The more conditions it meets, the moreso it fulfills the definition of humanities. For an explanation on the cluster definition approach, see my definition of revolution. Thank you, Dr. Robb!

Tendencies of the humanities and what it needs:

  1. Its “savages.” It needs people who don’t study intellectual texts. Without the “savages” there would be no “enlightenment” for the humanities to write about.

  2. Texts that speak to each other

    1. Liberal-arts approach (including the intertwining of the two cultures)

  3. Ability to emphasize with one another

Within the powerhouse that is human emotion lies the distinction of what it means to be human. Humanities is the vector in which we explain human emotion. It provides opportunities for us to empathize with one another. As voyeurs looking in, consuming such stories about genocide — and really many other tragedies involving civilization — makes us bystanders to the violence itself. These images of violence have a double-edged effect on humanities, especially in the Western world. It can make us dangerously complicit and indifferent or it can incite compassion and empathy.  

Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, questions the latent potential for human compassion. They reveal a suffering that “should be repaired,” but they also subconsciously confirm for Westerners “that this is the sort of thing which happens in that place.” [1] Sontag quotes Westerners by avoiding the word genocide or violence, instead choosing to say “this is the sort of thing.” This demonstrates the extent to which Westerners assert their indifference by restricting their language in order to avoid conflicts that are not centered around themselves. Despite this indifference, the purpose of humanities is to put us in the position to empathize with one another but it is up to us to make that choice to do us. Humanities provides us with the knowledge, but it is up to us take action.

Furthermore, it is critical that the humanities approaches an interdisciplinary fashion of conveying knowledge. C.P. Snow found that individuals in a culture “without thinking about it, respond alike” [2]. This is harmful to how we study the human experience if we were all to think alike. Snow argues that in order to integrate the two cultures of science and the humanities,we must find common ground through rethinking our education. Therefore, for the humanities to truly capture the human experience, it means that we rethink the separation of the two worlds. It means ensuring that different texts speak to each other, in a truly liberal-arts Davidsonian fashion.

This figure below shows a figure on Alypsia snails and how they have been conditioned to remember shocks. [3] This figure was from our unit on Reductionism in Art and Brain Science by Eric R. Kandel. However, I realized that we studied the same study in my Biology 113 class for our unit on signal transduction and memory! The humanities program truly has made Snow proud by intertwining the two world together in the typical magical Davidson manner.



Lastly, humanities needs people who do not read intellectual texts. It needs people to teach. It needs people and issues that are “unenlightened.” Of course, the definition of enlightenment is arbitrary and a whole other issue in itself. However, the humanities, and the idea of high “fine art” and low “Kitsch” culture in humanities, are exclusionary. They hold an unequal power dynamic. We must ask ourselves who does humanities alienate? Is it accessible to everyone? This once again brings into play positions of power and revolutions. The humanities needs its savages, but it also needs to embody the ability to empathize with the human experience.

See my notebook below for my inspiration on defining humanities, with help from Dr. Ingram and Dr. Tamura’s lectures.

[1] Dr. David Robb on Definitions, 2019, essay on definitions, https://hum.davidson.edu/on-definitions-by-prof-robb/.

[2] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others ( New York: Picador, 2010), 71.

[3] C. P Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution; The Rede Lecture, 1959 (Cambridge: University Press, 1962), 4.

[4] Eric R Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 50-51.