The method of science is logical and rational; the method of the humanities is one of imagination, sympathetic understanding, ‘indwelling. – Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology
When I was young and had to decide what I would be when I grew up, there were only three options open to me.
I could go to university to study to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer – because of the subjects I has studied at school.
If I had been free to choose I think I’d have studied English, perhaps tried my hand at writing.
As it happened, I failed into engineering – and picked up a few skills along the way – the sort of skills that help you make a living by making things work.
What I was told was that doing a degree like engineering gave you options – you could choose to be anything you wanted after that.
But really, what people meant was that certain degrees had market value – you had a better chance of getting a job with one of them.
There are children all over the world who are being pushed towards STEM subjects – the “hard” disciplines as opposed to the soft, fluffy ones you also see dotted around.
And this leads to a few things that may be worth keeping in mind.
First, how do you work out whether you’re living a life worth living?
“Worth” is seen differently from different points of view.
I started browsing thought The art of being human: The humanities as a technique for living by Richard Paul Janaro and Thelma C. Altshuler, where they address this question head on.
The approach most of us are familiar with is the idea of “net worth” – how much do you have in the bank – how much will you leave when you die?
This is an economic concept of worth.
But there is another concept of worth – which has more to do with a “good” life.
A life where you travel, see other cultures, appreciate art and music and the other things that are uniquely human.
But it’s not quite as simple as that.
If you have no money but are deeply sensitive and appreciative of art and music – is that a good life?
Surely it’s better to have a roof and a bed and be able to see a play?
What happens if you take it to extremes – like when very rich people go to very expensive cultural programmes and preen and flatter themselves for their appreciation and sophistication?
Of course, I’ve never been to such events but I imagine there are some out there…
When it comes down to it I don’t think there really is that much of a separation.
It probably has a bit to do with Maslow and his hierarchy.
Learning a trade or a practical subject is going to help you meet your basic needs – and perhaps get you a partner.
But, if you stop there then you’re missing out on quite a bit of what life has to offer.
In particular, the humanities teach you to appreciate other humans and their creations.
Perhaps the right approach to education is a layered one.
Start with a grounding in a practical skill – the trades, the professions.
Work for a while.
Then, go back to school or do a self-study programme and learn the humanities.
And you’ll probably find that you become a better professional and a better human.
And isn’t that worth doing?