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Part 4: Interrelationships


The Humanities and The sciences 

  • The humanities can be defined as a broad range of creative activities and studies that are usually contrasted with mathematics and the advanced sciences, mainly because in the humanities strictly objective or scientific standards typically do not dominate.
  • Most college and university catalogues contain a grouping of courses called “the humanities.” 
    • First, studies such as literature, the visual arts, music, history, philosophy, and theology are almost invariably (always) included. 
    • Second, studies such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, business administration, and education may or may not be included. 
    • Third, studies such as physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and engineering are never included. 
    • The reason the last group is excluded is obvious—strict scientific or objective standards are clearly applicable. 
    • With the second group, these standards are not always so clearly applicable. There is uncertainty about whether they belong with the sciences or the humanities. 
      • For example, most psychologists who experiment with animals apply the scientific method as rigorously (done very carefully) as any biologist. But there are also psychologists like C. G. Jung, for instance—who speculate about such phenomena as the “collective unconscious’’ and the role of myth. Those psychologists belong in the humanities. 
  • Rigorous (extremely thorough and careful) objective standards may be applied in any of the humanities. 
  • Thus, painting can be approached as a science—by the historian of medieval painting, for example, who measures, as precisely as any engineer, the evolving sizes of halos (ring of light).  On the other hand, the beauty of mathematics—its economy and elegance of proof—can excite the lover of mathematics as much as, if not more than, painting.
  • Artists are humanists. But artists differ from the other humanists because they create works that reveal values. 
  • Artists are sensitive to the important concerns of their societies. That is their subject matter in the broadest sense. They create artistic forms that clarify these values. The other humanists—such as historians, philosophers, and theologians—reflect upon, rather than reveal, values. They study values as given, as they find them. They try to describe and explain values—their causes and consequences. Furthermore, they may judge these values as good or bad.


The Arts and The Other Humanities 

  • Artists may contribute to other humanists by revealing values and informing them through their media of the nature and importance of those values. This is the help that the artists give to the other humanists. 
  • Suppose a historian is trying to understand the bombing of Guernica by the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Suppose he or she has explored all factual resources. Even then, something very important may be left out: a vivid awareness of the suffering of the non-combatants. To gain insight into that pain, Picasso’s Guernica may be very helpful. The same may be said of Francisco Goya’s painting May 3, 1808, showing the execution of prisoners of war. Art can provide an emotional understanding that data and information cannot. 
  • Other humanists, such as critics and sociologists, may aid artists by their study of values. 
  • For example, we have concerned ourselves in some detail with criticism—the description, interpretation, and evaluation of works of art. Criticism is a humanistic discipline because it usually studies values—those revealed in works of art—without strictly applying scientific or objective standards. Good critics aid our understanding of works of art. We become more sensitively aware of the revealed values. This deeper understanding brings us into closer rapport (close relationship) with artists, and such rapport helps sustain their confidence in their work. 


  • A value is something we care about, something that matters. A value is an object of interest. The term “object,” however, should be understood as including events or states of affairs. Positive values are those objects of interest that satisfy us or give us pleasure, such as good health. Negative values are those objects of interest that dissatisfy us or give us pain, such as bad health. 
  • When the term “value” is used alone, it usually refers to positive values only, but it may also include negative values. In our value decisions, we generally seek to obtain positive values and avoid negative values. But except for the very young child, these decisions usually involve highly complex activities. To have a tooth pulled is painful, a negative value, but doing so leads to the possibility of better health, a positive value. 
    • Intrinsic values involve the feelings—such as pleasure and pain—we have of some value activity, such as enjoying good food or experiencing nausea from overeating. 
    • Extrinsic values are the means to intrinsic values, such as making the money that pays for the food. 
    • Intrinsic-extrinsic values not only evoke immediate feelings but also are means to further values, such as the enjoyable food that leads to future good health. 
  • Values involve a valuer and something that excites interest in the valuer. Subjectivist theories of value claim, however, that it is the interest that projects the value on something. The painting, for example, is positively valuable only because it satisfies the interest of someone. If no one is around to project interest, then it is not a valuable object. Value is entirely relative to the valuer. 
  • Objectivist theories of value claim, conversely (opposite to sth.), that it is the object that excites the interest. The painting is positively valuable even if no one has any interest in it. Value is in the object independently of any subject. Jane is beautiful even if no one is aware of her beauty. 
  • The relational theory of value—claims that value emerges from the relation between an interest and an object. A good painting that is satisfying no one’s interest at the moment nevertheless possesses potential value. A good painting possesses properties that under proper conditions are likely to stimulate the interest of a valuer. 
    • The subjectivist would say that this painting has no value whatsoever until someone projects value on it. 
    • The objectivist would say that this painting has actualised value inherent in it whether anyone enjoys it or not. 
    • The rationalist would say that this painting has potential value, and that when it is experienced under proper conditions, a sensitive, informed participant will actualise the potential value.  To describe a painting as “good” is a recognition that the painting has positive potential value. For the relationalist, value is realised only when objects with potential value connect with the interests of someone.
  • Values are usually studied with reference to the interaction of various kinds of potential value with human interests. 
  • For example, criticism tends to focus on the intrinsic values of works of art; economics focuses on commodities as basically extrinsic values, and ethics focuses on intrinsic-extrinsic values as they relate to moral standards. 
  • Values that are described scientifically as they are found are called value facts. Values that are set forth as norms or ideals or what ought to be are called normative values. Smoking cigarettes is, for some people, a source of satisfaction, both physically and socially. The value facts known about smoking cigarettes tell us that they damage one’s lungs and ultimately cause heart attacks and several forms of cancer. 
    • Smoking cigarettes conjures a conflict between the intrinsic value of satisfaction and the extrinsic value of early, painful death. Normative values tell us what our behaviour should be. An ideal position on the smoking of cigarettes would tell us that good health in the future is to be preferred to pleasant satisfaction in the present. 
  • The arts and the other humanities may clarify our normative value decisions, thus clarifying what ought to be and what we ought to do.
  • We are beings who must constantly choose among various value possibilities. Paradoxically, even not choosing is often a choice. The humanities can help by revealing the consequences of value choices that scientists do not consider. The other humanists help by clarifying the consequences of value choices that escape both artists and scientists. 
    • For example, the historian or sociologist might trace the consequences of value choices in past societies. Moreover, the other humanists—especially philosophers—can take account of the entire value field, including the relationships between factual and normative values. 
  • Factual values can be verified experimentally, and put through the tests of the scientific method. Normative values are verified experientially and put through the tests of good or bad consequences. Satisfaction, for ourselves and the others involved, is an experiential test that the normative values we chose in a given instance were probably right. Suffering, for ourselves and the others involved, is an experiential test that the normative values we chose were probably wrong. Experiential testing of normative values involves not only the immediacy of experience but also the consequences that follow. Science can also point out these consequences, of course, but science cannot make them so forcefully clear and present as the arts, thus so thoroughly understandable. 


  • The arts and the other humanities are distinguished from the sciences because in the former, generally, strictly objective or scientific standards are irrelevant. In turn, the arts are distinguished from the other humanities because in the art values are revealed, whereas in the other humanities values are studied. Furthermore, in art perception dominates, whereas in the other humanities conception dominates. 
  • In this way, the arts are closely related to other humanities, especially history, philosophy, and theology. The arts help reveal the normative values of past cultures to the historian. Philosophers attempt to answer questions about values, especially in the fields of ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. Some of the most useful insights about value phenomena for the philosopher come from artists. Theology involves the study of religions, and religions are grounded in ultimate concern for values. No human artefacts reveal ultimate values more powerfully to the theologian than works of art. 


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