Why study the humanities over the natural sciences

The science grad asks, “Why does it work?”

The engineering grad asks, “How does it work?”

The accounting grad asks, “How much will it cost?”

The arts grad asks, “Do you want fries with that?

Having completed a BA before commencing my JD, I’m no stranger to the all-too-common wisecrack that Arts graduates struggle to find jobs because Arts is a ‘useless’ degree.

As a VCE tutor of more than 6 years, I’m often asked by students for advice about choosing universities, degrees and majors. I’ve also occasionally been asked by parents about whether my BA was ‘worth it’.

Although nothing is perfect (I am on public record voicing concern about the preaching of overtly socialist messages by teaching academics such as my first year ‘Power’ lecturer – a compulsory unit for Politics and International Studies majors), I still believe that Arts is an incredibly valuable discipline capable of fostering the development of a wide range of highly sought-after transferable skills.

Chief among these is an advanced capacity for critical thinking – something to which many universities are quick to refer when defending the merits of the humanities. It’s certainly true that the ability to develop, identify and appreciate sophisticated arguments is invaluable both in many professional scenarios and in everyday life. Thinking critically is not unique to the humanities, but where students of the natural sciences wonder ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are, arts students are encouraged to as how and why things ought to be.

Arts graduates are also skilled communicators able to articulate complex ideas both verbally and in writing. There are few vocations in which communication skills are not highly valued, and good communication is a key to happy and healthy interpersonal relationships. Furthermore, the ability to communicate its innovations is a great strength of the humanities, and key to its ability to transform society.

These are undoubtedly useful skills in fields such as law, policy, consulting and management. But perhaps most importantly, for me (as a Philosophy major), is the fact that Arts is the only truly creative field of study. While our peers in the natural sciences only ever uncover answers that are already out there waiting to be discovered (the laws of nature), students of the humanities create new value in answering difficult questions about the human experience.

While mathematics and science are constants that humanity is merely yet fully to explore, the potential of the human mind to create is limitless. While the practical applications of scientific discovery are significant, the conceptual power of philosophy, ethics and politics to improve human existence is boundless.

Indeed, while the natural science student may tell us ‘how’ to do something, the humanities student can tell us ‘why’ we should do it. To me, there’s something very encouraging and inspiring about that. This is why I am a proud student of the humanities.

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