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The humanities, rightly pursued and rightly ordered, can do things, teach things, preserve things, and reveal things that no other discipline can. They provide us with a lamp of illumination and a mirror of self-recognition. It is the humanities that instruct us in the range and depth of human possibility, including our immense capacity for both goodness and depravity. It is the humanities that nourish and sustain our shared memories, and connect us with our civilization’s past and with those who have come before us. It is the humanities that teach us how to think about what the good life is for us humans, and guide us in the search for civic ideals and institutions that will make the good life possible.

The humanities are imprecise by their very nature… Imprecise is not the same thing as inaccurate. The knowledge they convey is not a rough, preliminary substitute for what psychology, chemistry, molecular biology, and physics will eventually resolve with greater finality and precision. They are an accurate reflection of the subject they treat, the most accurate possible.

The distinctive task of the humanities, unlike the natural sciences and social sciences, is to grasp human things in human terms, without converting or reducing or translating them into something else—as into physical laws, mechanical systems, biological drives, psychological disorders, social structures, and so on. The humanities attempt to understand the human condition from the inside… Science teaches us that the earth rotates on its axis while revolving around the sun. But in the domain of the humanities, the sun still also rises and sets, and still establishes in that diurnal rhythm one of the deepest and most universal expressive symbols of all the things that rise and fall, or live and die.

The burden of the humanities by Wilfred M. McClay