Michael Phelan O’Toole
Human Values, Personal Freedom, and The Arts
Question 1 :
The humanities explore what it means to be human. As such, they are a progressive study which looks at our past historical, artistic and intellectual pursuits. In a concrete sense, they represent the most significant stretching of the boundaries of the human condition. Within the recognized canon of our civilization, study of the humanities help us to consciously, whether symbolic or
literal, observe the trials and triumph of humanity. This semester, I have learned that the humanities as a form of knowledge endorses an unrestricted approach to how we view ourselves and what we have done and have the potential to do. It is a revolutionary for m of knowledge that is unafraid to grapple with the established guard. Whether through magnifying our society’s flaws and projecting a possible future like 1984, examining “The shock of the new” of modern industrial, and subsequently artistic revolution, or holding a microscope up to the behemoth of religious faith as does Sam Harris, the humanities are conscious, constructively critical, and daring amidst mainstream complacency. As such, to say that these texts singularly and wholly represent the span of knowledge of the humanities would be false. The humanities, even amidst an established canon of fodder, continually evolve.
They represent our great self-awareness despite the dance of the daily routine.
I have learned that for every established historical string of concrete events or established theory, there is school of thought which counters or juxtaposes with the current states of things. This is not done for its own sake, but to challenge purpose as we define it, and to break down what may be holding us back from exploring fresh and more epic things. Looking at “The Saturated Self” or “Habits of The Heart,” shows us that “self” and the nature of being in itself is
worthy of much reflection. I have learned that, evidently, the humanities as a form of knowledge, is then the most important and consistently relevant form of
knowledge, in that it explores the individual, and the scope of the world in which, as many individuals, have constructed.
Question 2 :
Modern art and literature reflects an ever growing consciousness of the human condition. Physically, it illustrates creation as a reaction to the state of society. Because of this, reviewing a culture’s art and literature is often most indicative of the broad spectrum of its ideas. In the midst of modernity, our literature and art represents that life is in a constant state of flux, though initially weighted in the past, and that, however advanced we are as a civilization, it is easier for us to observe our flaws and overall presence in hindsight. While we are able to reflect upon and dissect the nature of our society, it is a gradual process to abolish the overgrown missteps made prior. Our art and literature is no longer simply about representing our existence at face value. It becomes a free forum
for symbolic expression and open commentary on where we were, are, and could be headed. It either stands for a particular conclusion, or explores often overlooked aspects of how we interpret life, and what it means to be alive.
The human condition comes with it certain questions and issues inherent to existence, I feel. We will always be in search of something greater than ourselves, either through religious study, existential reflection, or general pursuit of knowledge through achievement. We are always looking for a broad connection of concepts in order to define our world, and more so, how we fit into the scope of it. Modernity, or post modernity does offer new challenges, however, in that we are confronted with not only organic issues of the “Why are we here?” variety, but now faced with coping with the state of our own expansion, in both order and thinking. Thanks to our own technological and scientific advancements, we are left with an entirely new set of questions. While we as humans are driven to create and problem solve, what happens when it appears we have diffused our surface issues? We are still faced with strong opposition from our fellow man when new ideas are introduced. In medical science, stem
cell research, artificial insemination, and cloning are possibilities which garner friction, and while immediately helpful to some, raise many philosophical and moral issues. In modern technology, from the industrial revolution, to the proliferation of computers with artificial intelligence, there is good and bad. While technology helps us in speed and efficiency, it has led to the building of motorized weapons which we have used to kill one another. More recently, the
use of robotics has assisted in surgical precision, but, in the case of artificial intelligence, what does it say about us if we are able to build an android with comparable intelligence to that of a human? While it is impressive and may assist us in tasks, does it truly add to our experience, or rather devalue us?
These are just a few examples of why I feel in the post modern age, we are increasingly faced with more complex issues. We are left not only consciously thinking about what it means to be human and how we can get the most out of experience, but contending with ages of advancement, as well as the documentation of past catastrophe previously unknown. We must remain aware that, in base desires we are not vastly different than those in the past.
Question 3 :
In analyzing my own learning this semester, I found it most helpful to read on my own, analyzing the specific material in the text, while consciously making connections to the greater themes of the course, as were discussed in class. Typically when I read assigned text for a course, it is a struggle to remain attentive, however, given the ever applicable material, I found it ripe for interpretation and therefore was gravitated to it not only to gain a better of understanding of established ideas, but more so to be able to take them in and apply them to my own life, or life as I know it. I felt that classroom discussion was helpful, as others’ opinions and perspectives on things gave new life to what I may have previously thought stagnant. I always find it interesting when I, or
someone else, is able to take something being studied and connect it to their own life or current events. I feel like learning and education should be palpable and “real,” and I found that this semester.
As far as difficulties, I am both in love and at war with language. I enjoy writing, and from a learning perspective, it helped me most accurately express my point of view in relevance to the course. Being that we think in language, the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language. Expressing a complex and complete thought in simple words is tough. However, at the same time it is easy to get lost in the words, and lose the meaning on the way through occasionally. In this way, I feel that driving home the grander meanings of the texts through class discussion was helpful. After this, it was the writing of essays that made the material feel most personal and relevant. I do think it is more stimulating reading modern works, rather than just dealing with the classics. Although works like The Iliad and The Odyssey provide insight into the structure and meaning of ancient mythology, and the universal themes that we as humans relate to, the active reading of books that critique and analyze the world in which we live allowed gateway to broader understanding of both history, and an active break down of both the psychology and philosophy of the subject. Getting more accustomed to how others think in this way cultivated and encouraged more broad minded reflection in myself. When applied to class discussion, these riveting discourses made me proud to be part of such a
relevant course that encouraged refreshing, controversial exchanges equal to the themes of the books and the goals outlined for the course.
A challenge for me is getting over the notion that it is possible to get too analytical. Getting a chance to immerse myself in “Human Values, Personal Freedom, and the Arts” has helped me embrace a more philosophically minded perspective, and realize how important it is that we remain progressive in our view of the world, understanding our past, while freeing ourselves from restraint, in order to reach personal enlightenment in this age of post modernity.