The point of humanistic study is to make students human, that is, to allow individuals to realize some distinctively human abilities, such as having and understanding values, reflecting upon and understanding the past, cultivating aesthetic appreciation or achievement along the many dimensions that the world has offered us, and refining the intellectual tools necessary to understand, interpret, and interact with the broader world as something other than an automaton. Or, to borrow from Nietzsche, the point of disciplined humanistic study is to cultivate everything that “makes life on earth worth living–for instance: virtue, art, music, dance, reason, intellect–something that transfigures, something refined, fantastic, and divine” (Beyond Good and Evil, 188). The real scandal is that purportedly serious universities let students study “business” and “engineering” and other fields that have their uses–they make life livable, but not worth living.

Chattel slavery may be history in most parts of the world, thank goodness, but wage slavery is not, and these defenses of the humanities are, alas, depressingly realistic testimonies to that fact.