The Humanities in Information Age


The Humanities in Information Age: its Crisis and Potential


The crisis of the humanities in the modern world has become something of a cliche. The humanities as an instrument for the discovery of truth has always been suspect since its inception, particularly after the science revolution of the 17th century. Is there then anything special about the crisis that the scholars of the humanities have recently experienced? This paper does two things to answer the question; one is to recapitulate the original ideas of the humanities in the Western world along with a very preliminary discussion on their compatibility with the nature of an informatizing society. The other is to survey the history of the controversies between the humanist scholars and scientists since the scientific revolution the most articulate proponent of which was Francis Bacon. In this paper, 1 take the position that the present crisis of the humanities is another form of the continuous challenges to the humanities from the camp of natural science in an ongoing battle for the initiative in an academic world rather than a whole new phenomenon due to the logic of informtization. What is clearly revealed in the survey of the humanities-science controversy is that the humanities has continuously been losing ground in the battle even to the point that what it claims to be is no more the most legitimate academic discipline for truth but only a subordinate subject which should borrow the rhetoric of its opponent to justify itself. The crisis of the humanities in an informatizing society, therefore, is serious and fundamental indeed, which, however, does not mean that the humanistic knowledge is found entirely redundant in an information society. An information society with a professionalizing (fragmentizing) tendency demands more than ever the human faculty of a comprehensive intelligence which can be nurtured only by the humanities. The traditional social function of the humanities such as the growth of an ideal citizen might become more relevant in an oncoming information society in that sense only if it manages to make much of the educational potentiality of information technology rather than being overwhelmed by it. The present crisis of the humanities, therefore, is a serious challenge which threatens its existence, but it also offers a new opportunity for the humanities to reclaim one of its traditional social functions, which is, the growth of a comprehensive human intelligence.


Journal of Semiotic Studies 7(2000): 299-330


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