Summer Seminar 2017, August 21-23
‘What the Humanities Contribute to the University’
Truth, Politics and the Humanistic Attitude
Prof. Michael Lynch
University of Connecticut
Yeats’ admonished that the best can lack all conviction while the worst are often filled with passionate intensity. And of course he is right; dogmatism is bad, but so is skeptical nonchalance. Liberal irony does not make you want to stand up and speak truth to power; it makes you want to order another espresso. Steering between these extremes—between ironic indifference on the one hand and dogmatic conviction on the other—is a particularly pressing problem for contemporary western democracies, which are becoming more deeply polarized. To solve it, we must rely on work from psychology and political science. But we must also look to the humanities. In this paper, I’ll argue that part of the solution lies in some values and attitudes embedded in the humanistic attitude. It rests on seeing that our very existence as responsible knowers—as epistemic agents—depends on our embracing both convictions and what I’ll call epistemic humility.
Michael Patrick Lynch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, where he directs the Humanities Institute. He is the author or editor of seven books, including The Internet of Us, In Praise of Reason: Why Rationality Matters for Democracy and the New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s pick, True to Life. The recipient of the Medal for Research Excellence from the University of Connecticut’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, he is the PI of Humility & Conviction in Public life, a $7 million research and engagement project aimed revitalizing meaningful public discourse funded by the John Templeton Foundation and UConn. He has held additional grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Bogliasco Foundation among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Times’ “The Stone” weblog, Lynch lectures widely, and has spoken at TED, Chautauqua, and SXSW. He is currently working on a book on the influence of arrogance and dogmatism in our political culture.
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