Science and the Theft of Humanity
In science's renewed interest in the human condition, a humanist sees the promise of a dialogue and a new golden age
In the Academy's Workrooms
In the modern university, all disciplines strive to distinguish
themselves from all others. In doing so, they repeat at a lower
level a primary distinction between the humanities and the sciences,
with the former taking human beings and their thoughts, imaginings,
capacities and works as its subject and the latter taking on the
nonhuman world, of which the human can be seen as a mere epiphenomenon.
Within the humanities, each subfield claims its own territory.
Philosophy, for example, examines the conditions of human life and
thought, focusing in particular on the question of free will and
choice that informs both ethics and aesthetics. Its mode can be
described, very broadly, as analysis. History focuses its efforts on
the archive of specifically human endeavor and achievement, and this
focus provides not only a subject, but also a certain scale and
style of analysis. As a discipline, history is primarily predisposed
not to analysis but to chronology or narrative, which is capable of
representing events in a causal series.
Criticism of the arts defines itself more by its
object—paintings, musical scores or performances, buildings,
films or literary texts—than by its methodology, which can
incline either toward philosophy in the form of analysis, or toward
history, the production or reception of the artifact. Sometimes
multiple approaches are comprehended in the same critical work. As
its subject is creativity, criticism of the arts must itself be
creative in determining its own orientation, its own projects, its
The demarcation of fields makes it possible not only to achieve
precise sectoral knowledge, but also to mark the progress of
knowledge as limited sets of problems are solved, one after another.
Compartmentalization also, however, creates a host of unintended
consequences, and some of these have proved to be just as productive
as the intended ones. By limiting the kinds of questions that can be
posed, departmental thought intentionally screens out certain
features of reality, and while this partial blindness can be counted
as a necessary condition of modern knowledge, it creates the
conditions for an interdisciplinary reaction that blends two or more
approaches to achieve results unobtainable by either: hence
biochemistry, sociobiology, genetic engineering, architectural
ethics and countless other innovations that are virtually invited by
the limitations of disciplinarity.