Philosophy on Top

9. April 2014

Date: 09-04-2014
Source: Project Syndicate

PETER SINGER

Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne, is the author of Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, One World, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason), The Life You Can Save, and the forthcoming The Point of View of the Universe (with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek). In 2013, he was named the world’s third “most influential contemporary thinker” by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute.

MELBOURNE – Last year, a report from Harvard University set off alarm bells, because it showed that the proportion of students in the United States completing bachelor’s degrees in the humanities fell from 14% to 7%. Even elite universities like Harvard itself have experienced a similar decrease. Moreover, the decline seems to have become steeper in recent years. There is talk of a crisis in the humanities.

I don’t know enough about the humanities as a whole to comment on what is causing enrollments to fall. Perhaps many humanities disciplines are not seen as likely to lead to fulfilling careers, or to any careers at all. Maybe that is because some disciplines are failing to communicate to outsiders what they do and why it matters. Or, difficult as it may be to accept, maybe it is not just a matter of communication: Perhaps some humanities disciplines really have become less relevant to the exciting and fast-changing world in which we live.

I state these possibilities without reaching a judgment about any of them. What I do know something about, however, is my own discipline, philosophy, which, through its practical side, ethics, makes a vital contribution to the most urgent debates that we can have.

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