Artes Liberales

"Liberal arts" redirects here. For the corporation, see Liberal Arts, Inc. For the 2012 film, see Liberal Arts (film).

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 Ancient Greece this included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly, military service (slaves and resident aliens were by definition excluded from the duties and responsibilities of citizenship). The aim of these studies was to produce a virtuous, knowledgeable, and articulate person. Grammar, rhetoric, and logic were the core liberal arts. During medieval times, when learning came under the purview of the Church, these subjects (called the Trivium) were extended to include the four other classical subjects of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (which included the study of astrology). This extension was called the Quadrivium, and these well defined subjects originated during classical times. Together the Trivium and Quadrivium constituted the seven liberal arts of the medieval university curriculum. In the Renaissance, the Italian humanists, who in many respects continued the grammatical and rhetorical traditions of the Middle Ages, rechristened the old Trivium with a new and more ambitious name: Studia humanitatis, and also increased its scope. They excluded logic and added to the traditional Latin grammar and rhetoric not only history, Greek, and moral philosophy (ethics), but made poetry, once a sequel of grammar and rhetoric, the most important member of the whole group.[1] The educational curriculum of humanism spread throughout Europe during the sixteenth century and became the educational foundation for the schooling of European elites, the functionaries of political administration, the clergy of the various legally recognized churches, and the learned professions of law and medicine.[2] The ideal of a liberal arts, or humanistic education grounded in classical languages and literature, persisted until the middle of the twentieth century.

In modern times, liberal arts education is a term that can be interpreted in different ways. It can refer to certain areas of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, psychology, and science.[3] 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.[4] For both interpretations, the term generally refers to matters not relating to the professional, vocational, or technical curricula.


In classical antiquity, the "liberal arts" denoted those subjects of study that were considered essential for a free person (Latin: liber, "free")[5] to master in order to acquire those qualities that distinguished a free person from slaves - the latter of whom formed the greater number of the population in the classical world. Contrary to popular belief, freeborn girls were as likely to receive formal education as boys, especially during the Roman Empire—unlike the lack of education, or purely manual/technical skills, proper to a slave.[6] The "liberal arts" or "liberal pursuits" (Latin liberalia studia) were already so called in formal education during the Roman Empire; for example, Seneca the Younger discusses liberal arts in education from a critical Stoic point of view in Moral Epistle 88.[7] The subjects that would become the standard "Liberal Arts" in Roman and Medieval times already comprised the basic curriculum in the enkuklios paideia or "education in a circle" of late Classical and Hellenistic Greece.

In the 5th century AD, Martianus Capella defined the seven Liberal Arts as: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In the medieval Western university, the seven liberal arts were divided in two parts:[8][9]

  • the Trivium
  1. grammar
  2. logic
  3. rhetoric
  1. arithmetic
  2. geometry
  3. music
  4. astronomy, often called astrology; both modern senses were covered

Modern usage

Mathematics, science, arts, and language can all be considered part of the liberal arts. Some subsections of the liberal arts are trivium—the verbal arts: logic, grammar, and rhetoric; and quadrivium—the numerical arts: arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Analyzing and interpreting information is also studied.

Academic areas that can be associated with the term liberal arts include:

School structure

The liberal arts education prepares the student for higher education at a university. They are thus meant for the more academically minded students, who are sifted out at about the age of 10–13. In addition to the usual curriculum, students of a liberal arts education often study Latin and Ancient Greek.

Some liberal arts education provide general education, others have a specific focus. (This also differs from country to country.) The four traditional branches are:

Curricula differ from school to school, but generally include language, mathematics, informatics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, art (as well as crafts and design), music, history, philosophy, civics / citizenship,[10] social sciences, and several foreign languages.

Schools concentrate not only on academic subjects, but on producing well-rounded individuals, so physical education and religion or ethics are compulsory, even in non-denominational schools which are prevalent. For example, the German constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, so although religion or ethics classes are compulsory, students may choose to study a specific religion or none at all.

Today, a number of other areas of specialization exist, such as gymnasiums specializing in economics, technology or domestic sciences. In some countries, there is a notion of progymnasium, which is equivalent to beginning classes of the full gymnasium, with the rights to continue education in a gymnasium. Here, the prefix "pro" indicates that this curriculum precedes normal gymnasium studies.

In the United States

Main article: Liberal arts college

In the United States, liberal arts colleges are schools emphasizing undergraduate study in the liberal arts.[11] Traditionally earned over four years of full-time study some universities such as Saint Leo University,[12] Pennsylvania State University,[13] Florida Institute of Technology[14] and New England College[15] have begun to offer an associate degree in liberal arts, most students earn either[dubious ] a Bachelor of Arts degree or a Bachelor of ScienceTemplate:Or degree; on completing undergraduate study, students might progress to either a graduate school or a professional school (public administration, engineering, business, law, medicine, theology). The teaching is Socratic, typically with small classes, and often has a lower student-to-teacher ratio than at large universities; professors teaching classes are allowed to concentrate more on their teaching responsibilities than primary research professors or graduate student teaching assistants, in contrast to the instruction common in universities.Template:Or

In Europe

Despite the European origin of the liberal arts college,[16] the term liberal arts college usually denotes liberal arts colleges in the United States. Only recently, some efforts have been undertaken to "re-import" liberal arts education to continental Europe, as with Leiden University College The Hague, University College Utrecht, University College Maastricht, Amsterdam University College, Roosevelt Academy (now University College Roosevelt), Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts, and the European College of Liberal Arts. As well as the colleges listed above, some universities in the Netherlands offer bachelors programs in Liberal Arts and Sciences (Tilburg University), as will King's College London and University College London in the United Kingdom from 2012. It is the curriculum of Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan for Bachelors, the only institute in the country which offers this program.

