Thursday, September 18, 2008

NEH apparently clueless about philosophy

It was in complete disbelief that I read a colleague's email this morning with the announcement of a new NEH grant called "Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants (http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/EnduringQuestions.html). Here's the program description:

Grant Program Description
The purpose of the Enduring Questions grant program is to encourage faculty and students at the undergraduate level to grapple with the most fundamental concerns of the humanities, and to join together in deep, sustained programs of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.
Enduring questions are, to an overarching degree, pre-disciplinary. They are questions to which no discipline or field or profession can lay an exclusive claim. Enduring questions can be tackled by reflective individuals regardless of their chosen vocations, areas of expertise, or personal backgrounds. They are questions that have more than one plausible or interesting answer. They have long held interest for young people, and they allow for a special, intense dialogue across generations. The Enduring Questions grant program will help promote such dialogue in today’s undergraduate environment.
What are these enduring questions? The following list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive but serves to illustrate.
  • What is the good life?
  • What is justice? Mercy?
  • What is freedom? Happiness?
  • What is friendship?
  • What is dignity?
  • Is there a human nature, and, if so, what is it?
  • What are the limits of scientific understanding?
  • What is the relationship between humans and the natural world?
  • Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Good and evil?
  • What is good government?
  • What are the origins of the modern world?
  • What is liberal education?
The Enduring Questions grant program will support new humanities courses at the undergraduate level: their design and preparation, teaching, and assessment, as well as ancillary activities that enhance faculty-student intellectual community. Courses may be taught by faculty from any department or discipline in the humanities or by faculty outside the humanities (e.g., astronomy, biology, economics, law, mathematics, medicine, psychology), provided humanities sources are central to the course.
NEH Enduring Questions courses:
  • must give evidence of “pre-disciplinary” character, encouraging reflection on human experience and avoiding extensive specialization;
  • must focus on an explicitly stated question or questions, pursued in a disciplined and deliberate manner;
  • must draw on significant readings from prior to the twentieth century and may draw on later works, with a preference for reading books in their entirety or near entirety;
  • may draw on artworks (e.g., music, plays, sculpture);
  • must reflect intellectual pluralism, anticipating more than one plausible or interesting answer to the question(s) at hand;
  • must be open to all students regardless of major or concentration;
  • may not be offered for graduate credit; and
  • require a letter of institutional support from the president, provost, dean, program chair, or department chair, attesting to the course being new and committing to offering the course at least twice.
My question is: Has anyone at the National Endowment for Humanities ever heard of introductory philosophy courses? This is not only outrageous in the ignorance it shows about philosophy--the mother discipline of all humanities, and sciences--and about what is going on at universities around the country, it is also offensive to the discipline of philosophy. If I were on the board of the NEH, I would be utterly embarrassed.

4 comments:

Than said...

That is outrageous. What do people think we talk about in philosophy? But in raises an interesting question: if people like the NEH are ignorant of philosophy, have we done a good job getting philosophy out there? Maybe you should write them, Anna.

Michael Hunter said...

Well....stuff like this just offers further evidence that Philosophy Departments across the nation (and quite possibly the world) have REALLY poor public relations.

Guess it's time that all of us (grad students, especially) to raise the profile of the profession.

Jason Haeger said...

That's nuts! I feel so... so... neglected (as a philosophy student, that is).

Amazing. I just can't wrap my head around it. Either Philosophy is forgotten about, or it is no longer considered a legitimate discipline by the NEH.

Emily said...

Oh, dear.