Liberal arts

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Diagram of the seven liberal arts (12th century)

Liberal arts is the term given to an education based on classical antiquity. It is meant to be a practical education which develops mental capacity. It was designed in the late medieval period (12th/13th centuries) using ideas from Ancient Greek and Roman culture. The students were meant to be young gentlemen, that is, from respectable and important families. In modern times, liberal arts colleges educate both sexes, and a wider range of people.

The seven liberal arts[change | change source]

The seven liberal arts were taught in two groups: the trivium and the quadrivium :

During the Middle Ages, the liberal arts were central to university education. The quadrivium followed the preparatory work of the trivium.

The area and range of the liberal arts evolved in time. Originally, most of the teaching, and all of the text-books, would have been in Latin, the language the students would have learnt at school before they came to college. In the beginning the courses were aimed at educating the elite in the classical works. Eventually, the meaning of "liberal arts" got extended to include both humanities and science. But even today, practical activities as agriculture, business, engineering, pedagogy or pharmacy are excluded from the liberal arts. The liberal professions include only professions which require education at university, mainly law and medicine.

The trivium[change | change source]

The trivium (Latin for three ways), included the literary disciplines:

  • Grammar, the science of the correct usage of language. It helps a person to speak and write correctly;
  • Dialectic (or logic), the science of correct thinking. It helps you to arrive at the truth;
  • Rhetoric, the science of expression, especially persuasion. Ways of organizing a speech or document. Adapting it so that people understand it, and believe it.

The quadrivium[change | change source]

The quadrivium (Latin for four ways), included the disciplines connected with mathematics. They were:

Liberal arts colleges[change | change source]

Liberal arts colleges are a modern re-interpretation of the old idea. Mostly in the United States, these colleges concentrate on good teaching, and are closer to the Oxford & Cambridge type of tuition than most universities. They are mostly or entirely fee-paying institutions, and so continue to offer an elite education to students from prosperous families. The courses are mostly or entirely undergraduate courses.

Writings on the subject[change | change source]

  • Charles Blaich, Anne Bost, Ed Chan, and Richard Lynch 2004. Defining liberal arts education. Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts.
  • Sister Miriam Joseph (2002) The Trivium: the liberal arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Paul Dry Books.
  • Brand Blanshard 1973. The uses of a liberal education: and other talks to students. Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9429-5
  • Winterer, Caroline 2002. The culture of classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American intellectual life, 1780-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.