The humanities and the philosophy have a strongly connected history, yet their histories continue to be written separately. Although the scope of the history of philosophy has undergone a tremendous broadening during the past few decades, scholars of the history of the humanities and the history of phylosophy still seem to belong to two separate cultures that have endured through the past century. This Focus section explores what common ground would enable a study of the histories of the humanities and the sciences to investigate their shared epistemic objects, virtues, values, methods, and practices.
So, what are the “humanities”? The problem of time in St. Augustine comes to mind here: if you don’t ask, we know, but if you ask, we are left empty handed.1 In the case of the humanities, however, the problem is one of abundance rather than emptiness. To be sure, the histories of the humanities and the sciences are confronted with the same problems when it comes to historical terms for their object. Sorting out a notion of science from the changing attributions to artes and scientiae alone would be an endless task. This seems different for the term “humanities,” which, in all of its many meanings, has emerged from stating oppositions: of humans toward God, of human culture as opposed to nature, and of human attempts to understand and interpret rather than to measure and count. The humanities study texts, but not those that are concerned with the word of God.
They study the products of human culture, but in this they are “typically distinguished from the social sciences in having a significant historical element, in the use of interpretation of texts and artefacts rather than experimental and quantitative methods, and in having an idiographic rather than nomothetic character,” as we learn from the Oxford English Dictionary. The most recent entries in the dictionary—which concern combinations that occur mostly in university contexts, such as “humanities program,” “humanities faculty,” and so forth— even suggest that the word easily translates into “Geisteswissenschaften,” the term that was essential for creating the divide between the humanities and the sciences in the nineteenth century.