Humanities are for Humans not Zombies
Every human being shares a single consistent attribute that is their ability to die, while zombies hold the ever powerful ability to live. The humanities studies aims to explain the makeup of the human condition that which separates human beings from other theoretical forms of life such as mindless zombies. Martha Nussbaum explores the humanities in the context of academic institutions in her work entitled, “Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection,” where she misguidedly praises the Socratic way of achieving the examined life. Likewise, Terry Eagleton in his article, “The Death of Universities,” misunderstands the importance of the humanities when he isolates the study from other disciplines, especially that of commerce and capitalism. I, on the other hand, will argue that Nussbaum and Eagleton’s reasons for studying the humanities are poor representations of this set of knowledge and that the actual justification for learning in the filed of humanities is to be able to define oneself as human.
To study the humanities is not to simply enhance the value of life, but to be at the very core of a human’s being. In Nussbaum’s research, she claims that there are three capacities to which individuals can cultivate their humanity in order to achieve a Socratic “examined life” when they exercise their ability to challenge knowledge about oneself, the traditions they participate in, their ties to other human beings and their emotional empathy with others (1-11). The issue in Nussbaum’s argument is that she focused too much on the institutional version of obtaining knowledge and the examined life that is restricted to academic arguments, deductive reasoning and professional research when she should have recognized other methods of attaining information. By claiming that human’s must learn and challenge social norms through institutionalized learning of the humanities, she disvalues the acts of the mentally ill or mentally disabled who attain an “examined life” in a very different way. Such individuals examine their lives and their reality by not necessarily researching about the humanities and the patterns that exist in human behaviour, but by effectively responding to it. Both beings use whatever information they hold true, to react physically and emotionally despite their knowledge possibly being distorted or short lived and both efforts to do so constitute individuals as equal humans without favouring one form of thought process over another. In Nussbaum’s research, she would see some individuals as lesser citizens and in the extreme case as mindless zombies if they are unable to articulate or challenge knowledge forged by academics, when in actuality, their lives are impartially as purposeful as the mere process of thinking, considering and reacting is enough to confirm one’s exist as a full human being.
Although the humanities in and of itself is a study of constant critique, it is applied as a form of confirmation of one’s existence as a human being. Eagleton’s research emphasizes on the notion that universities are centres of critique that provide “alternative visions of the future” and that the humanities offers no help in achieving this (2). He claims this is especially true in disciplines concerning capitalism within a secular society that prioritizes more quantitative answers (Eagleton 2). I am opposed to this argument as the humanities does offer foundational knowledge that roots each individual to common origins that confirms their connectedness and makes clear the effect that has on a multidisciplinary level. Nussbaum also agrees with this concept when she sees citizens who cultivate their humanity as “human beings bound to all other human beings by ties of recognition and concern” (7). Thus, humanities in a way, is an open call to individuals to begin asking key questions on the similarities and patterns seen in human action and thought as a means to confirming likeness to their own kind. That is to recognize and analyze the natural commonalities between humans in order to confirm the needs of other’s through empathy and to then find better ways to cater to them using the skills unique to each individual in their field of study, whatever that may be. By linking aspects of the human condition to individuals, they can find purpose in the work that they do for their own kind unlike zombie figures that act of a random accord.
Now that I have answered why studying the humanities in some shape or form is confirmation of a person’s humanness, the question remains why it matters that a person come to realize their humanness and self identify as such. In Nussbaum’s article, she quotes Seneca as saying, “Soon we shall breath our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity” (2). Nussbaum further explains how Seneca viewed being fully human as being free in consciousness and action with the ability to recognize and respect fellow human beings (2). I agree with this statement as to define oneself as human is the initial step in recognizing and accepting the responsibilities of being such. The ability to interpret human characteristics pushes individuals in unique directions of action as individuals can recognize human potential to act on behalf of another. Unlike zombies who act in a selfish mindset to eat brains and fulfill their biological needs to sustain life, to be human is to participate in the ongoing exchange of continuously reevaluating the changes in humanity and adapting accordingly.
To distinguish a zombie from a human is even simpler than realizing the mortality of one over the other as to be strictly human is to recognize and study the human condition while acting in accordance with that knowledge. Although Nussbaum is wrong in her evaluation of how to obtain knowledge, she touched on the very important aspect of how such knowledge connects humanity. While on the other hand, Eagleton aims to disconnect the humanities from modern times, it is clear that putting the human condition under scrutiny is in actuality a timeless attribute of all human beings. It is then by realizing how the patterns in the human condition apply also to them, not on a scale of the best form of knowledge, but the mere presence of it, that they can find purpose in acting accordingly with their own common but differentiated talents. ‘Are we truly human?’ is a yes or no question and it is only by realizing our abilities to study the humanities as a uniquely human aspect that we are able to assume roles in relation to others in our community.
Eagleton, Terry. “The Death of Universities.” The Guardian 17 Dec. 2010: 1-2. Web. 15
Nussbaum, Martha. “Education for Citizenship in an Era of Global Connection.” Studies in
Philosophy and Education 289.303 (2002): 1-17/ Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002. Web.
15 Jan. 2016.