William James' Apologia for the Humanities
I propose to discuss William James' apologia for education in the humanities — the value of which was as much in question in his time as now. Of particular significance is his inclusive conception of humanistic education. For James, the humanities includes far more than its traditional subjects of history, literature, and philosophy by encompassing all the other disciplines in the curriculum like the natural and social sciences and even the various branches of engineering and other technical fields. In James' conception, the history of any discipline belongs to the humanities, thereby making humanistic education essentially an historical enterprise. For example, studying the history of the sciences is no less a humanistic discipline than studying the history of literature and the fine arts. The aim of humanistic education, in James' historical conception of it, is to discover models of excellence in all fields of human endeavor. Thus, by studying the history of science we stand to learn about those methods and ways of thinking practiced by past scientists that have proven most effective in the acquisition of knowledge. And by studying the history of literature and the fine arts we shall encounter masterpieces that serve as touchstones of aesthetic merit for our edification, emulation and guidance. The ultimate aim of humanistic education historically conceived is eminently practical. It is to help us, in James' own words, "to know a good man when you see him." Interestingly, James' conception of humanistic education as the quest for norms or standards makes it a branch of the general theory of value or axiology. In addition, I shall draw out the political implications, among others, of his normative conception of education in the humanities, and show how it stems from the larger and more familiar themes of his philosophy, particularly his individualism, personalism, and pragmatism.
Keywords: William James, Education in the Humanities, History, Axiology, Pragmatism, Philosophy
Dr. Richard Anthony Spurgeon Hall
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Government and History, Fayetteville State University, Fayetteville, North Carolina