The Meaning of Humanities in Modern Society. A Study of J. Ritter’s Compensation Theory

Even humanities scholars don’t always agree on what the humanities actually are. To some, they are the bastion of that very “critical thinking” which the natural sciences fundamentally lack (Luri, Collini). To others, they are a medium for the creative and cultural raising of consciousness, which is indispensable for democratic societies (Nussbaum, Said, Gauger/Rüther). More recently, a new position emerged which claims that just like the natural sciences the humanities convey practical knowledge (Bod). Following Joachim Ritter’s philosophical history of concepts, this project aimed to problematize one of the fundamental beliefs in current debates, namely that the “humanities” presuppose some form of “timeless knowledge” which begins in ancient Greece and lasts until present day in the form of literature, history, and philosophy.

In contrast to the current discussion, Ritter assumed that an analysis of the humanities cannot be conducted separately from an examination of Modernity. He argued that the scientific, industrial, and political revolutions of Modernity had brought with them the need to understand reality in a new way, leading to the emergence of the humanities. Thus, the humanities would compensate for the changes in a modern, “ahistorical” understanding of the world, among other things. By examining essential concepts such as “Kompensation,” “Entzweiung,” and “Geschichte,” the project aimed to newly interpret Ritter’s alternative theory of the humanities.

Margarita Salas Fellowship 2023
Head researcher(s): David Hereza Modrego


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