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Humanities in the United States

Humanities in the United States refers to the study of humanities disciplines, such as literature, history, language, performing and visual arts or philosophy, in the United States of America.

Many American colleges and universities seek to provide a broad "liberal arts education", in which all college students to study the humanities in addition to their specific area of study. Prominent proponents of liberal arts in the United States have included Mortimer J. Adler and E.D. Hirsch. A liberal arts focus is often coupled with curricular requirements; colleges including Saint Anselm College and Providence College have mandatory two-year core curricula in the humanities for their students.

The 1980 United States Rockefeller Commission on the Humanities described the humanities in its report, The Humanities in American Life:

Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world in which irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.

The very concept of the ‘humanities’ as a class or kind, distinct from the ’sciences’, has come under repeated attack in the twentieth century. T.S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that the forces driving scientific progress often have less to do with objective inference from unbiased observation than with much more value-laden sociological and cultural factors. More recently, Richard Rorty has argued that the distinction between the sciences and the humanities is harmful to both pursuits, placing the former on an undeserved pedestal and condemning the latter to irrationality. Rorty’s position requires a wholesale rejection of such traditional philosophical distinctions as those between appearance and reality, subjective and objective, replacing them with what he endorses as a new ‘fuzziness’. This leads to a kind of pragmatism where "the oppositions between the humanities, the arts, and the sciences, might gradually fade away... In this situation, ‘the humanities’ would no longer think of themselves as such...."



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