Yale’s distributional requirements stipulate two course credits in each of three disciplinary areas: the humanities and arts, the sciences, and the social sciences. A brief description of each of these areas follows.
Humanities and Arts
Study of the humanities and arts—those subjects such as history, language, painting, philosophy, music, literature, and others, that explore how we understand, chronicle, and express the human experience—cultivates an appreciation of the past and enriches our capacity to participate consciously in the life of our times. Students, by engaging other cultures and civilizations and their own, both ancient and modern, gain insight into the experiences of others while also conducting a critical examination of their starting points. Through the study and practice of the arts, students analyze, create, and perform works allowing them to explore or experience firsthand the joy and discipline of artistic expression. Because students of the humanities and arts examine the value and purpose of these disciplines in a rigorous and systematic way, they acquire essential preparation for careers in most areas of modern life. But independently of any specific application, study of these subjects fosters access to, understanding of, and delight in, some of the highest achievements of the human experience.
Acquiring a broad view of what science is, what it has achieved, and what it might continue to achieve is an essential component of a college education. Close study of a science develops critical faculties that educated citizens need. These include an ability to evaluate the opinions of experts, to distinguish responsible science from quackery, and to realize which things are known and which unknown—which are knowable and which unknowable—to science. Studying a science gives rise to new patterns of thought, as students participate in theoretical inquiry, experimental analysis, and firsthand problem solving. To know science is to appreciate a thousand intricate coherences in nature, which are hidden from casual observation but which, once revealed, lend richness to everyday life.
Insights gained through the study of the social sciences take on a critical significance at a time when the world’s population is increasing rapidly and diverse cultures are coming into closer contact and even conflict. Among the major subjects of inquiry in the social sciences are international and area studies. Those who have been educated in the United States ought especially to acquire knowledge of the societies of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East, and eastern and western Europe, as well as broaden their familiarity with the range of cultures in North America. Questions of class, gender, health, justice, and identity are also central to work in the social sciences. Methods in the social sciences test for connections between the familiar and the exotic, the traditional and the contemporary, the individual and the group, the predicted result and the anomalous outcome. Social science theories propose explanations for the entire range of human phenomena: from governments and economies to social organizations, communicative systems, cultural practices, and the psychology of individuals.