Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanitiesby Martha C. C. Nussbaum
In this short and powerful book, celebrated philosopher Martha Nussbaum makes a passionate case for the importance of the liberal arts at all levels of education.
Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have rightly been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens. But recently, Nussbaum argues, thinking about
In this short and powerful book, celebrated philosopher Martha Nussbaum makes a passionate case for the importance of the liberal arts at all levels of education.
Historically, the humanities have been central to education because they have rightly been seen as essential for creating competent democratic citizens. But recently, Nussbaum argues, thinking about the aims of education has gone disturbingly awry both in the United States and abroad. Anxiously focused on national economic growth, we increasingly treat education as though its primary goal were to teach students to be economically productive rather than to think critically and become knowledgeable and empathetic citizens. This shortsighted focus on profitable skills has eroded our ability to criticize authority, reduced our sympathy with the marginalized and different, and damaged our competence to deal with complex global problems. And the loss of these basic capacities jeopardizes the health of democracies and the hope of a decent world.
In response to this dire situation, Nussbaum argues that we must resist efforts to reduce education to a tool of the gross national product. Rather, we must work to reconnect education to the humanities in order to give students the capacity to be true democratic citizens of their countries and the world.
Drawing on the stories of troubling--and hopeful--educational developments from around the world, Nussbaum offers a manifesto that should be a rallying cry for anyone who cares about the deepest purposes of education.
Michael Alison Chandler
Michael S. Roth
Julia Ann Charpentier
This book will certainly add weight to Nussbaum's considerable reputation and influence as a major public intellectual. Her core diagnosis is both accurate and compelling. . . . Not for Profit is an important book with an urgent message that should be read and considered by the widest possible audience.
David A. Bell
John A. Scott
Herman De Dijn
As a model of public philosophy, [Not For Profit] is exemplary. Anyone familiar with Nussbaum's work will know that a lot is going on beneath the surface, and that her case has more and deeper roots than are on show here. However, she is always careful to argue for her conclusions as fully as is compatible with brevity and accessibility. There are no pronouncements from on high here, only strong arguments, forcefully made.
One turns with some relief to Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit, and her impassioned . . . argument in favor of study of the humanities.
"Nussbaum makes a persuasive case."--New Yorker
"Nussbaum . . . brings to this perennial [education] debate an impassioned urgency . . . and broad erudition. . . . Nussbaum's defense of this worthy cause is deeply learned."--Mick Sussman, New York Times Book Review
"One turns with some relief to Martha Nussbaum's Not for Profit, and her impassioned . . . argument in favor of study of the humanities."--Peter Brooks, New York Review of Books
"Against the commercialisation of the academy, [Nussbaum] poses a sentient, Socratic and cosmopolitan vision of higher education."--Jon Nixon, Times Higher Education
"A comprehensive look at today's worldwide marketplace for college students."--Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post
"It's an important and timely plea because the pursuit of so-called useful educational results continues apace, and because the threats to humanistic education are indeed profound."--Michael S. Roth, Chronicle of Higher Education
"Moving deftly between analysis and and polemic, the author draws on education practices in India, experimental psychology, the works of such liberal education proponents as Dewey and Tagore to emphasize the importance of critical pedagogy for the development of individual responsibility, innovation, and self-examination. . . . [I]n advocating educational curriculums that recognize the worth of personal development and creative thought, this slim book is itself a small but decisive step in the effort to broaden and enrich current pedagogical practices."--Publishers Weekly
"For Nussbaum, human development means the development of the capacity to transcend the local prejudices of one's immediate (even national) context and become a responsible citizen of the world."--Stanley Fish, New York Times Opinionator Blog
"This is a passionate call to action at a time when the nation is becoming more culturally diverse and universities are cutting back on humanities programs."--Vanessa Bush, Booklist
"Nussbaum's ideals are dynamic. Hers is a cosmopolitan humanism oriented towards global citizenship. . . . Not only a spirited defence of the humanities and a lament for their perceived decline, it is a call to action."--Luke Slattery, Australian
"[A] short, though-provoking book. . . . Not For Profit offers a passionate and persuasive defence of the humanities. While most of the cases Nussbaum discusses are drawn from the US and India, her argument has undoubted relevance for Australia."--Tim Soutphommasane, Australian
