Not for Profit

20100623_2010+25books1_wGuy Dammann reviews Martha C. Nussbaum's Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, in The New Statesman:

As the American philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues in this limpid polemic, the vacuum left by conventional ideas about the value of education has been filled by an instrumental conception tied not to the notions of citizenship and moral autonomy, but to short-term economic benefit. The stakes, Nussbaum says, could not be higher. “If this trend continues, nations all over the world will soon be producing generations of useful, docile, technically trained machines, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticise tradition, and understand the significance of another person's sufferings and achievements.” The price, in other words, is capitalism's noble partner, liberal democracy.

Nussbaum describes a “worldwide crisis” taking place in education. She identifies the ways in which democracy relies on the values embedded in the arts and humanities. Societies have always used their arts and history as a mirror in which to see, understand and question their own values and desires, their fears and dreams, and their internal contradictions. But the value of the arts, in this respect, is contingent on the ability to think, judge and criticise for oneself.

The citizen educated in the art of following “argument rather than numbers”, Nussbaum writes, “is a good person for a democracy to have, the sort of person who would stand up against the pressure to say something false or hasty. A further problem with people who lead the unexamined life is that they often treat one another disrespectfully.”

This aspect of tolerance and openness occupies the core of Nussbaum's case.