Gideon Rosen on the Humanities’ PR Problem

Any educated person can rattle off a list of the great achievements of science and technology in the past 50 years: the Big Bang, cloning, the Internet, etc. People who have no idea what the Higgs boson is or why it matters still can tell you that it was discovered in July 2013 by a heroic team of scientists and that the discovery reveals something deep about the universe. What does the average educated American know about the great scholarly achievements in the humanities in the past half-century? Nothing. And this is no accident.

Gideon Rosen (Princeton) reflects on the public and political perceptions of the humanities.

 So where are the breakthroughs in metaphysics and epistemology and ethics in the past half-century, and why don’t you, educated reader, know all about them? Again, I could list dozens of important books, and I could start to tell you why they matter. But I predict with great confidence that you would not be impressed by any quick summary I could give. The reason is that the value of great philosophy hardly ever lies in the punch line. It lies in the arguments — intricate, detailed arguments. And the sad fact is that this sort of thing cannot be conveyed in headlines, or even in a 17-minute TED talk. Like discoveries elsewhere in the humanities, discoveries in philosophy are incompressible: Their interest can only be conveyed at length by taking one’s interlocutor through the argument.

Read the rest here.

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