Simon During at Public Books:
The key consequence of seeing the humanities as a world alongside other broadly similar worlds is that the limits of their defensibility becomes apparent, and sermonizing over them becomes harder. If people stopped watching and playing sports, how much would it matter? The question is unanswerable since we can’t imagine a society continuous with ours but lacking sports, even though one such is, I suppose, possible. We do not have the means to adjudicate between that imaginary sportless society and our own actual sports-obsessed society. The same is true for the humanities. If the humanities were to disappear, new social and cultural configurations would then exist. Would this be a loss or gain? There is no way of telling, partly because we can’t picture what a society and culture that follow from ours but lack the humanities would be like at the requisite level of detail, and partly because, even if we could imagine such a society, our judgment between a society with the humanities and one without them couldn’t appeal to the standards like ours that are embedded in the humanities themselves. The humanities would be gone: that’s it.