The connection between education and the liberal arts goes back a long time. In universities and colleges, students can pursue liberal arts degrees at every level, beginning with an associate degree and all through the graduate level. The term “liberal” can have a variety of meanings, but what exactly are liberal arts? What is the origin of the name, and why is it important in education?
The phrase “liberal arts” is thought to have been used for the first time in De Inventione (“invention” or “discovery”) by the Greek scholar Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C.). According to Merriam-Webster, the contemporary meaning of the term “liberal arts” “may be traced back to the Latin word liber, meaning ‘free, unrestrained,'” in other words, “free.” The term “liberal arts” comes from the Latin phrase “liberales artes,” which meant “training in the mind” and referred to the education provided to freemen and members of the upper classes. This education included training in “grammar, logic, geometry, and so on.”
The late literary historian and philologist Ernst Robert Curtius said that the liberal arts got its name due to it being “the studies whose objective is not to gain money.” It is referred to as “liberal” because a free man would find them admirable. Just so there is no confusion, the Greco-Roman society, which is where these concepts originated, had a strong tradition of slavery.
When he wrote these words, the German philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt drew a direct line between a broad education in the liberal arts and increased employment opportunities.
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“There are undoubtedly specific forms of information that need to be of a general kind, and more crucially, there is specific cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. […] If this foundation is established via education, acquiring vocational skills in the future will not be difficult, and a person will always have the freedom to transition from one employment to another, as is so frequently the case in life.”
According to Britannica, “the study of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science as the basis of a general, or liberal, education” is what is meant by “the liberal arts” in modern colleges and universities. In addition, it explains that a liberal arts education involves “the study of three primary streams of knowledge: the humanities, the physical and biological sciences, and mathematics, and the social sciences.”
Since the Middle Ages, the liberal arts have been at the heart of traditional Western education. The liberal arts consisted of the quadrivium—arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music—and the trivium—grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The trivium included grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The belief was that the quadrivium arts connected to the mind, and the trivium arts were associated with the material world. These were the seven subjects that came together to constitute the liberal arts, as they were considered essential research areas. Since then, several of these have been consolidated into a single course, and additional subjects have been introduced along the way in formal education.
A comprehensive education in the liberal arts lays a firm groundwork for a wide range of essential and satisfying jobs. It equips graduates with a diverse set of abilities that will be useful in their professional and personal lives. These abilities include the following:
What a liberal arts education is can be summed up in a degree like a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities. History, philosophy, religion, literature, languages, social sciences (including sociology, psychology, and anthropology), as well as the performing and visual arts, are all included in the humanities major, which is an interdisciplinary field of study. This degree program includes all the required core general education subjects of most degree programs, such as English, mathematics, and the life and physical sciences. It also incorporates culture (art, drama, music, and the humanities) as a key part of its curriculum.