Humanities - Classical
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) dates the term
'humanities' to the later 15th century. The classic definition is literary learning or scholarship. The
writing of secular letters ('humane letters') as opposed to theology. The study
of ancient Latin and Greek language, literature and intellectual culture (grammar, rhetoric, history and
The Humanities uses a critical or analytical
approach to study the human condition. By employing 'critical thinking' the humanities study
the meaning-making practices of human
culture. There’s a saying that goes “knowledge
cumulates in the sciences, but not in the humanities.” The physicist-novelist C.P. Snow famously spoke of two
cultures, one the world of scientists and the other the world of ‘literary intellectuals’ – the humanists. In
short, knowledge of the physical world verses knowledge of the spirit or
mind. In the interpretations of literary texts or historical
materials, knowledge does not cumulate – there is an ongoing conversation that never (in principle) ends. This
is one of the benefits of the humanities – people talking with other people.
In 'The Value of the Humanities' (2013), Ms. Helen Small, Professor of English, Oxford University, further illuminates
the qualities of the humanities: "...to value
qualitiative above quantitative reasoning; their distrust of proceduralism; their greater faith in
interpretative than in positivistic
thinking; their orientation as much toward historical analysis
as toward synchronic structural analysis; and their attention to the role of perceiver in ascertaining even the
most philosophically secure of knowledge claims; (relatedly) their interest in the specificity of the individual
response (its content and its style) over and above the generalized or collective response, and their concern
with what can be known or understood even though it is incapable of empirical verification."
In general, the utilitarian point of view (POV)
is that the natural and social sciences are the basis for all true knowledge. That the humanities are in
a different class and thus cannot be judged against the ‘utilitarian’ disciplines. Professor Small
attempts to bridge the humanities (‘Goodness’) with sciences (‘Truth’) by using a truth claim
sequence: Rightness > Coherence > Validity > Correctness (eg, most natural scientists
trust only 'validity' and 'correctness'; social scientists only 'coherence' and
The study of languages is central to the humanities (the scientific study of language is
known as linguistics, a social science). The Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein claimed
that many of our philosophical confusions derive from vocabulary. In addition to the analysis of
vocabulary, the study of languages also include literary theory - the rhetorical, associative, and ordering
features of language.
Literature lies at the heart of modern humanities. The word literature literally means "acquaintance with letters"
and the pars pro toto term "letters" is sometimes used to signify "literature," as in the figures of speech "arts
and letters" and "man of letters." The two major classifications of literature are poetry and prose. Poetry
consists of three major genres (epic, lyric, dramatic) with elements of meter, rhythm, intonation, rhyme,
alliteration and assonance. Prose includes novels, essays, short stories, comedy, drama, fable, fiction, folk tale,
hagiography, legend, literature, myth, narrative, saga, science fiction, theme and tragedy.
Philosophy is the discipline concerned with questions of how one should live
(ethics); what sorts of things exist and what are their essential natures (ontology); what counts as genuine
knowledge (epistemology); and what are the correct principles of reasoning (logic). In everyday matters,
“philosophy” refers to our basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes. The ponderings of ‘mind & matter’ go back to
the ancient Greeks who tried to solve the duality of mind and matter, thought and thing, the spiritual and the
material, with the goal of finding truth to the fundamental question: “Which is more real
- Mind or Matter?” Important questions that are still debated among contemporary
History is the discovery, collection, organization and presentation of information about
past events. Historians debate about the nature of history and its usefulness – ways of providing
‘perspective’ on present problems.
Religion is based on faith and belief that attempts to relate humanity to supernatural, transcendental, and
spiritual elements, whereas theology is the rational study of religion which is absent of religious practice and
rituals. There is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.