The Liberal Arts
What are the liberal arts? The author explains that its origin is found in the ancient world. Roche writes, "The term has its origin in the medieval concept of artes liberalis, the seven liberal arts that were appropriate for a free man in contrast to the artes illiberalis or artes mechanicae, which were pursued for economic purposes and involved vocational and practical arts, which prepared young persons to become weavers, blacksmiths, farmers, hunters, navigators, soldiers, or doctors." The seven liberal arts were made up of the trivium--grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic--and the quadrivium which was made up of geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy. These areas have been expanded in our own time. These liberal arts are sometimes called freeing liberal arts because they are for free people, not slaves. They are also called freeing because they enable us to know the truth. In addition, they are not “simply a body of books to be read, but a way of life enabling us to be free enough to know the truth of things.” Cicero thought of liberal education as the education “of free men for the exercise of their freedom rather than of slaves. Aristotle leaves the impression that education is for the wise use of leisure.” In a liberal arts education, “in contrast to the specialized orientation of professional or technical curricula, students receive a general education that is a broad grounding in the diverse disciplines." In other words, a liberal arts education is not professional training, technical training, nor training for a career. It is the cultivation of the mind and moral character. An important point to this discussion is that liberal education is an education for persons as persons since humans are more than workers. “It was Cicero who defined the liberal arts as those which are appropriate to humanity. If one is to be anything more than a specialist or technician, if one is to feel life whole and to live it whole rather than piecemeal, if one is to think for himself rather than live secondhand, the liberal arts are needed to educate the person.” This seems to imply educating the whole person. Aristotle thought that the books we read, the liberal arts themselves, are ultimately designed to teach us to be wise—the highest of the virtues.”
A liberal arts education cultivates the ability of using leisure wisely. Augustine writes, "the love of truth seeks sacred leisure." It is surprising to the modern person that Augustine connects sacred and leisure, but probably not the ancients. Leisure seems to disappear in modernity, even though, technology supposed to give people more free time. Instead, 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." Many see the idea of learning for its own sake as beyond belief. They think of doing things for some type of external reward. Roche thinks that 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." Liberal arts education teaches how to use leisure wisely and it is acquired through leisure. Mortimer Adler thought that the “end of liberal education lies in the use we make of our leisure, in the activities with which we occupy our leisure time.” There are two kinds of human excellence from leisure: “those private excellences by which a man perfects his own nature and those public excellences which can be translated into the performance of moral or political duty … Hence I would define leisure activities as those activities desirable for their own sake (and so uncompensated and not compulsory) and also for the sake of excellences, private and public, to which they give rise.” Adler thinks that “a good human life is one that is enriched by as much leisure as one can cram into it.” There must be a balance or moderation in our use of leisure. The Puritans affirmed leisure, but they thought it could be pursued in excess. For example, it could take too much of a person’s time, not leaving time for other duties or obligations. This could be said about work too. We can work all the time, leaving no time for leisure pursuits. In some sense, we work to make it possible to pursue leisure activities. To work to have time to “develop ourselves and enrich our relationships in leisure pursuits is a more worthy motivation for work than the urge to acquire more and more things.” A liberal arts education is better than vocational education to prepare for quality work and leisure.
Calling or Vocation
Last, a liberal arts education will help students to develop a higher purpose for life than just personal fulfillment. It seems that students need a meaning and purpose for their life. Roche thinks a student needs an education that focuses "on ends and the value of ideas in the service of the common good." He thinks education "should foster not simply formal skills to gain employment, but a calling that gives our pursuit dignity, higher meaning, and a sense of fulfillment." The Protestant Reformers emphasized the idea of work as a calling. They thought that every Christian “is called by God to serve him.” The Reformers spoke of two calls. The general call is to “conversion and sanctification.” The specific call “consists of the specific job and tasks that God places before us in the course of daily living. It focuses on a person’s occupation, but is not limited to that. It includes one’s work and roles more generally.” Education should help students understand their giftedness and how they can use their gifts in service to others. A liberal education is better than technical, specialized education for preparing us for our callings in life. Luther thought that a liberal arts education prepares for all of one’s callings in life. John Milton asserts, “a complete and generous education is one that fits a man to perform all the offices, both private and public, of peace and war.” It is liberal schooling that equips one to “do well in all that they might be called to do in life.” In addition, it should help the student to discern his own calling in life.
A liberal arts education promotes better work and leisure. A liberal arts educated student can draw on the riches of her education throughout her life. The wide exposure to the arts, for example, makes it possible for the student to have a richer life after college. Roche states, "the liberal arts seek to cultivate a love for the life of the mind that can flourish not only on the job but also beyond one's occupation. If work becomes simply a means to make a living, the liberal arts graduate should be able to find a purpose in other realms, beyond work. Such a graduate has more resources at her disposal than someone whose education found its purpose in mastering the technical aspects of a given profession." A liberal arts education cultivates the ability to live a fuller, richer life. It helps one to live the good life. In a sense, it is what sets humans apart from perfectly-programmed robots.