As early as 1850 there have been Liberal Arts departments in schools of higher education, as well as pressure to close them.
To a near-capacity crowd in the Ragan theater, Martha Nussbaum spoke about the need for the Liberal Arts in order to maintain a democratic society. The speech was part of the Presidential Lecture series and was held on Friday, April 15.
Nussbaum’s presentation was entitled, “Not for Profit: Why Democracy needs the Humanities,” and it focused on the increasing the number of schools choosing technical programs over Humanities and Fine Arts.
The thought processes behind these cuts are aimed at focusing on moneymaking degrees, but according to Nussbaum, it is a shortsighted view. The counterpoint to creating a high profit is the cost to democratic societies.
She asked the question about what makes a successful society. The old thought process, which she said is used in America and most countries, is to have a high gross domestic product. The problem with those societies is that they don’t create a successful line of government.
If this continues and there are only technical skills being developed then America will produce human beings that are robotic, ignore equality and promote denseness, according to Nussbaum.
“Art is the great enemy of obtuseness,” Nussbaum said.
She also gave three qualities of good citizens. The first was living a Socratic life, which means having the ability to think objectively about issues and question authority to steer it in the right direction.
The next is the ability to see oneself or a nation as a whole, not just as individuals. This includes looking into other countries and cultures and seeing what they do well and poorly.
“Knowledge does not guarantee good behavior,” Nussbaum said. “But ignorance guarantees bad behaviors.”
The last is to put, oneself into others shoes; and with that she said that there needs to be a culture of sympathy.
This brings about her main point that these are all done by developing Humanities programs.
“If we don’t insist on Humanities and Fine Arts they will go away,” Nussbaum said.
She concluded by asking what a good citizen is and asked that these Liberal Arts programs are part of the health of democracy moving forward.