"Nussbaum believes that cutting the liberal arts from our academic programs will lead to undereducated graduates. To make responsible decisions, a student must comprehend more than a limited business-oriented curriculum can provide. . . . Not For Profit is required reading for educational administrators, government analysts, and liberal arts instructors at all levels."--Julia Ann Charpentier, ForeWord
"But when economic growth becomes the focus of education, both democracy and human decency are in jeopardy. In her new book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (Princeton), acclaimed University of Chicago philosopher and legal scholar Martha Nussbaum argues that our culture of market-driven schooling is headed for a fall."--John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"This book will certainly add weight to Nussbaum's considerable reputation and influence as a major public intellectual. Her core diagnosis is both accurate and compelling. . . . Not for Profit is an important book with an urgent message that should be read and considered by the widest possible audience."--Paul Russell, Globe and Mail
"Nussbaum's defense of the value of the humanities is informed, intelligent and deeply plausible--so much so that many readers might find themselves somewhat at a loss as to how our society, and indeed the world in general, has reached the point where such a book is even needed. What could be more obvious, and thus less in need of a defense, than the claim that a strong grounding in the arts and humanities is a great good, both for the individual and for the society in which she lives? . . . I admire this book, as I do all Nussbaum's work, and I could not be more sympathetic to its message."--Troy Jollimore, Truthdig
"This brief volume incisively argues that higher education around the globe must reprioritize toward preparing students to become 'citizens of the world'--a task that will require schools to cultivate imagination, empathy, and other trademarks of humanistic education. Nussbaum's analysis is a moving reminder of the humanities' practical consequence."--Diversity Web
"[R]efreshingly free of the policy speak and narrow thinking that often dominate works on the subject. . . . Nussbaum's unorthodox method of defining and then demonstrating the value of the humanities is perhaps the most compelling aspect of her book."--Andrew Benedict-Nelson, Common Review
"As a model of public philosophy, [Not For Profit] is exemplary. . . . There are no pronouncements from on high here, only strong arguments, forcefully made."--Julian Baggini, Philosophers' Magazine
"Nussbaum makes a compelling case for the humanities' continuing value and importance."--David A. Bell, Dissent
"This is a little book with a big, and important, message. . . . Nussbaum has long demonstrated her courage as a public intellectual, and this book articulates the liberal vision that sustains her."--John A. Scott, Philosophy in Review
"[E]xcellently written."--Herman De Dijn, Ethical Perspectives
"As a model of public philosophy, [Not For Profit] is exemplary. Anyone familiar with Nussbaum's work will know that a lot is going on beneath the surface, and that her case has more and deeper roots than are on show here. However, she is always careful to argue for her conclusions as fully as is compatible with brevity and accessibility. There are no pronouncements from on high here, only strong arguments, forcefully made."--Julian Baggini, The Philosophers' Magazine
"[Nussbaum's] book is a compact, animated, and mellifluous defense of the humanities that makes a powerful case for the ethical imperative of providing the younger generations of the world's democracies with a critical, engaged, liberal-arts based education."--Erin McGlothlin, Belles Lettres
"Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities is refreshing in being a scholarly work in the humanities and social sciences from a US author that is not wholly preoccupied with the US. Indeed, one of the most interesting facet's of Nussbaum's work is her comparison of both the historical development and current position of education in the US with education in India which she clearly knows reasonably well."--Gavin Moodie, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management
"[I]t is resolutely vigorous and committed, honed for the purpose of public debate."--Solange Chavel, Books & Ideas
Read an Excerpt
Not for Profit
Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
By Martha C. Nussbaum
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
The Silent Crisis
Education is that process by which thought is opened out of the soul, and, associated with outward things, is reflected back upon itself, and thus made conscious of their reality and shape.
— Bronson Alcott, Massachusetts educator, c. 1850
[W]hile making use of [material possessions], man has to be careful to protect himself from [their] tyranny. If he is weak enough to grow smaller to fit himself to his covering, then it becomes a process of gradual suicide by shrinkage of the soul.
— Rabindranath Tagore, Indian educator, c. 1917
We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance. No, I do not mean the global economic crisis that began in 2008. At least then everyone knew that a crisis was at hand, and many world leaders worked quickly and desperately to find solutions. Indeed, consequences for governments were grave if they did not find solutions, and many were replaced in consequence. No, I mean a crisis that goes largely unnoticed, like a cancer; a crisis that is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of democratic self-government: a worldwide crisis in education.
