Last modified on 23 July 2014, at 18:01

Liberal arts

The seven liberal arts – Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg (12th century)

The liberal arts (Latin: artes liberales) are those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person (a citizen) to know in order to take an active part in civic life.

In modern times liberal arts education is a term which can be interpreted in different ways. It can refer to certain areas of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, psychology, and science. It can also refer to studies on a liberal arts degree program. For example, Harvard University offers a Master of Liberal Arts degree, which covers biological and social sciences as well as the humanities. For both interpretations, the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational, or technical curricula.

QuotesEdit

  • The seven liberal arts do not adequately divide theoretical philosophy; but, as Hugh of St. Victor says, seven arts are grouped together (leaving out certain other ones), because those who wanted to learn philosophy were first instructed in them. And the reason why they are divided into the trivium and quadrivium is that “they are as it were paths (viae) introducing the quick mind to the secrets of philosophy.”
    • Thomas Aquinas cited in: Pierre Hyacinth Conway, Benedict M. Ashley (1959) The liberal arts in St. Thomas Aquinas. p. 8
  • The fitting order of learning will therefore be as follow: First boys should be instructed in logical matters, since logic teaches the method of the whole philosophy. Secondly, however, they should be instructed in mathematics, which neither requires experience, nor transcends the imagination. Thirdly, they should be instructed in natural things, which, even though they do not exceed sense and imagination, nevertheless require experience. Fourthly, in moral matter, which require experience and a mind free from its passions, as is stated in Book I. Fifthly, however, in sapiential and divine things, which transcend the imagination and require a strong intellect.
  • There can be no doubt that children should be taught those useful things which are really necessary, but not all things, for occupations are divided into liberal and illiberal; and to young children should be imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will be useful to them without vulgarizing them. And any occupation, art, or science which makes the body, or soul, or mind of the freeman less fit for the practice or exercise of virtue is vulgar; wherefore we call those arts vulgar which tend to deform the body, and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb and degrade the mind. There are also some liberal arts quite proper for a freeman to acquire, but only in a certain degree, and if he attend to them too closely, in order to attain perfection in them, the same evil effects will follow.
    • Aristotle Politics Book VIII 1337.b5, 1885 edition
  • At a time when politics deals in distortions and half truths, truth is to be found in the liberal arts. There's something afoot in this country and you are very much a part of it.
  • ARTS, Liberal, or Seven Liberal. The distinction between the liberal arts and the practical arts on the one hand, and philosophy on the other, originates in Greek education and philosophy. In the Republic (Bk. xi.) of Plato, and the Politics (viii. 1) of Aristotle, the ‘liberal arts’ are those subjects that are suitable for the development of intellectual and moral excellence, as distinguished from those that are merely useful or practical. The distinction was always made, by the Greek theorists, between music, literature in the form of grammar and rhetoric, and the mathematical studies, and that higher aspect of the liberal discipline termed philosophy. Philosophy was sometimes called the liberal art par excellence.
    • Daniel Coit Gilman et al. et. (1905) The New International Encyclopædia, lemma "Arts, Liberal"
  • Note too that a faithful study of the liberal arts humanizes character and permits it not to be cruel.
    • Ovid Epistulae ex Ponto, II, ix, 47.
  • A liberal arts education remains unequalled for the exercise and development of the most valuable qualities of the mind: penetration of thought, broadmindedness, fineness of analysis, gifts of expression.
  • Liberal Arts may ultimately prove to be the most relevant learning model... People trained in the Liberal Arts learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of apparent confusion. They have the kind of sideways thinking and cross-classifying habit of mind that comes from learning, among other things, the many different ways of looking at literary works, social systems, chemical processes or languages.
  • [ Roger B. Smith ] identified the following skills and mental processes required of today’s managers as those acquired and sharpened in the study of the liberal arts.
    1. Individuals are trained to recognize recurring elements and common themes.
    2. They are trained to see relationships between things that may seem different.
    3. They are trained to combine familiar elements into new forms.
    4. They learn to arrange their thoughts in logical order, to write and speak clearly and economically.
    5. They learn to tolerate ambiguity and to bring order out of confusion.
    6. They are accustomed to a relatively unstructured and unsupervised research and discovery process and feel comfortable with nonconformity.
    7. They have insight into the fit of form with function.
    8. They have learned sideways thinking, the cross classifying habit of mind that comes from learning many different ways to look at things.
    9. They have learned to replace confrontation with cooperation and the principles of conflict resolution.
    10. They have learned the importance of intellectual integrity, social responsibility, and ethical commitment.
    11. They learn that the effective management of change comes from the habit of being receptive to new information, to new paths to traditional goals, even to new goals.
    12. They have learned to uncover truths in many forms, and that an answer need not be final.
    13. They need to see the worth of the impact of what they do, to understand its place in the larger schemes of things.
    14. They learn about the kinds of creativity that leads to visionary solutions
  • It was once said that democracy is the regime that stands or falls by virtue: a democracy is a regime in which all or most adults are men of virtue, and since virtue seems to require wisdom, a regime in which all or most adults are virtuous and wise, or the society in which all or most adults have developed their reason to a high degree, or the rational society. Democracy, in a word, is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy. … Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), pp. 4-5
  • A mass culture is a culture which can be appropriated by the meanest capacities without any intellectual or moral effort whatsoever. … Liberal education is the counterpoison to mass culture, to the corroding effects of mass culture, to its inherent tendency to produce nothing but “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart.”
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 5 (The phrase “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart.” is from Max Weber)
  • Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for “vulgarity”; they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful.
    • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education?” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), p. 8
  • The 1960s weren’t the 1920s again; they were the Liberal Arts expressed in the negative. The 1970s, despite the hedonism, weren’t the 1920s; they were the Negative out to get all the rewards formerly held by the Positive. The Goat and Adding Machine Ritual is now.
  • The expression artes liberales, chiefly used during the Middle Ages, does not mean arts as we understand the word at this present day, but those branches of knowledge which were taught in the schools of that time. They are called liberal (Latin liber, free), because they serve the purpose of training the free man, in contrast with the artes illiberales, which are pursued for economic purposes; their aim is to prepare the student not for gaining a livelihood, but for the pursuit of science in the strict sense of the term, i.e. the combination of philosophy and theology known as scholasticism. They are seven in number and may be arranged in two groups, the first embracing grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic, in other words, the sciences of language, of oratory, and of logic, better known as the artes sermocinales, or language studies; the second group comprises arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, i.e. the mathematico-physical disciplines, known as the artes reales, or physicae.
    • Otto Willmann (1907) "The Seven Liberal Arts". In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • “Cute,” she said, smiling. “If the liberal arts do nothing else they provide engaging metaphors for the thinking they displace.”

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