Tag Archives: point of view

Paul Krause has a heartier take on the humanities than Stanley Fish

In my last post, I found several thoughtful, salient points in Stanley Fish’s recent article, “Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

But Paul Krause, writing at ImaginativeConservative.com, makes a new defense of the humanities anyway, and I loved it. Fish lit up parts of my mind, but Krause lit up my heart.

His definition is useful because I think many people just don’t understand what the humanities are and do:

The name humanities has “human” as its basis. The humanities are about us. In a way, the humanities are the study of what it means to be human along with the fruits of human genius and the creative spirit. The humanities ranges from philosophy—that most sublime and supreme queen—to literature, art, music, religion, language, and all the disciplines and topics that inform, build, and constitute what people have long called “culture.” Humanist studies is not, however, an outright celebration of every aspect of the human spirit and endeavor. It can be just as critical as it is appraising. Its study can inform and instruct—pointing out errors, as much as pointing out goodness, virtue, beauty, and other such things to strive for.

And later, Krause gives an example of what the humanities accomplish by demonstrating how key texts are integrated with each other—in ways that both form our intellectual understandings and our experiences as creatures with historical antecedents:

In the first book of Politics Aristotle makes a direct reference to the ninth book of Homer’s Iliad. When Augustine penned City of God he assumed his readers to be familiar with the works of the Platonists, Virgil, Cicero, Sallust, Varro, the Bible, and the great stories of Rome’s founding mythology: Romulus and Remus, Lucretia, and Aeneas. Dante’s Divine Comedy is not simply allegory of his own tumultuous experiences in Florence; it is also journey through the very soul of Western literature, philosophy, and theology from start to finish. Shakespeare is riddled with Biblical and literary references that lessen the greatness of Shakespeare when missed by the reader. Jonathan Swift, that great satirist, was engaged in his own cultural criticism in satirizing the philosophies of Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke when Gulliver meets the Laputans.

Building on the past, referencing and critiquing influential texts, understanding the origins of the cultural and intellectual flooring (however mismatched some of the boards) on which we stand—these are good reasons for the humanities. You don’t have to believe or accept everything you read in the great books (that’s the “critical” part of the humanities). Sometimes the point is simply to learn why other people saw things the way they did (why they currently see things the way they do) to better understand the excellencies and errors of today. To do so, one must understand other metaphors and stories, and see how they inform nuances of moral principles. To understand another culture’s metaphor or story is to be able to understand motivating forces and forms of thinking in other people. As John Stuart Mill once said, if you don’t know another point of view, you really don’t know your own.

Functional Ignorance

It’s not what he says that bothers me. It’s that what he says is all he knows. His worldview is informed only by his worldview, and maybe by his worldview’s prefabricated responses to other worldviews, so investigation won’t be necessary. And of course he’s sure he’s right.

Perception Is Prediction

I think the following look at perception has everything to do with several areas of our daily lives: relationships, work, management, leadership, psychological insight, creativity, fine arts, and many more.

darth adorno

Here are four features of perception to consider:

1. Perception is transactional: perceptions can only be studied in terms of the transactions in which they can be observed.   There is no separate, divisible event of perception; the act of perception occurs within transactions between humans and humans, humans and objects and objects and humans.  Context is everything.

2. Perception is rooted in a personal behavioral center: perceiving is always done by a particular person from her own unique position in space and time and with her own combination of experiences, needs and set of transactions.  For example what does the perceiver want or need from the perceived event?  Perception is rooted in desire.

3. Perception is an externalization: each of us, through perceiving, creates a psychological environment which we believe exists independent of the experience.

4. Perception is more about controlling the environment than taking in sense stimuli.  Perception is most…

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The small things mean everything: Luke 16:10 and Chesterton explain the real crisis

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” — Luke 16:10, English Standard Version

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” — Luke 16:10, New American Standard Version

“If I am asked, as a purely intellectual question, why I believe in Christianity, I can only answer, ‘For the same reason than an intelligent agnostic disbelieves Christianity.’ I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence. But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration, it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts. In fact the secularist is not to be blamed because his objections to Christianity are miscellaneous and even scrappy; it is precisely such scrappy evidence that does convince the mind. I mean that a man may well be less convinced of a philosophy from four books than from one book, one battle, one landscape and one old friend. The very fact that the things are of different kinds increases the importance of the fact that they all point to one conclusion.” — G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy

One thing we can draw from these very different quotations is the realization that big things are built upon small things. To be responsible for much, first be responsible for a little. To understand faith or lack of faith, look at all the small details informing the point of view.

I think there’s a natural order to the way people think. In the courtroom, little pieces of evidence can add up to big murder convictions.

What happens when someone spends all his time trying to get the big things right but neglects the little things? The value of having the big things right probably won’t have any traction in the workaday world, which depends upon innumerable little things.

Here’s a similar point:

“Now, in the Bible, what we see are numerous discrepencies in lower-order arenas. For whatever reasons, the Biblical texts we have today do not always give a consistent picture of the facts of important events — events important enough, evangelicals and Reformed folks assume, to be part of God’s revelation. I think many, many people are not willing to believe the higher-order, theological and doctrinal, claims of the Bible because the lower-order issues are problematic. Again, many people will say, ‘If you can’t get your facts right, why should I listen to you about anything else?'” (this very blog, on April 9, 2012)

Better minds understand that higher-order concerns are built upon solid lower-order concerns. For example, listening to people more than talking at them, or exemplifying any number of values and manners that Christians don’t exemplify. Unfortunately, “…the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” — Luke 16:8, King James Version (Cambridge ed.)