Notes on Introduction to the Humanities -- Hum A211

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 1

I begin the course by explaining where the syllabus is (on the web) and how it works. Then I will discuss what the course will be like.

Next I will explain the purpose of the writing aspects of the course. This will enable me to briefly explore some of my favorite subjects: the nature of knowledge and language. I consider all cognitive learning as essentially language learning, so I use language learning models as guides for conducting class work. Then we will discuss the nature of the Humanities and some initial reasons why studying the Humanities is important.


Who am I?

What is my place in the universe?

How do I maintain that place?

As part of a Liberal Arts Education:

to learn the craft of Free people

to understand the virtues

because we are curious

To understand other people

why do they believe and act the way they do?

Key issues:

The artifacts and texts are old while the vocabulary is new

Texts are difficult -- Most are in translation

Cultures of the authors and artists are not ours, their ideas are easily misunderstood

You have to read to learn the tradition You have to learn the tradition to read

Some of our problems are different Some of our problems are the same


3 approaches to history


inquiry will lead to truth and knowledge of the world

belief in progress of reason


inquiry traces a tradition to undermine it

paradox of truth is there is no truth


understands truth to belong to a tradition

seeks a view that explains all traditions

Explanation: How should we approach the study of the humanities? For reasons that will be more clear towards the end of the course, we will take the approach of "tradition." This was somewhat discussed but the two alternatives need mention here. The method of "encyclopedia" follows the belief (primarily associated with the "Enlightenment" and the Britannica tradition (!)) that we can use scientific methods to find out all there is to know about the universe. As we find out each fact, and fact by fact compile all the facts we need to know all there is to know, our job will be done. This approach has been discredited and is no longer viable -- as we will see. The method of "genealogy" (primarily associated with Nietzsche) follows the trail of a tradition but then seeks to discredit that tradition by arguing that there can be no truth in mere accident. This tradition becomes hypocritical in the sense that it denies it's own genealogy, or plays with the nature of truth by recognizing that it all becomes nonsense. This is still a very popular view. I argue against using it towards the end of the course.

The approach that studies traditions -- very much as the genealogist does -- but holds that truth only makes sense within a tradition, seems to be the most cogent approach.

Next lecture



This page is maintained by William S. Jamison. It was last updated August 14, 2012. All links on these pages are either to open source or public domain materials or they are marked with the appropriate copyright information. I frequently check the links I have made to other web sites but each source is responsible for their own content.