Humanities Today - Define humanities and give current examples

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Humanities Today

The Encyclopedia Britannica (2006) defines the humanities as "Branches of knowledge that investigate human beings, their culture, and their self-expression." (Humanities). Those branches of knowledge include philosophy, literature, languages, the arts, religion and history. The humanities examine the human condition by studying the elements of culture that describe what is or was valued and considered important at a particular point in time.

15th century Italian humanists referred to the humanities as studia humanitas which means the studies of humanity, indicating "secular literary and scholarly activities (in grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, moral philosophy, and ancient Greek and Latin studies)" that that they thought to be more humane and classical rather than divine (Humanities, 2006). In contrast, the physical sciences tend to examine the world and its phenomena objectively, without reference to or consideration of human meaning and purpose, a key aspect of the humanities. Scholars further argue that the humanities are distinguished from other modes of study by either their subject mater and by the method of investigation used.

One philosopher called the humanities "the spiritual sciences" and "the human sciences" (Humanities, 2006). He described them as "areas of knowledge" outside of the physical sciences.

On the other hand, another turn-of-the-century philosopher instead characterized the humanities according to their method of study. He argued that the humanities do not seek or follow general laws, as the sciences do; and that they focus on values within human and cultural contexts, which is directly contrary to scientific methodologies. As described above, the humanities seek to understand the values of a people and their perceptions based on their direct expression through the arts, their language, and philosophies. Science is motivated by the desire to understand natural phenomena and dependent on empirical observation (Talk: Humanities, 2006).

The 21st century brings a variety of...