Humanities // humanities

At the beginning of the school year, defining words seemed like a simple task. I’ve used the words “h(H)umanities” and “revolution” in conversation and writing without second thought. However, as the class has progressed, my once clear cut definitions have become blurred and uncertain. Is it even possible to create an accurate definition? What does accurate even really mean?

Reading Dr. Robb’s introduction to definitions challenged me. Dr. Robb acknowledges the difficulties in defining concepts, yet attempts to create definitions anyway:

“Sometimes the search for necessary and sufficient conditions fails. Many of Plato’s early dialogues end without a successful definition of the central term, and the question is what to do then. We could just admit that we know very little about what’s being defined. (This seems to have been Socrates’ lesson.) A more drastic reaction is to say that conceptual analysis is impossible. Some philosophers have in fact thought that informative necessary and sufficient conditions cannot be obtained for any interesting terms. I think this is too pessimistic. But for the purposes of this last post, let’s assume that we can’t give necessary and sufficient conditions for terms such as “humanities” or “revolution”. Then what?”

So where do I start?

Well, the repeated idea throughout my portfolio is “truth” and understanding/finding truth. Applying this idea of truth to concepts we’ve learned so far in this course like conceptual schemes, translation, and paradigm shifts have persuaded me that truth is undefinable. So, are we able to define humanities and revolution? I wouldn’t say that we can perfectly define them, but for the sake of this course, here are my imperfect, inaccurate, and biased definitions.

Lowercase “humanities” is simply put, an attempt to understand life as a human being. The entity that is doing the understanding is a human and what is being understood is a human experience. Therefore, humanities is rather meta. It’s a human’s understanding of humans through the conceptual scheme of a human.

Each unit in our course this year, while very different in topic, all contribute to this humanities study. In every unit (Quillen, Robb, Tamura, Wills) we have worked to better understand humans by reflecting on human experiences. Even Robb’s unit, which appeared to be more scientific, was a lesson in the humanities, as it evaluated conceptual schemes of humans over time.

The capitalized “Humanities” is the first-year program at Davidson College that studies the humanities (defined above). Made up of students and faculty, the Humanities program is a community that searches for the “truth,” to better understand the human experience, and thus, understand humanities.

Below are three images from my Humes notebook this semester that helped craft my definitions of H/humanities. The pages cover concepts such as truth, relativity, the insufficiency of language, and human distinctions.

“Relativism would argue no truth, therefore all is biased/based off of own conceptual scheme, so we are never sufficient, we are all bullshitters”
“Communication is innately inefficient/corrupt, witnesses can only share language, not those experiencing event, even those who do experience it directly can not communicate truth. Direct experience of life is only truth. How can we think the unthinkable?”
“Balance of making distinctions to separate versus acknowledge other”