Published:  01:51 AM, 12 August 2017

Interdisciplinary learning: A critical exposure


Gary Saul Morson of Northwestern University, a co-author of 'Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities', a wonderful book on humanities and a dialogue between economics and humanities, puts an outstanding opinion on the 'project syndicate' in the caption as "Economics with a Humanities Face" last week that society needs a very comprehensive approach to be more sustainable where learning of economic study or any other single branch is substantially inadequate.

He also mentions that major American professors of different disciplines including psychology and sociology think that interdisciplinary learning is better to possess knowledge. But, the average professor of economics put their conservative view and some of them bluntly stress that economics has nothing to learn from others.

Morson does not accept the partial opinion of those professors and proposes an alternative to that. He argues that study of economics alone cannot always be the effective to development. For an obvious reason, this essay will be a supportive conundrum of Morson in a broader perspective which unequivocally presses the demand that moral and cultural studies can cure our troubles than a singular branch of human knowledge.

In Marxist thoughts, it is dogmatically pushed over the relationship between structure and superstructure which says all societies must have an economic basis -- which is structure in Marxist language -- whereas many things, ideology, philosophy, religion, culture, for example, are flourished upon the basis of structure. This is termed as superstructure. It is emphatically denied that superstructure has anything to do on structure. Fifty eight percent of American professors of economics, in the survey, disclaim the role of interdisciplinary lens to put forward knowledge of development. But, it is rather fatal.

At present, human knowledge has been greatly interlocked with cross discipline so that no single branch can be enterprisingly supreme than others. No doubt, study on economics obviously comes to the front in the present day particularly, but without the knowledge of social study and cultural philosophy it is quite blind. Morson says, "Economists would benefit greatly if they broadened their focus". He also points out that this study has much to learn from the humanities.

For example, I suppose that per capita income, a couple of years back, of most of the countries in Middle East was astounding with Qatar having 68,940 US dollars and Iraq 4,696 US dollars for example. But now, social integrity and state coherence have been at stake due to lack of cultural and humanities studies. Besides, people do not seek their happy findings here and prefer to leave for better place.

The greatest exodus from the Middle East to Europe has now become one of the most dangerous threats to humanity. It does not mean that people so far have studied economics and so they have fallen in peril. It actually indicates the plight of society where multi-cultural studies and practices had been denied.

Morson emphasized the need to understand the people as cultural beings. No mathematics or statistics can purely unfold the nature of human being like the rotation of Earth or Mars is mathematically projected. As human nature is peculiarly diversified, no social mathematics can purely demonstrate the real problem of life. For obvious reason, it follows the course of human life as narrativeness which is best expressed as a distinct way of understanding the social world.

Amartya Sen, in his social choice theory, puts the emphasis on group decision as the human being is supposed to be social being. Indeed, for the own purpose, collective decision becomes remarkably potential for group interest. And, social scientists in history attempted to find out a mutual understanding within the diverse phenomena. I am sure professor Sen's theory is much akin to that of Morson where some of the elements overlap one another. Amartya Sen finally disclaims any economic theory without social welfare can cure our social trouble.

Morson believes that famous novelists in history Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Jane Austen, among many, provoke ethical questions across their novel which calls for empathy and good judgment. All the ethical questions and moral judgment raised by the novelists in literary history are really understandable. The character of novel is often intervened with different social circumstances that finally possess the situation including religion, gender, sexual orientation, culture, disparity, equity, racism, xenophobia of a state and society. Reading of novel gives the taste to one by placing one in others' shoes. So, the action of human mind necessarily involves with social change and development.

Indeed, interdisciplinary learning creates comprehensive knowledge than the knowledge built by single discipline-specific studies. At present, university education is largely diversified, and related branches of the mainstream have been brought under curriculum although it largely means specified place of learning. In turn, economics is also taught along with some broad lines including political science, sociology, psychology, history and English.

In recent years, it is conceived that no branches of knowledge disregarding their so-called boundaries are supposed to be complete without having affiliation to moral studies. It happens for neither science nor business studies. Today's education system has become more economic, and students prefer those learning which would give them good fortune in future. As a consequence, some bad results are impacted on human soul. The aim of education, thus, is not to create some formula or equations or even to the means of earning but to create a good cognitive man. The aim of education is also to find a way to govern oneself in order to mould the mind.

Moral science does sharpen our faculty of moral understanding and provides with the knowledge on how to make the difference between right and wrong. Science itself is blind when it is applied to the field of practice without having been affiliated to its consequential learning. The N-bomb is the best example for the scientist, which is the supreme idea of human cognition but the uncouth form of morality. When you are doing the best thing in the world, you should not forget to assume the results the thing might bring afterwards.

Morson very rightly acknowledges the achievement of economic theory in history but humanomics creates a space to invoke the dialogue between them. The writer is Chairperson of Department of Philosophy, Jagannath University, Dhaka


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