The question at the root of humanities that differentiates it from other fields is “why?”. Whereas empiricism tells us how things work, it will never be able to address why things happen.
I want to start with the question “Why do we feel emotions?” or, more specifically, “Why do we experience happiness?”
Empiricism tells us how we feel emotions. It can go into depth about the chemical structure of happiness, it explains how happiness helps us to survive, and it even explains how happiness was developed through evolution. It cannot, however, prove to us why we feel happiness. One might argue that science does provide us the answer as to why we experience happiness. Data shows that by experiencing happiness we are able to differentiate between what helps us survive and what is harmful so that we may reproduce. We experience happiness so that we can reproduce, is how a scientist might answer this question. But this isn’t getting to the root of the question. Why do I feel happiness? Of all the ways to differentiate between what is safe and what is harmful, why did it manifest in the feeling of happiness? Why do I want to survive? Why do I want to reproduce? A scientist might respond: “Because we are biologically programmed to reproduce so that we can pass along our genes”. Why was I programmed that way? Why do I want to pass on my genes? Why did a system for genetic transfer develop in the first place? I hope I have conveyed my point. Any scientific explanation can be derailed by inspecting a layer further as to the “Why?”.
Another key element of the humanities is creation. In the humanities, ideas can be created that wouldn’t exist in the absence of humans. Science and empiricism are based solely on understanding and organizing reality. A reality that exists separate from the human experience. If humans were never to exist, all the concepts explored in empiricism would continue to exist. But humanities are bound to human experience, it is in the name, and if humans were to never exist, neither would the humanities.
humanities are the collection of fields that seek to answer the “Why” of human existence using methods that are creative and based on internal human thought rather than the pure observation of the external. It answers questions through human understanding rather than data.
The Humanities program at Davidson is a class that explores the trying and failing of a pedagogical system that relies on a set of idealized beliefs regarding the nature of human learning.
The Humanities program at Davidson represents an ideal that it can never reach. Much like the college itself, with its idealistic honor code. The program chooses to assume the best of its students, just like Davidson assumes the best of its students. The Humanities program assumes that by not giving us grades, not strictly monitoring our reading, and by not giving a strict structure, our natural goodness and curiosity will lead us to pursue the class for ourselves. Similarly to how Davidson students break honor code, and its campus still has to deal with cheating, lying, sexual assault, underage drinking, etc; so, do Humanities students fail to live up to the ideals of the program. I want to stress, however, that just because ideals are ultimately imperfect and unattainable, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having. A conscious understanding of what could be and a failed attempt at achieving it is much more worthwhile than not trying to reach an ideal at all.
Another aspect of Humanities is the identity it creates. It creates a group of people who recognize and subscribe to these ideals despite their own personal shortcomings. In that sense, Humanities could be compared to a religion. Christians recognize that they can’t reach their own idealized sense of morality, but they also recognize the importance of trying. The Humanities group each year tries to reach the lofty goal set by the program, and repeatedly every year fails to reach that goal. That is the beauty of it.
Questions that can only be answered through the philosophy of humanities. They are written in one of the most defining symbols of the Humanities program, the red notebook.