Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Why Democracy Needs the Humanities" by Martha Nussbaum

Not For Profit:
Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

by Martha C. Nussbaum

(Princeton University Press, May 2010)

178 pp.


Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have rightly been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens. But recently, Nussbaum argues, thinking about the aims of education has gone disturbingly awry both in the United States and abroad. Anxiously focused on national economic growth, we increasingly treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens. This shortsighted focus on profitable skills has eroded our ability to criticize authority, reduced our sympathy with the marginalized and different, and damaged our competence to deal with complex global problems. And the loss of these basic capacities jeopardizes the health of democracies and the hope of a decent world.

In response to this dire situation, Nussbaum argues that we must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product. Rather, we must work to reconnect education to the humanities in order to give students the capacity to be true democratic citizens of their countries and the world.


Foreword by Ruth O'Brien

1. The Silent Crisis [pdf]
2. Education for Profit, Education for Democracy
3. Educating Citizens: The Moral (and Anti-Moral) Emotions
4. Socratic Pedagogy: The Importance of Argument
5. Citizens of the World
6. Cultivating Imagination: Literature and the Arts
7. Democratic Education on the Ropes

Book review by Troy Jollimore here.

Martha Nussbaum is Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

See also Nussbaum's wonderful book on "Poetic Justice. The Literary Imagination and Public Life" (Beacon Press, 1995). From the preface: "Very often in today's political life we lack the capacity to see one another as fully human, as more than "dreams and dots". (....) Without the participation of the literary imagination, said Whitman, "things are grotesque, eccentric, fail of their full returns". (....) The purpose of this book is to describe the ingredient of public discourse that Whitman found missing from his America and to show some roles it still might play in our own. It grows out of the conviction, which I share with Whitman, that storytelling and literary imagining are not opposed to rational argument, but can provide essential ingredients in a rational argument".

1 comment:

P. M. Doolan said...

With technocrats taking increasing control of education we need voices like Nussbaum's to be heard.