Opinion: The significance of the humanities

In modern America, the majority of resources and financial backing allocated within universities go to STEM, computer sciences or business programs. Premium importance is placed upon the degree paths which help bring about technological progress, and consequently, information and money. With the overwhelming emphasis being placed upon those disciplines, the humanities have suffered as a result. At UW Tacoma, even from a casual glance, it is clear there aren’t even enough resources to give political science, economics or philosophy their own respective programs. Because there are so few of both professors and classes, it all has to be combined into one major. While technological advancement is vital, the place of the humanities in academia needs to be reevaluated, as its importance and contributions are vastly overlooked.

Philosophy, beyond its historical importance — through which it helped birth science, politics, psychology, sociology and countless other disciplines — has been significant in what it provides students, regardless of their chosen discipline. It gives you a language through which you can discuss complex concepts, which in turn allow you to more readily comprehend your experiences. Questions of ethics are made more palpable through philosophy’s lens, since philosophy’s rich history of ethical discourse, there are countless traditions and systems that already exist which can be drawn from.

In addition to ethics, philosophy also offers new ways of viewing the world around you. It can help individuals answer questions in their own lives when science can’t answer them: the meaning of life, the cause of suffering, how one should live. Furthermore, philosophy teaches critical thinking, as well as methods of working with abstract concepts, both of which are sought after in the academic and professional worlds.

Without political science, politics are a distant, often incomprehensible and abstract entity. Political theories, as well as the history of political thought, enable students to see the bigger picture. Modern political conflicts only truly make sense when one understands the context within which different ideologies and worldviews exist. Different political traditions create radically different resulting doctrines. Politics are far more complicated than just Republican vs. Democrat or the left vs. the right, and relevant distinctions are illuminated by an understanding of the theories underlying politics.

It is invaluable to understand the present-day conception of sovereignty, the idea that any modern state has a ruler or ruling group that can suspend the rule of law. This is what political  theorist Carl Schmitt called the “state of exception.” The concept of the “state of exception” appears clearly even more in modern politics in the form of what President George W. Bush referred to as the “state of emergency,” which is functionally identical.

Economics is absolutely necessary for understanding business and policy making. The economy drives nearly every last aspect of modern human life, yet very few of us know much at all about economics. Businesses rise and fall depending on the flow of the economic currents. Whether or not any  government policy is passed is subject to the economic interests of those in power. Without economics, political decisions often seem arbitrary at best, as economic interests permeate life as we know it.

While the significance of STEM, computer science and marketing are undeniable, they should not be prioritized at the expense of other disciplines. The gravity of the issues which the humanities help deal with remains, even in this era of tech supremacy. As such, the humanities must be better protected and funded in the university.


Lucas Waggoner

Lucas is a PPE major in University of Washington Tacoma, and he is graduating with a Bachelor's in philosophy. His primary interests are philosophy, politics, and law. He is currently working as a teacher at a secondary school while preparing to attend law school immediately following graduation.