Author: Matthew Neufeld

Defending Humanities Scholarship from its Defenders

University of Toronto academic and literary scholar Ira Wells recently wrote a defence of humanist academics for The Walrus magazine. But Wells’s characterization of humanist scholarship, and its purpose, is itself problematic. Wells claims that the majority of humanities courses are committed to fostering critical thinking. But, as Uri Harris has already pointed out elsewhere at Quillette, Wells’s definition of critical thinking, “to read against the grain of accepted wisdom and to question the inherited power hierarchies that structure human relations,” is in fact applied critical theory, aka Frankfurt School-style leftist politics. To be critical with the tools of critical theory means analyzing an institution, an event, a work of art, in order to reveal the unequal allocation of power. Within this mode of inquiry, the unequal ‘power dynamics,’ especially within ‘traditional hierarchies,’ are not facts needing explication but roadblocks to social justice, or as Herbert Marcuse put it, “a world without fear and misery.” This form of criticism is primarily about finding oppressors and their victims, not weighing evidence or assessing contending explanations. It …