Philosophy on Top

With the proportion of students completing bachelor’s degrees in the humanities plummeting, there is growing talk of a crisis in these disciplines. And yet one recent independent ranking listed three philosophers among the world's top five global thinkers for 2013.

MELBOURNE – Last year, a report from Harvard University set off alarm bells, because it showed that the proportion of students in the United States completing bachelor’s degrees in the humanities fell from 14% to 7%. Even elite universities like Harvard itself have experienced a similar decrease. Moreover, the decline seems to have become steeper in recent years. There is talk of a crisis in the humanities.

I don’t know enough about the humanities as a whole to comment on what is causing enrollments to fall. Perhaps many humanities disciplines are not seen as likely to lead to fulfilling careers, or to any careers at all. Maybe that is because some disciplines are failing to communicate to outsiders what they do and why it matters. Or, difficult as it may be to accept, maybe it is not just a matter of communication: Perhaps some humanities disciplines really have become less relevant to the exciting and fast-changing world in which we live.

I state these possibilities without reaching a judgment about any of them. What I do know something about, however, is my own discipline, philosophy, which, through its practical side, ethics, makes a vital contribution to the most urgent debates that we can have.

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