The School of Life : Humanities Graduates in the New Economy

On the tail of my recent post delving into the nature and value of the humanities, this quick addendum. It’s inspired by this short video from The School of Life, which examines the sense of exile felt by lovers of the humanities stuck in a capitalist economy.



What the video clarifies for me:

  1. According to the School of Life, humanities graduates are misfits in the current economic order.
  2. The reasons for this disconnect have to do with what the humanities stand for. Simply put, the humanities are a secular (non-religious) approach for analyzing life problems using the traditional modes of investigation of the written word, and the arts.
  3. Workplace readiness requires a combination practical and professional skills, specific to one’s sector and role. The crowning disciplines of economic adaptation are marketing, management and the applied arts and sciences: i.e. “instrumental” knowledge.
  4. The true value of a humanities university degree resides in the training that it provides for tackling problems that fall outside the scope of management techniques, or practical knowledge. Unlike other fields of knowledge, the humanities won’t turn the human subject into an object of knowledge.

Simply put, the humanities flesh out what it is to be human, from the widest set of perspectives. The humanities train us to tackle the more vexing and entrenched issues of the human condition: love, conflict, wealth, meaning and death. Humanities’ approaches are secular in their outlook: their investigations can be “extracted” from any cultural and religious context, and made intelligible, via the “republic of letters” to audiences in different languages. And the multifaceted nature of human experience is reflected in the humanities’ core disciplines: philosophy, literature, the arts, history.

My key point: whereas the natural and social sciences transform the thinking and feeling individual – the human subject – into an object of knowledge, the humanities resist this temptation, and take the many and varied “articulations” of the human subject to be the end of knowledge itself. Just how they can be made “economically relevant”, as the School of Life claims, is open to discussion.

To summarize, my (updated) definition for the humanities:

The humanities are a collection of secular, literary and artistic modes of investigation of the human story and the human conditon, developed in the West in the disciplines of philosophy, literature, history and the fine arts. Their training provides one with the unique skills of identifying complex and perennial problems of human perception, relationships, identity, wisdom, and ultimately help one in making important life decisions. Lastly, in contrast to more instrumental forms of human knowledge, the humanities promote alternative ways of creating wealth and value that are not reducible to economic utility.

So if you’d really like to know why we’re all required to fit inside a box, commit to the study the humanities. The humanities allow you to truly “think outside the box”. That box being, of course, the economy. 😉

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