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Review Symposium on Towards a New Enlightenment: The Case for a Future-Oriented Humanities

by Markus Gabriel, Christoph Horn, Anna Katsman, Wilhelm Krull, Anna Luisa Lippold, Corine Pelluchon, and Ingo Venzke. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2022. (published simultaneously in both German and English)
Introduction by Helmut K Anheier, Hertie School and UCLA

In a recent tweet on X (formerly Twitter), Harvard's Dani Rodrik commented on the relevance of economics in today's world stating that “from any rational, decision-theoretic standpoint, the Economics profession under-invests in imperfectly identified analyses of big/important/relevant questions relative to well-identified but comparatively uninteresting questions.“ Too, often, if one were to continue this line of reasoning, the availability of data drives the question to be researched rather than the other way around, a tendency amplified by “big data” and advances in quantitative analysis. As a result, social scientists spend too much on sometimes trivial questions for which data are available, and not enough on more complicated but ultimately more relevant issues that defy, at least in part, quantitative analysis as data may be patchy and unreliable, even non-existent.

Are we no longer asking more fundamental questions of our times? Have we created a cocoon for scientific analyses that matter little for the future of humanity? Are the failures of the social sciences to anticipate the global financial crisis of 2008/9, the shifts towards autocratic rule, the rise of social isolation that came with the spread of the Internet, the decline of religion in the West and its resurgence in other regions, or the profound implications of rising social inequalities etc. not symptomatic of a deeper malaise in how we generate knowledge and understanding of the human conditions?

The authors of “Towards a New Enlightenment” would certainly agree. They call for a radical shift in how the social sciences and the humanities are conducted and, indeed, relate both to each other. They view the growing divergence between the two as a major problem and see in the re-coupling the social sciences and the humanities a necessary step forward. What is more, they call for a more normative approach to understanding contemporary society, proposing a pluralism of methods and approaches.

The New Institute (, where the authors were located at the time of writing, is dedicated to this mission.1 The book being reviewed here is somewhat of a mission statement, pamphlet calling for radical change. Yet how realistic is such a call, and how feasible are the various proposals the authors advance? Can the social sciences cum humanities create enough of a momentum for a new enlightenment? We have asked four eminent scholars for their opinions.

1See also Geoff Mulgan (2021). The case for exploratory social sciences. Discussion paper. Hamburg: The New Institute.

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