Title: Not For Profit. Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2010
With this book the American philosopher enters into an important debate going on in the United States on the reform of the education system and at the same time gives an analysis of a general nature of the importance of humanistic studies in the education of the citizens of democratic countries. The book critically denounces a connection between the growing marginalisation of the humanistic subjects and the spread of a model of development that identifies the only conditions necessary for economic growth in technical and scientific knowledge. The author stresses the need to pursue rather the virtuous relationship between an organic model of development, which also pays attention to the abilities and rights of individuals, and an education system that exalts the importance of humanistic studies. Democratic countries should in fact recognise that to guarantee both economic growth and human development it is necessary that their citizens have at their disposal above all a set of aptitudes and capabilities that are favourable to the flourishing of the democracy itself, aptitudes that range from critical thought to the recognition and respect of others, from the ability to feel interest and empathy to that of transcending particularistic horizons. Starting from these premises, a proposal for an educational model is outlined. The analysis deals with the importance of education and the course of moral emotions and with the contribution given in this sense by the great educators like Socrates, Rousseau, Dewey and Tagore. The arts are also recognised an important role, insofar as being forms of creativity that foster a collaboration between equals according to non-egoistic aims. In conclusion, a brief examination of the American, European and Indian education systems identifies signs of crisis within them, but also highlights the presence of important resources. Prof. Nussbaum gives reasons for her own position by making frequent and evident recourse to the concepts and the analyses that over the years have defined her academic and public identity. In this sense the book does not constitute a substantial step forward of her reflection, as rather its logical progress. On the other hand, it is the author herself who declares that she has formulated an opinion manifesto rather than a strict study and in this statement are in some way contained the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the work. On the one hand, both the analysis of the global educational trends and the claimed efficacy of proposals put forward are not justified by means of a systematic exposition, as rather by means of a rhapsodic approach, which draws from a series of undoubtedly stimulating, but not quite exhaustive, observations and annotations. Furthermore, the coherent approach of the author’s liberal character leads her reasoning to move between the polarity of individual and public sphere, conceding only a secondary place to the role that community belonging and religious identities can have, not only as a problematic element of pluralism, but also as educational resource and development. Once these limitations have been identified, moreover largely justified by the explicit choice of a popular register, the book is nonetheless of great interest both owing to the issue raised and to the direction taken. Nussbaum successfully argues in favour of the promotion of a series of fundamental moral and anthropological suppositions, without which democracy cannot survive and in favour of which it must actively commit itself, recognising its own pre-political roots in them. It is a precious contribution to the awareness that the task of politics cannot be understood in purely technical or procedural terms, but lies in a vital relationship with the ethical and spiritual dimension of human existence.
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