Friday, September 30, 2016

Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Part 2

Mark William Roche, Why Choose the Liberal Arts? University of Notre Dame Press, 2010.

In the first part, I introduced Roche's Why Choose the Liberal Arts. In this part, I will discuss the first reason to choose a liberal arts education. Roche writes, "A liberal arts education can be defended first and foremost as an end in itself; that is, it is of value for its own sake independently of its preparing students for eventual employment" (15). In this statement the author is contrasting intrinsic versus external ends. Intrinsic ends is rewarding from doing the activity. External ends are rewards you get outside of the activity. For example, you go to college to get a job. A recent study showed that "students and parents overwhelmingly believe the reason to go to college is to prepare for a prosperous career" (15). There are several reasons why this is not wise. One reason is that a person typically changes careers or jobs often in their life-time. Another reason is people usually work in careers other than in the field they majored in college. Third, this type of education does not teach you how to use leisure wisely.

Roche thinks a great benefit of a liberal arts education is because it encourages students to ask ultimate questions. The author states, "Through the liberal arts, students explore profound and evocative questions, engaging issues that appeal to their curiosity and desire for knowledge and deepening the restless urge to see how ideas fit together and relate to life. Great questions naturally form themselves in the minds of young persons" (16). Asking great questions will encourage the students curiosity to know what is life is all about. Some of these questions will address the being of God. Who is God? Is there a God? "Is there a concept of God that is compatible with reason (16)?" Other questions concern the physical world and the place of the student in it. Some of these questions are how can I know reality. What is virtue? Why does evil exist? Why do innocent people suffer? Does free will exist or is everyone determined? How can I live a good life? These are the types of questions that matter to students.

Different disciplines help students explore different areas of knowledge. In mathematics, students "study patterns, both empirical and imagined" (18). They study proofs, probabilities, and randomness. Through logic, they cultivate their ability for clear thinking. Students obtain through science a better understanding of the natural world. The author asserts, "They learn to apply reason to evidence, to form concepts that relate to experience, and induce laws from the sequence of phenomena" (18). Students learn from psychology how the human mind works. They learn about the different stages of human development. Through the social sciences, "students learn to analyze and appreciate the diverse ways in which social and political structures are organized" (19). In history, the students are exposed to diverse cultures and traditions. They learn how causal forces influence events. They learn"what is involved in the analysis and interpretation of the past, including the sifting of a wide variety of documents and the close study of pertinent materials" (19). Their imagination and emotions are developed through the arts. In addition, they gain "a greater understanding of nonverbal communication" through the arts (20). The student's study of language and literature develops their abilities in the skillful use of words. They better understand how others use words. Reading great literature develops their imagination, empathy, ability to see things from diverse points of view. Their close reading of texts develop their ability to interpret different kinds of writings. "The study of religion" develops their ability to sense the transcendent in daily life. It cultivates the spiritual development of the person. In philosophy, the student learns the art of reasoning. In addition, philosophy "cultivates the love of wisdom and teaches them that thought is its own end" (21). All these different disciplines will cultivate a holistic education in the student. The student not only develops "an awareness of knowledge intrinsic to their major but a recognition of the discipline's position within the larger mosaic of knowledge" (21). They also become aware of how the universe of knowledge fits together. The student recognizes a unity in knowledge. It is wisdom to see how the whole fits together. The author states, "Wisdom is also the ability to understand and interpret individual phenomena from the whole.

A liberal arts education cultivates the ability of using leisure wisely. Augustine writes, "the love of truth seeks sacred leisure" (24). It is surprising to the modern person that Augustine connects sacred and leisure, but probably not the ancients. Leisure seems to disappear in modernity. Life seems to accelerate with technology and invention. Roche asserts, "Contemporary society has little patience for the apparent idleness of learning for its own sake" (25). Many see the idea of learning for its own sake as beyond belife. They think of doing things for some type of external reward. The author thinks that a liberal arts education "is more than a means to an end; it is a dose of otium (leisure) in a world driven by speed and utility" (25). Liberal arts education teaches how to use leisure wisely and it is acquired through leisure. The word for school comes from a Greek term meaning leisure. The typical person sees school as work. It is, however, better seen as leisure. Roche writes, "It represents the values of rest, and focus in advance of, as a respite from, and as a reward for, daily work, and it is analogous to repose and silence as presuppositions for meaningful communications with God" (26). It is more like Sabbath rest than like work. The author continues, "When we are gripped by substantive works and great questions, we may be so immersed in them that we forget the external world" (26). It is similar to the medieval distinction between the contemplative and active life. Leisure is more like the contemplative life; while, work is more like the active life. The author believes in the "leisure of contemplation we abandon the contingent and engage the eternal; we conceive of ourselves as more than material beings" (26). We often experience joy in the experience of contemplation. We do not live to work; but, instead we work to live or we work, so we can participate in leisurely activities. The only type of education that equips us for the leisure of contemplation is a liberal arts education.

One might ask why should be participate in the leisure of contemplation. It is because it makes us more human. Both Aristotle and Aquinas argued that the "contemplative person is more self-sufficient, closer to the divine, engaged in what is distinctive about human beings, and more removed from our common preoccupation with externals" (27). The author states, "What is distinctive about us as human beings is thought, love of wisdom, and love of one another in the contemplation of the highest values, including goodness" (27). Why choose a liberal arts education? Because it will cultivate the ability to pursue the activities that is distinctive about us as human beings, reason and the love of wisdom.

In the next part we will discuss cultivating both intellectual and practical values.

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