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How Useful are the Humanities?

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Duration: 0:43:26 | Added: 13 May 2013
First lecture in the Value of Humanities series in which Professor Helen Small discusses the ideas of use and usefulness in the context of the value of the humanities.

There is an old line of argument that the humanities are necessarily (even laudably) useless, or at a remove from accounts of practical ends and economic utility. This has been a common line of resistance to political economists from Adam Smith onwards who have stressed usefulness as a desirable aim of publicly funded education. More recent advocates for the humanities have worked hard to invert the long-standing defence, demonstrating that they make a significant contribution to the knowledge economy and to the economy proper. The first half of this lecture explores the changing disposition of humanities advocates to the idea of instrumentalism. The second half treats Matthew Arnold's efforts to find a route out of the familiar structural opposition between use and uselessness- reading Culture and Anarchy (1869) alongside the reports Arnold wrote during the same period as an Education Department inspector of schools and universities. For Arnold, a controlled appeal to 'use' entails a point about public values, but also a point about the language in which we debate and uphold such values. I argue that Arnold's conclusion retains validity, and need not bring in its train his high-cultural assumptions. In short, I make a case for a 'modern Arnoldianism' with respect to use value.

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