Last October, the New York Times published an article addressing the decline of humanities programs across the country (available here). The article discusses how in light of economic collapse and a rise of interest in STEM, humanities majors across the country have become less popular. For example, the humanities departments at Stanford University claim 45 percent of the faculty but only 15 percent of the students. At Harvard, humanities majors have declined by 20 percent over the past decade. While universities of high prestige can afford such a drop in interest, colleges like Edinboro University have closed degrees in philosophy.
From a purely economic standpoint, such a trend makes sense. Why be a philosophy major and have a mid-career salary of $72,600 when you can be a nuclear engineering major and make $107,000 a year? Of course, education is more than just job preparation, and a college degree should not be reduced to a market value, but my intention here is not to contribute to the meaningless war between the sciences and the humanities (see the back-and-forth between Steven Pinker and Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic). My intention is to show that a rigorous understanding of philosophy is necessary for responsible and meaningful progress in science. Ergo, I will argue that colleges can make use of their humanities programs by requiring science majors to study philosophy.
One may be skeptical towards the idea that reading Locke can be directly valuable to a scientist. However, on many issues, values of science and philosophy collide, and in such instances, it is important for us to analyze the dilemma from both perspectives. One such example would be the decision to create an atomic bomb. The scientific perspective of the issue would be to analyze how dangerous such a weapon would be due to the intense amount of energy released by the splitting of an atom. We come to the conclusion that forging such an instrument could make a nation immensely powerful and a scientist immensely wealthy. However, the philosophical approach to the dilemma would question the morality behind creating a tool capable of such destruction upon equally valuable human beings, regardless of their side in any conflict. Perhaps a utilitarian calculation is done to reason that the weapon could end a war immediately rather than have it drag on and kill more people, but furthering the philosophical approach raises the concern that such an act would leave the world in a constant paranoia over the next nuclear attack. Clearly, such issues must be analyzed in parallel for us to make the most responsible decision.
With great power comes great responsibility.” As technology advances exponentially, Uncle Ben’s dying words carry supreme significance. In such an aphorism, “power” can symbolize science as “responsibility” can symbolize philosophy. Science is extremely powerful: with it we can generate organs and produce food. For philosophy to deal with such issues, it must first be knowledgeable of them, which is why philosophy without science is blind. But science without philosophy is just as blind. If science represents human progress, then philosophy asks “progress towards what?” Philosophy done correctly orients us in the existential vacuum in which our society finds itself, questioning its dogmatic values of money and power. Therefore, scientists should be educated in philosophy so that they can advance in their fields responsibly and meaningfully. So as colleges across the country think about ways in which they can keep the humanist tradition in a world driven by STEM research, perhaps by integrating both disciplines, we can build a more responsible future.