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Liberal Arts And Added Value

Here’s something for Dan: the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin is offering a new four-year degree in Value Studies:

This is the first degree programme to be structured around the concept of value. In current academia, the fundamental types of value, and the questions and concerns which attend them, are separated out into several departments. Too often, the result is that the most important questions we expect academia to address are lost in the pursuit of specialized training. ECLA, in contrast, is a college without departments, where the different norms, claims and ideals we live by, and the different forms of theoretical work they inspire, are brought together in a single programme of study. Throughout the four years, students work with academics from different backgrounds on moral, political, epistemic, religious, and aesthetic questions, with the understanding that such questions are naturally and deeply connected. The programme is designed for students who want to combine their pursuit of special interests with a demanding studium generale and serious reflection on the meaning of education.

There are three area components to the value studies major — Art and Aesthetics, Ethics and Political Theory, Literature and Rhetoric — and each student picks TWO of these as concentrations.

The faculty — who all seem to be quite young — is packed to the gills with Committee on Social Thought refugees from Chicago, so you know that everyone there spends their time pondering Big Ideas. (Disclosure: I spent a year in Chicago doing an MA loosely associated with the Social Thought gang, and while it ultimately wasn’t for me, I am a sucker for this stuff. When someone starts talking about ideas of virtue in Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Weber, I pee my pants a little.)

I’m also fascinated by the idea of swapping “departments” for “norms, claims, and ideals.” It’s just enough of an isomorphism that you can still see it as a specification, but just differentiated enough that you can give it a completely different interpretation.

One comment

Gee. I almost missed this.

Though skeptical, I find this program fairly attractive. I jumped to the conclusion—based on the poorly-chosen or -translated degree name—that the program would be a kind of ethics degree. That interests me very little. I’m not sure that the sort of people who take ethics degrees really need them.

But I’m convinced that many students would benefit from and appreciate a rigorous, integrative education in deep questioning, with a firm eye on the normative.

That said, please don’t let my enthusiasm for such courses lead anyone to believe that I undervalue technical knowledge. I always wished I could have gotten myself educated in two bits: two years of non-stop liberal arts and two years of intense mathematical workshopping. Instead I’ve had to settle for the sloppy mess I got. (Some better math profs might have helped too.)

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