Culture, Controversy and the Human Studies

  • Allan Janik
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 114)


The conceptual difficulties which the human studies (humanities, Gesiteswissenschaften) confront directly, in sharp contrast to those encountered by the natural sciences in the course of their development, peripherally, as it were, turn upon the problematic character of the very categories through which the humanistic areas of research are constituted. In the human studies conundrums, paradoxes and even contradictions arise as soon as we begin to reflect upon their subject matter and not on the frontiers of disciplines as is more typical in the natural sciences. The problems typical of the natural sciences arise as we try to solve problems or answer questions; in the human studies the most pressing problems are typically problems about the nature and form of the inquiry itself. In science disagreement turns upon how we are to answer specific questions; in the human studies it is more a matter of disagreement about what questions to address. Indeed, the most distressing problems that arise in the human studies tend to bear upon the very nature of the subject under investigation. “What is literature?” “What is religion?” “What is society?” “What is it to explain something?” In the human studies these questions are not luxury items as their counterparts in the natural sciences tend to be. When these questions raise their ugly heads the very foundations of disciplines are being called into question.


Natural Science Luxury Item Logical Grammar Humanistic Area Distressing Problem 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Karl-Olof Arnstberg, “The Concept of Culture as a Core Symbol”, Methodological Questions no. 2 (Stockholm, 1985). Professor Arnstberg himself finds these remarks illuminating. I am grateful for the opportunity he graciously provided to discuss my reformulation of his views in a seminar at the Ethnological Museum in Stockholm in May of 1986.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    William Gallie, “Essentially Contested Concepts”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56 (London, 1955–56); reprinted in The Importance of Language, ed. Max Black (Engelwood Cliffs, 1962), pp. 121–46.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    William Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse (2nd. ed.; Princeton, 1982).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    I have greatly benefited from discussions of contextualism in art history and the political nature of museums with Professor Danbolt in Bergen (Norway). See also his “Esthetic Theory and Practice in Art History”, Contemporary Esthetics in Scandinavia ed. Aagaard-Mogensen and Hermergén (Lund, 1980).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan Janik
    • 1
  1. 1.Brenner ArchiveInnsbruck UniversityAustria

Personalised recommendations