liberal arts

liberal arts

liberal arts, term originally used to designate the arts or studies suited to freemen. It was applied in the Middle Ages to seven branches of learning, the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. The study of the trivium led to the Bachelor of Arts degree, and the quadrivium to the Master of Arts. During the Renaissance, the term was interpreted more broadly to mean all of those studies that impart a general, as opposed to a vocational or specialized, education. This corresponds rather closely to the interpretation used in most undergraduate colleges today, although the curriculum of the latter is more flexible than that of the Renaissance university.

Bibliography

See M. Van Doren, Liberal Education (1959); J. Barzun, The Teacher in America (1945); Harvard Committee, General Education in a Free Society (1945); T. Woody, Liberal Education for Free Men (1951); A. W. Griswold, Liberal Education and the Democratic Ideal (1959, rev. ed. 1962); C. Weinberg, Humanistic Foundations of Education (1972); B. Kimball, Orators and Philosophers (1986); writings of Robert Maynard Hutchins.

College or university curriculum aimed at imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual capacities, in contrast to a professional, vocational, or technical curriculum. In Classical antiquity, the term designated the education proper to a freeman (Latin liber, “free”) as opposed to a slave. In the medieval Western university, the seven liberal arts were grammar, rhetoric, and logic (the trivium) and geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium). In modern colleges and universities, the liberal arts include the study of literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.

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