Liberal arts (as a degree program) is just beginning to establish itself in Europe. For example, University College Dublin offers the degree, one of the few universities in Europe which does. In the Netherlands, universities have opened constituent liberal arts colleges under the terminology university college since the late 1990s. It has been suggested that the liberal arts degree may become part of mainstream education provision in the United Kingdom, Ireland and other European countries. In 1999, the European College of Liberal Arts (now ECLA of Bard) was founded in Berlin

See also

Education portal


Further reading

  • Barzun, Jacques. The House of Intellect, Reprint Harper Perennial, 2002.
  • Blaich, Charles, Anne Bost, Ed Chan, and Richard Lynch. "Defining Liberal Arts Education." Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, 2004.
  • Blanshard, Brand. The Uses of a Liberal Education: And Other Talks to Students. (Open Court, 1973. ISBN 0-8126-9429-5)
  • Friedlander, Jack. Measuring the Benefits of Liberal Arts Education in Washington's Community Colleges. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1982a. (ED 217 918)
  • Grafton Anthony and Lisa Jardine. From Humanism to the Humanities: The Institutionalizing of the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-century Europe, Harvard University Press, 1987.
  • Guitton, Jean. A Student's Guide to Intellectual Work, The University of Notre Dame Press, 1964.
  • Highet, Gilbert. The Art of Teaching, Vintage Books, 1950.
  • Joseph, Sister Miriam. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Paul Dry Books Inc, 2002.
  • Kimball, Bruce A. The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Documentary History. University Press Of America, 2010.
  • Kimball, Bruce A. Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education. College Board, 1995.
  • McGrath, Charles. "What Every Student Should Know", New York Times, 8 January 2006.
  • Parker, H. The English Historical Review, Vol. V, 1890.
  • Pfnister, Allen O. "." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 55, No. 2 (March/April 1984): 145–170.
  • Reeves, Floyd W. "." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 1, No. 7 (1930): 373–380.
  • Saint-Victor, Hugh of. Columbia University Press, 1961.
  • Schall, James V. Another Sort of Learning, Ignatius Press, 1988.
  • Seidel, George. "." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 39, No. 6 (1968): 339–342.
  • Sertillanges, A. G. The Intellectual Life, The Catholic University of America Press, 1998.
  • Winterer, Caroline.The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Wriston, Henry M. The Nature of a Liberal College. Lawrence University Press, 1937.
  • Tubbs, N. (2011) "Know Thyself: Macrocosm and Microcosm" in Volume 30 no.1

External links

  • -logo.svg  Definition and short history of the Seven Liberal Arts from 1905.
  • , February 2002. Thomas Aquinas's definition of and justification for a liberal arts education.
  • . New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. Retrieved 13 August 2012. "[Renaissance] Humanists, over-fond of change, unjustly condemned the system of the seven liberal arts as barbarous. It is no more barbarous than the Gothic style, a name intended to be a reproach. The Gothic, built up on the conception of the old basilica, ancient in origin, yet Christian in character, was misjudged by the Renaissance on account of some excrescences, and obscured by the additions engrafted upon it by modern lack of taste . . . . That the achievements of our forefathers should be understood, recognized, and adapted to our own needs, is surely to be desired."
  • "The Aim of Liberal Education", Andrew Chrucky, 1 September 2003. "The content of a liberal education should be moral problems as provided by history, anthropology, sociology, economics, and politics. And these should be discussed along with a reflection on the nature of morality and the nature of discussions, i.e., through a study of rhetoric and logic. Since discussion takes place in language, an effort should be made to develop a facility with language."
  • Philosophy of Liberal Education A bibliography, compiled by Andrew Chrucky, with links to essays offering different points of view on the meaning of a liberal education.
  • Inside Higher Ed).
  • "Liberal Arts at the Community College", an ERIC Fact Sheet. ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
  • "A Descriptive Analysis of the Community College Liberal Arts Curriculum". ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA
  • Indiana), the Wabash Study began in the fall of 2010 and is scheduled to end in 2013. Participants include 29 prominent colleges and universities.
  • . An internet magazine of online learning, sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts. Hi Tara!
  • . Website dedicated to "Bridging the gap between business and the liberal arts". "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."
  • Video explanation by Professor Nigel Tubbs of liberal arts curriculum and degree requirements of Winchester University, UK.. "Liberal arts education (Latin: liberalis, free, and ars, art or principled practice) involves us in thinking philosophically across many subject boundaries in the humanities, the social and natural sciences, and fine arts. The degree combines compulsory modules covering art, religion, literature, science and the history of ideas with a wide range of optional modules. This enables students to have flexibility and control over their programme of study and the content of their assessments."

  • . A website featuring online lectures in the liberal arts.
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