of democracy.” Nussbaum, who panned Bloom’s book in The New York Review in 1987, teaches at the University of Chicago, which like Columbia has retained a Western-based core curriculum requirement for undergraduates. But on some campuses, “the main area of conflict is trying to make sure that the humanities get adequate funding from the central administration,” Nussbaum wrote in an e-mail message, adding, “Our nation, like most nations of the world, is devaluing the humanities vis-à-vis science and technology, so constant vigilance is required lest these disciplines be cut.” Louis Menand, a Harvard English professor and New Yorker staff writer who serves on Harvard’s curriculum reform committee, concurs: “The big question for humanists is, How do we explain why what we do is important for people who aren’t humanists? That’s been tough, really tough.”
The Professor is complaining that the people think the Humanities have no relevance. If she is a liberal she should be cheering that moral relativism has won. If no judgments can be made no need to teach judgment, eh? I guess the downside of that bothers the Professor. Isn't it ironic, just a bit, don't ya think?

Bloom was wrong about Rock 'n Roll though.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Anonymous said...

The reason there is no respect for the Humanities (or whatever is being taught) is that people have listened to what the Humanities scholars have been proclaiming for forty years.

i.e. that Humanities offer nothing of value.

They say a canon has no meaning and that the work done prior to when you got tenure means nothing and that any idea is as good as any other. So exactly why should anyone be interested?

In fact the only thing keeping the farce going is that schools mandate them. You must get your ticket punched so you can have a degree. So you endure the bullying and baloney until you complete your major in something which actually seems of value.

Of course because the classes are mandated there is a need for faculty. Secure lifetime employment brings the faculty.

And the flim-flam goes on with the students doing their time in the BS jail.

M. Simon said...


I'm very lucky. #2 son is a recent (June 007) graduate of U. Chicago.

In the humanities no less (Russian literature - in the original Russian).

Anonymous said...


I have nothing against the Humanities. My disdain comes from the drafting of the unwilling to support whatever folly they want to propagandize this decade.

Languages and the arts are fine for those interested. If you want to be an accounting major or engineer no one has the right to force you to endure art or music appreciation.

They do however have the power. You do it or else.

I endured art appreciation decades ago. The instructor had decided comic books were the only meaningful graphic art of the last century. Screw that.

I assure you these departments which run on interpretation and appreciation and sensitivity are where you must kowtow to petty tyrants.

The one justification for this situation is the dogma that the humanities can be injected like a vaccine to produce better people with more insight into what is meaningful in life.

The only thing more idiotic is what goes on in the schools of education.

M. Simon said...

I have always loved art and literature. Had I not gone into the sciences I might have done something in the humanities.

I was fortunate to get my humanities education at U. Chicago.

"Learning to Look" and "Learning to Listen" were the texts. I had to spend hours at the Art Institute studying. Great stuff.

In general engineers know more about the arts than the arts folk know about engineering.

I do agree that most of the humanities these days are worthless.

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on the quality of your teacher. The standard Post-modernist philosophy taught these days has already been thoroughly debunked here, so I wont' bother with that. But I enjoyed my 2 year Social work Diploma. It was such a short taste of major movements in world political dialogue... I wish I'd had more. But I wish I had your technical expertise more... there's such a demand for engineers in Australia right now that I think we'd be able to close our design studio!

Anonymous said...

M. Simon,

Nussbaum may be a liberal, but she is no relativist. She has always argued for an Aristotelean ethics against post-modernism, post-structuralism, multi-culturalism, and relativism. See here, for instance. I think it is a mistake to see only two parties in the "culture wars".