Humanities – general description

The humanities are my major field of interest, but what do I mean by “Humanities”? In the following I will discuss (1.) a definition of content, method and purpose, (2.) my personal journey, (3.) some specific topics of interest and (4.) my plans for this blog.

(1.) definition of content, method and purpose

In my first article I already mentioned that the humanities  “offer an orientation for living”. Let’s put this into context. First, what it is not, science and technology, at least not in the more limited sense.

Science describes a method for objective knowledge of the material world, over a number of special subjects, gained from observation and experimentation. Thus it’s main concern is a question of “what is” and “what is it”, rather than of a value based evaluation “is this good or bad”, followed by a prospective “what would be better” or specifically “what should I do about it”. The latter involve a moral or ethical judgment as well as an imagination for options to chose from.

We talk about technology when we refer to a technical solution to a specific or even general problem of application. This again, leaves out the question of “what for” in a more general sense that presupposes value. Even in such a scenario as settling on other planets, to become a multi-planetary species with an increased chance for preserving life. The implicit assumptions is that life is worth preserving, even though this does not necessarily imply as much for the life of any given individual or even the human species in its current state.

The questions of what it means to be human, how to conceive of one’s life and death and how to approach living, what actions to take, choices to make, and how to evaluate these, all these are personal questions. The answer to these lies ultimately with the individual. One may well be influenced by the particular circumstances of one’s own existence, and to some degree, every individual has to find / give his or her own answer.

There are general principles, deriving from universal law, and there are cultural practices that are meant to convey some ways of doing things that have worked in an historical context. All these are guideposts. But rather than unconsciously taking them for granted and living one’s life as a mere reaction to what one finds in the immediate environment, a person might find himself challenged beyond current capacity or even called upon to fulfill a greater task. In such situations, to stand on firm intellectual ground and to have obtained the ability to revise one’s current position are great human capacities. However to make choices in this regard, calls for wisdom and understanding.

There are many ways that wisdom and understanding are carried forward among and across generations, one of the most relevant until recently has been books. This is due to the fact that a book can be written as an almost independent endeavor. Anyone who considers his own thinking worthy to record can do so. His readers will be deciding whether they deem his work worthy to live on. Nowadays, the internet and platforms such as YouTube give rise to new means of transporting the word among and across.

Central is the word, be it in narratives or conceptual descriptions. It can teach and show, to the mind that is open and seeking to understand. Some of this is formulated explicitly, such as in a theory or general works of non-fiction, but even here, the author usually makes more or less tacit assumptions, except maybe for works of pure mathematics or philosophy that work under the ambition to really start from axioms only.

In the case of fiction, the subject matter is integrated with the story. Except for bad fiction, the intelligent reader should be able to discern characters and their motives, as well as the logic of the plot unfolding. All these can show and inspire, they might even instruct. The art of good fiction is that the author takes elements which purposefully form a character. This purposefulness, as in all the arts, can portray certain aspects in a greater-than-usual clarity and thus facilitate the readers process of contemplation.

The preceding discussion has been a bit abstract so I want to explain how much of this is related to my own journey and experience in my next blog-post in this series. 



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