Radical changes are occurring in what democratic societies teach the young, and these changes have not been well thought through. Thirsty for national profit, nations, and their systems of education, are heedlessly discarding skills that are needed to keep democracies alive. If this trend continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition, and understand the significance of another person's sufferings and achievements. The future of the world's democracies hangs in the balance.
What are these radical changes? The humanities and the arts are being cut away, in both primary/secondary and college/university education, in virtually every nation of the world. Seen by policy-makers as useless frills, at a time when nations must cut away all useless things in order to stay competitive in the global market, they are rapidly losing their place in curricula, and also in the minds and hearts of parents and children. Indeed, what we might call the humanistic aspects of science and social science — the imaginative, creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought — are also losing ground as nations prefer to pursue short-term profit by the cultivation of the useful and highly applied skills suited to profit-making.
This crisis is facing us, but we have not yet faced it. We go on as if everything were business as usual, when in reality great changes of emphasis are evident all over. We haven't really deliberated about these changes, we have not really chosen them, and yet they increasingly limit our future.
Consider these five examples, deliberately drawn from different nations and different educational levels:
In the fall of 2006 the U.S. Department of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, headed by Bush administration secretary of education Margaret Spellings, released its report on the state of higher education in the nation: A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. This report contained a valuable critique of unequal access to higher education. When it came to subject matter, however, it focused entirely on education for national economic gain. It concerned itself with perceived deficiencies in science, technology, and engineering — not basic scientific research in these areas, but only highly applied learning, learning that can quickly generate profit-making strategies. The humanities, the arts, and critical thinking were basically absent. By omitting them, the report strongly suggested that it would be perfectly all right if these abilities were allowed to wither away in favor of more useful disciplines.
In March 2004 a group of scholars from many nations gathered to discuss the educational philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore — winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, and leading innovator in education. Tagore's educational experiment, which had wide influence in Europe, Japan, and the United States, focused on the empowerment of the student through practices of Socratic argument, exposure to many world cultures, and, above all, the infusion of music, fine art, theater, and dance into every part of the curriculum. In India today, Tagore's ideas are neglected, and even scorned. Participants in the conference all agreed that a new conception, focused on profit, has taken over — in the process sidelining the whole idea of imaginative and critical self-development through which Tagore had formed so many future citizens of India's successful democracy. Would democracy in India survive today's assault upon its soul? Faced with so much recent evidence of bureaucratic obtuseness and uncritical group-think, many participants feared that the answer might be "No."
In November 2005 a teachers retreat was held at the Laboratory School in Chicago — the school, on the campus of my own university, where John Dewey conducted his pathbreaking experiments in democratic education reform, the school where President Barack Obama's daughters spent their early formative years. The teachers had gathered to discuss the topic of education for democratic citizenship, and they considered a wide range of educational experiments, studying figures ranging from Socrates to Dewey in the Western tradition to the closely related ideas of Tagore in India. But something was clearly amiss. The teachers — who take pride in stimulating children to question, criticize, and imagine — expressed anxiety about the pressures they face from wealthy parents who send their kids to this elite school. Impatient with allegedly superfluous skills, and intent on getting their children filled with testable skills that seem likely to produce financial success, these parents are trying to change the school's guiding vision. They seem poised to succeed.
In fall 2005 the head of the search committee for the new dean of the School of Education at one of our nation's most prestigious universities called me for advice. Hereafter I will refer to the university as X. X's School of Education has enormous influence on teachers and schools all over the United States. As I began talking about the role of the humanities and arts in education for democratic citizenship, saying what I took to be familiar and obvious, the woman expressed surprise. "How unusual," she said, "no one else I've talked to has mentioned any of these things at all. We have been talking only about how X University can contribute to scientific and technical education around the world, and that's the thing that our president is really interested in. But what you say is very interesting, and I really want to think about it."
In the winter of 2006 another prestigious U.S. university — let's call it Y — held a symposium celebrating a major anniversary, a centerpiece of which was to have been discussion of the future of liberal education. A few months before the event, speakers who had agreed to be part of this were told that the focus had been changed and that they should just come and lecture to small departmental audiences on any topic they liked. A helpful and nicely talkative junior administrator told me that the reason for the change was that the president of Y had decided that a symposium on liberal education would not "make a splash," so he decided to replace it with one on the latest achievements in technology and their role in generating profits for business and industry.
