Without the humanities, STEM and other professional disciplines don’t actually have a point

Without the humanities, STEM and other professional disciplines don’t actually have a point October 5, 2020

In my first year philosophy classes I often ask my students why they are going to college. They typically answer: to get a good job.  And the discussion ensues…

“Why do you want a good job?”

“To live well, eventually raise a family, give to worthy causes….”

“But why pursue those things?” Awkward silence….

Then someone breaks the silence and blurts out something like, “Because they are good….”

“But why pursue good things?” Again, awkward silence.  To break it, I ask,

“So, what’s more important, the good things or the means to get those good things?”  Hands shoot up, and several of them shout, “The good things.”

“And that’s what philosophy and the other humanities are about. They are about the most important things: faith, hope, love, meaning, goodness, truth, beauty, all the things that make life worth living.”

I continue: “They are the reasons why business, science, technology, engineering, math, medicine, law, etc. exist in the first place. STEM and professional disciplines exist to secure the most important things of all, and that’s what we will study in this class. It follows then that the humanities are the most valuable disciplines in the university, for without them the so-called practical disciplines are just bridges to nowhere, activities whose instrumental purpose–if devoid of any unassailable ends–cannot in principle build anything worthy of our love and devotion.”

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