Though it is universally recognized that the humanities have assumed a central role in education for the transmission of culture throughout the history of Western civilization, and that to be unfamiliar with the poetry of Homer and Virgil, Dante and Shakespeare means largely to remain an uneducated human being, it may come as a surprise to hear that the purpose of the humanities is not to convey knowledge to us about our past, but rather to humanize us. As R.V. Young wrote, “At the center of imaginative literature or poetry, then, is mimesis or imitation: the representation of human life – or more precisely, the representation of human experience. We are naturally curious creatures, but not merely in the manner of cats and monkeys; our specifically human curiosity is inspired by our consciousness – our awareness of the world around us and of our selves situated within it.
This self-consciousness necessarily entails a recognition of other selves, other souls. The poet is important because, by expressing himself, he opens up to us the mind and heart of another, and the knowledge of our likeness and difference from others is essential to our self-realization…” The knowledge of human nature and the human condition that the humanities yield is the basis, therefore, of its educational role.