What Are the “Liberal Arts”?
Some think of liberal arts “types” as exploratory and artsy. Instead of crisp technicians ready to crunch numbers and take home bonus pay, liberal arts majors sling burgers or teach middle school. They speak French, read Plato, ponder cloud formations. Some media factions have so maligned the word “liberal” that any mention of it evokes arguments, whether it’s followed by the word “arts” or not.
But putting aside stereotypes and media hype, what are liberal arts?
First, a bit of history: In medieval times, there were seven liberal arts. They were known as the Trivium (“the three”)–Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic–and the Quadrivium (“the four”)–Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy.
The liberal arts today, in most colleges, have expanded some, but haven’t changed much. They are: The humanities (English, languages, philosophy, the arts), the physical and biological sciences, and the social sciences (linguistics, history, sociology, political science).
Thanks to these disciplines, a liberal arts education is aimed at developing the ability to think, reason, analyze, decide, discern, and evaluate. That’s in contrast to a professional or technical education (business, engineering, computer science, etc.) which develops specific abilities aimed at preparing students for vocations.