The humanities and social sciences constitute one of the earliest domains of knowledge. While disciplinary formations are a much modern phenomenon, the concerns which form the disciplinary bodies of the humanities and social sciences, such as history, political science, sociology, literature and economics, among others, were concerns which were considered as fundamental and foundational to the organization of a good well-ordered society. It was Aristotle who, while studied the animal world in an attempt to make sense of the social political world and who went on to categorize the study of politics as fundamental and basic. What is it about the humanities and social sciences which make it so important? Why are disciplines like political science and history regarded as imperative for the idea of a good well-ordered society?
Undoubtedly, that which we call knowledge ought to be innovative, creative and critical. Put differently, knowledge ought to bring about inventions that further the advance of the living and non-living world; it ought to be creative in the sense that it should be imaginative and prescriptive so as to indicate a futuristic path; and in order to justify the need for such creativity and innovation, it ought to be critical (not condemning) of the existing order. A knowledge body which is devoid of any of this three ceases to be knowledge as it loses its raison d’être. As such, knowledge has a purpose; it is not a mindless aimless activity which leads nowhere.
The humanities and social sciences constitute such disciplines which rest on the logic of innovation, creativity and criticality. They are expected to relook and rethink social, political, economic and cultural setups and offer normative possibilities. In doing so, they do need to question the existing order. We need to remember that if some societies have moved from essentially monarchical and/or authoritarian forms of rule to more democratic governments; it is only because of the idea of criticality and change which was nurtured by the social sciences. Similarly, if a singular reading of a text – a reading which was positioned as the sole and only basis of truth was questioned with an alternative reading of the truth, it was mainly because of
the interpretative hermeneutic reading of literary theories. Social sciences and humanities, unlike the natural sciences do not support the idea of a singular definitive truth; rather for such areas of knowledge, truth is an essentially contested and inherently discursive idea, which needs to be left open by a process of debate and deliberation. For the social sciences, Truth is not a universe; rather it is a multiverse. Perhaps this is the main reason why most non-democratic setups discourage or demote the pursuit of the social sciences.
This is not to say that the natural sciences are not creative or critical. In fact, the idea of knowledge per se is meant to be critical and creative. The problem however is that the creativity and criticality of the natural sciences is seen as liberating and progressive, while that of the social sciences is read as threatening and subversive. Einstein was an essentially critical and creative scientist, who in the absence of such creativity would not have questioned Newtonian physics.
Societies, in order to sustain their progress and development ought to nurture the social sciences and humanities. One of the main drawbacks of the humanities and social sciences, which most point to, is its non-quantifiable outcome – the product of such knowledge is largely ‘invisible’ and immeasurable. Knowledge is not that which must be seen and measured; rather knowledge is that which brings about change in the life of a person and a society. The social sciences and humanities do indeed constitute a progressive credible body of knowledge.
Dr. Udayprakash Sharma, Assistant Professor, Unitedworld School of Liberal Arts and Mass Communication (USLM)
Disclaimer: The opinions / views expressed in this article are solely of the author in his / her individual capacity. They do not purport to reflect the opinions and/or views of the College and/or University or its members.