There are hundreds of stories like these, and new ones arrive every day, in the United States, in Europe, in India, and, no doubt, in other parts of the world. We are pursuing the possessions that protect, please, and comfort us — what Tagore called our material "covering." But we seem to be forgetting about the soul, about what it is for thought to open out of the soul and connect person to world in a rich, subtle, and complicated manner; about what it is to approach another person as a soul, rather than as a mere useful instrument or an obstacle to one's own plans; about what it is to talk as someone who has a soul to someone else whom one sees as similarly deep and complex.
The word "soul" has religious connotations for many people, and I neither insist on these nor reject them. Each person may hear them or ignore them. What I do insist on, however, is what both Tagore and Alcott meant by this word: the faculties of thought and imagination that make us human and make our relationships rich human relationships, rather than relationships of mere use and manipulation. When we meet in society, if we have not learned to see both self and other in that way, imagining in one another inner faculties of thought and emotion, democracy is bound to fail, because democracy is built upon respect and concern, and these in turn are built upon the ability to see other people as human beings, not simply as objects.
Given that economic growth is so eagerly sought by all nations, especially at this time of crisis, too few questions have been posed about the direction of education, and, with it, of the world's democratic societies. With the rush to profitability in the global market, values precious for the future of democracy, especially in an era of religious and economic anxiety, are in danger of getting lost.
The profit motive suggests to many concerned leaders that science and technology are of crucial importance for the future health of their nations. We should have no objection to good scientific and technical education, and I shall not suggest that nations should stop trying to improve in this regard. My concern is that other abilities, equally crucial, are at risk of getting lost in the competitive flurry, abilities crucial to the health of any democracy internally, and to the creation of a decent world culture capable of constructively addressing the world's most pressing problems.
These abilities are associated with the humanities and the arts: the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a "citizen of the world"; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person.
I shall make my argument by pursuing the contrast that my examples have already suggested: between an education for profit-making and an education for a more inclusive type of citizenship. I shall try to show how the humanities and arts are crucial both in primary/secondary and in university education, drawing examples from a range of different stages and levels. I do not at all deny that science and social science, particularly economics, are also crucial to the education of citizens. But nobody is suggesting leaving these studies behind. I focus, then, on what is both precious and profoundly endangered.
When practiced at their best, moreover, these other disciplines are infused by what we might call the spirit of the humanities: by searching critical thought, daring imagination, empathetic undemanding of human experiences of many different kinds, and understanding of the complexity of the world we live in. Science education in recent years has rightly focused on educating the capacities for critical thinking, logical analysis, and imagining. Science, rightly pursued, is a friend of the humanities rather than their enemy. Although good science education is not my theme, a companion study on that topic would be a valuable complement to my focus on the humanities.
The trends I deplore are worldwide, but I shall focus throughout on two very different nations that I know well: the United States, where I live and teach, and India, where my own global development work, much of it focused on education, has been conducted. India has a glorious tradition of humanities and arts education, exemplified in the theory and practice of the great Tagore, and I shall introduce you to his valuable ideas, which laid the foundations for a democratic nation and greatly influenced democratic education in Europe and the United States. But I shall also talk about the role of education in rural literacy projects for women and girls today, where the impetus to empower through the arts remains vital, and the effect of this empowerment on democracy can be clearly seen.
Where the United States is concerned, my argument will range over many types of educational experiments, from the use of Socratic self-examination in schools of many sorts to the role of arts organizations in plugging gaps in the public school curriculum. (The remarkable story of the Chicago Children's Choir in chapter 6 will provide a detailed case study.)
Education does not take place only in schools. Most of the traits that are my focus need to be nurtured in the family as well, both in the early years and as children mature. Part of a comprehensive public policy approach to the questions this manifesto raises must include discussion of how families can be supported in the task of developing children's capabilities. The surrounding peer culture and the larger culture of social norms and political institutions also play an important role, either supporting or subverting the work done by schools and families. The focus on schools, colleges, and universities is justified, however, because it is in these institutions that the most pernicious changes have been taking place, as the pressure for economic growth leads to changes in curriculum, pedagogy, and funding. If we are aware that we are addressing just one part of the story of how citizens develop, we can pursue this focus without distortion.
