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Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (The Public Square) Paperback – March 26, 2012

3.6 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A spirited if unremarkable defense of the value of a liberal arts education and of the humanities in general against the encroachment of economic growth–oriented paradigms on global learning practices. Distinguished philosopher Nussbaum (Hiding from Humanity) argues that education for profit has displaced education for citizenship, and with the sidelining of the humanities, critical thinking, empathy, and the understanding of injustice are neglected. Moving deftly between analysis and polemic, the author draws on education practices in India, experimental psychology, the works of such liberal education proponents as Dewey and Tagore to emphasize the importance of critical pedagogy for the development of individual responsibility, innovation, and self-examination. However, while Nussbaum admirably defends liberal humanitarian education, little in the book is new, and she is only moderately successful in pinpointing precisely how educational practices might be reformed or, more importantly, how decision makers might be convinced of the necessity of such reformation. Nonetheless, in advocating educational curriculums that recognize the worth of personal development and creative thought, this slim book is itself a small but decisive step in the effort to broaden and enrich current pedagogical practices. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Worries about the economy and the need to advance technology are threatening liberal arts education in the U.S. to the ultimate detriment of our democracy, laments philosopher Nussbaum. She explores the long history of emphasis on humanities in education in the U.S., exploring the influences of Horace Mann, Bronson Alcott, John Dewey, and others, including India’s Rabindranath Tagore. She devotes a separate chapter to Socrates and his teachings that have figured prominently in developing a sense of citizenship in democracy; the connectedness of individuals; and the importance of the ability to question, analyze, and argue points of view. Nussbaum offers examples and case studies from the U.S. and India of the shift from the “human-development paradigm” to the “growth-oriented paradigm” and what nations are at risk of losing. She analyzes the role of the arts and humanities in developing language skills and encouraging curiosity about other cultures and sympathy for other individuals. This is a passionate call to action at a time when the nation is becoming more culturally diverse and universities are cutting back on humanities programs. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Public Square
  • Paperback: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New afterword by the author edition (March 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691154481
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691154480
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Marlin on July 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was very much looking forward to this book as I have enjoyed and learned from Martha Nussbaum's writing in the past. Moreover, I strongly believe in the general thrust of this book -- that the humanities are being undervalued as our colleges and public schools become more and more career oriented. I teach humanities (English and Philosophy) myself, so I was predisposed to her thesis before I even picked it up.

But I found the argument to be mediocre at best; in fact, the whole book read like it was a journal article that had been stretched, padded, and embellished to meet the minimal page count to be credibly marketed as a book. There's also something of a dashed-off quality to the prose, lots of repetition from chapter to chapter along with loose sentences, incomplete thoughts, vagueness, and other signs of haste.

The book makes a decent case for critical thinking, but seems to lack that quality itself -- it unhesitatingly endorses the educational thinking of Rousseau, Dewey, and Tragore without critically engaging their thought or methods. Nussbaum argues that we need critical thinking in order to challenge traditions without seeming to be aware that she is simply making claims based on authorities that form a tradition, and, indeed, lots of educators and philosophers challenge these approaches. And she nowhere critically engages the possibility that some traditions might be valuable.

I am reminded that Mark Edmundson cogently observed that what passes for critical thinking these days is using methods of thought and vocabulary that one doesn't really believe to debunk world views one would rather not be challenged by. I fear that Nussbaum's approach to critical thinking would probably lead to that kind of superficiality.
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Format: Hardcover
Nussbaum calls her book 'a manifesto'. Her manifesto on why democracy needs the humanities is made up of 6 interlocking propositions: (1) there is a crisis going on in education today; (2) this crisis is the shedding away of the humanities, which produce the necessary espirit de corps and competencies for an active and productive democracy; (3) this shedding away of the humanities can be attributed to the growth-oriented economy, which prefers professional skill-ism rather than the critical thinking skills and the imaginative empathy cultivated by the humanities; (4) at the same time, events in the world today are heading in the direction where more international cooperation and collaboration is needed, which must surely demand critical thinking and imaginative empathy for cross-cultural work; (5) however, we are heading in the opposite direction through our present attention on standardized testing and technically oriented education directives, which produce "useful machines" (pp. 2) but not imaginative and empathetic human beings; (6) hence, not only do we ultimately undermine our own cherished democracy, but ultimately too we undermine the solidarity needed for a universal democracy that can solve universal problems affecting all.

To be fair, we will have to take Nussbaum's argument one step deeper: that societies, and hence to a certain extent also publicly funded universities in many places, prefer practical skill-ism rather than the humanities. Since the growth-oriented economy requires skillful workers who can obey and work rather than to question and think, classes oriented to imparting practical or applied skills are much more favored by policy-makers, bosses, parents and students alike--because everyone in this squarish ecology seemed well-pleased.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'Humanities' is not just a term describing the subject of study - human beings and civilization. It also has the implicit purpose of turning students of the humanities into informed, enlightened, and better human beings. Nussbaum's book 'Not for Profit' is a reflection of the importance of the humanities. It is also about education. She cites numerous criticisms of rote-learning which turn students into 'passive vessel[s] of received cultural values'.

Nussbaum reminds the reader of the connection citizens have, not just with one another in a country, but also across borders. Education should thus be teaching a student not only to be a responsible citizen, but a responsible citizen of the world. Cultivating the imagination, independence, and compassion are the worldly syllabi. A child ‘who knows how to do things for herself, Nussbaum writes, 'does not need to make others her slave.'

The subtitle of the book is 'Why Democracy Needs the Humanities'. She propounds this theme with vigour in the final chapter of the book. Her objective is best summed up in the following paragraph (at page 141): 'Today we still maintain that we like democracy and self-governance, and we also think that we like freedom of speech, respect for difference, and understanding of others. We give these values lip service, but we think far too little about what we need to do in order to transmit them to the next generation and ensure their survival. Distracted by the pursuit of wealth, we increasingly ask our schools to turn out useful profit-makers rather than thoughtful citizens. Under the pressure to cut costs, we prune away just those parts of our educational endeavor that are crucial to preserving a healthy society.
What will we have if these trends continue?
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