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Humanities Vs. Sciences Essay

1711 words - 7 pages

“SCIENCE HAS BOMBS, and humanities have Britney Spears” (Kershner as cited in Purvis, 2004). This amusing comment, made during a professorial debate concerning which discipline was superior, epitomises the divide that exists between the humanities and sciences. Although the debate has its roots in the Industrial Revolution, in more recent times it was signalled by Snow’s (1959; 1964) discussion outlining the dysfunctional gulf that exists between the cultures. Essentially Snow was critical of the breakdown of communication and understanding between the worlds of the humanities and sciences and blamed this for many of society’s unresolved problems. He was particularly critical of the literary intellectuals: “This loss is leading us to interpret the past wrongly, to misjudge the present, and to deny our hopes of the future. It is making it difficult or impossible for us to take good action.” (Snow, 1964, p.60) In the years that followed there has been considerable discussion and debate about the issue and consequent discussions about the value of the sciences and humanities for society’s wellbeing. For example, Leavis (Leavis & Yudkin, 1963) criticised the notion of a chasm and, in a vitriolic manner, suggested that Snow was simply a public relations ‘stooge’ for the sciences. The argument was deepened by a pseudoscientific hoax paper published in a post-modern cultural studies journal by Sokal (1996a, 1996b), a mathematical physicist, who demonstrated that there was an acceptance of a lack of rigour in published humanities work. There was a furore over this hoax and counter arguments and rebuttals engaged many academics in a bitter dispute, but unsurprisingly an examination of this literature reveals that the protagonists talked past each other. Essentially, the humanities’ position (e.g., Anderson, 2002) in the Snow-Leavis debate has been unrepentant and it has continued to claim the importance of the human condition in the scientific technological world. In a very practical manner, the Third Culture Movement (e.g., Brockman, 1995) has endeavoured to reconcile differences by providing an opportunity for scientists and the literati to integrate ideas from both paradigms in their writings and thinking. Some intellectuals (e.g., Lee & Wallerstein, 2004), in recognising the need for both cultures, have attempted to reconcile the differences in a theoretical sense.
Unification through Division
In university education, the divide remains alive with the autonomous science and humanities departments producing specialist graduates and the academics of each guarding the boundaries of their domains, strengthened by the distinction between the constructivist and scientific paradigms. However, this demarcation masks the real purpose of what a university education is all about today. University education is more than discipline-based, compartmentalised knowledge, attitudes and outcomes – it should reflect the needs of stakeholders (students, business,...

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