Education is not just for citizenship. It prepares people for employment and, importantly, for meaningful lives. Another entire book could be written about the role of the arts and humanities in advancing these goals. All modern democracies, however, are societies in which the meaning and ultimate goals of human life are topics of reasonable disagreement among citizens who hold many different religious and secular views, and these citizens will naturally differ about how far various types of humanistic education serve their own particular goals. What we can agree about is that young people all over the world, in any nation lucky enough to be democratic, need to grow up to be participants in a form of government in which the people inform themselves about crucial issues they will address as voters and, sometimes, as elected or appointed officials. Every modern democracy is also a society in which people differ greatly along many parameters, including religion, ethnicity, wealth and class, physical impairment, gender, and sexuality, and in which all voters are making choices that have a major impact on the lives of people who differ from themselves. One way of assessing any educational scheme is to ask how well it prepares young people for life in a form of social and political organization that has these features. Without support from suitably educated citizens, no democracy can remain stable.
I shall argue that cultivated capacities for critical thinking and reflection are crucial in keeping democracies alive and wide awake. The ability to think well about a wide range of cultures, groups, and nations in the context of a grasp of the global economy and of the history of many national and group interactions is crucial in order to enable democracies to deal responsibly with the problems we currently face as members of an interdependent world. And the ability to imagine the experience of another — a capacity almost all human beings possess in some form — needs to be greatly enhanced and refined if we are to have any hope of sustaining decent institutions across the many divisions that any modern society contains.
The national interest of any modern democracy requires a strong economy and a flourishing business culture. As I develop my primary argument, I shall also argue, secondarily, that this economic interest, too, requires us to draw on the humanities and arts, in order to promote a climate of responsible and watchful stewardship and a culture of creative innovation. Thus we are not forced to choose between a form of education that promotes profit and a form of education that promotes good citizenship. A flourishing economy requires the same skills that support citizenship, and thus the proponents of what I shall call "education for profit," or (to put it more comprehensively) "education for economic growth," have adopted an impoverished conception of what is required to meet their own goal. This argument, however, ought to be subservient to the argument concerning the stability of democratic institutions, since a strong economy is a means to human ends, not an end in itself. Most of us would not choose to live in a prosperous nation that had ceased to be democratic. Moreover, although it is clear that a strong business culture requires some people who are imaginative and critical, it is not clear that it requires all people in a nation to gain these skills. Democratic participation makes wider demands, and it is these wider demands that my primary argument supports.
Excerpted from Not for Profit by Martha C. Nussbaum. Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Meet the Author
Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School at the University of Chicago. She is the author of many books, including "Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law "(Princeton).
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Why do we need the humanities? Martha Nussbaum argues that the humanities offer insight into other cultures, other values and teach an appreciation for the complexity of the world beyond what we see close at hand in our day to day life. Activities such as philosophical discourse (alas Socrates), a critical reading of history, participating in drama, reading and writing poetry and fiction help us see what life is like through the eyes of persons with whom we are not familiar. These other groups of people extend beyond just those who are geographically remote from us, and include people from different economic backgrounds, other ‘races’ , other religions, other genders and people with different sexual orientations. Critical and creative thinking in the humanities teaches us to look for gaps in what we’re told by society and to consider the assumptions behind the values given to us by society. But while advocating the need for the humanities, Prof. Nussbaum reminds the reader on a number of occasions that she is *not* arguing against science/engineering/economic education. Rather, she is arguing that society needs the humanities in addition to these fields, and while the sciences are growing, the humanities are under attack on many fronts. One reason for this growing lack of support is the perception that an education in the humanities is not as employable as an education in (for example) engineering and the skills learned from the humanities may not seem as critical to economic growth. But she and others (e.g., Jean-Jacques Rousseau, American philosopher John Dewey and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore) note that central to the humanities are critical thinking and creativity skills that many employers value highly in their senior staff, and that economic growth as measured by the GNP is not necessarily the best measure of the health of a society since it does not take into account the disparities of wealth, the quality of life or educational opportunities available to all citizens. This very readable book summarizes many points that concerned readers should bring to the attention of local school boards, state educators and university administrators. If Prof. Nussbaum had included statistics showing changes in funding for the humanities, or even a list of institutions that have cut back on their humanities programs, I would have given this book a 5-star rating. But this lack of more widespread supporting quantitative data, which decision makers will certainly ask about, does not detract from the main message of the book. Anybody interested in education will be glad to have read ‘Not for Profit’.
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