A brief note on the Liberal Arts

The liberal arts, first described in Republican Rome, have been a component of higher education since the advent of the medieval university in the eleventh century. Despite such historical lineage, the value of a liberal arts education is continuously and publicly called into question.

The phrase “liberal arts” is derived from the Latin “artes liberales” and originally referred to the skills needed to be an effective, informed, and voting citizen in ancient Rome, literally training in citizenship. Philosophers espouse this view, maintaining that the cultivation of citizenship through a liberal arts education is vital to to the health of the city, because it promotes critical thinking, an empathetic understanding of others, and proficiency at problem solving. A liberal arts education also enriches the soul, “the faculties of thought and imagination that make us human”

The Roman writer Cicero, who wrote extensively about education, discussed the worth of specific training versus a general education in his enormously influential dialogue ‘de Oratore’. For Cicero, there was no contest; a general education provided not only training for citizenship but also life-long learning and enhancement of the human spirit. The driving force of education for Cicero was pursuit of human excellence: “To be a man in all that is most human, and to be human in one’s relations with all other men; that is Cicero’s ethical and social ideal, and his educational theory is based on the same principle”. Because he had an extensive liberal arts education, Cicero had the ability to create a rich interior life and could draw on this source in time of tribulations, anxiety, angst, sorrow and joy.

A liberal arts education enable their students to grow beyond childhood into a full sense of their worth as individuals and as citizens.

A liberal arts education (in its widest definition it includes the humanities) consists of the following subjects:

  • Grammar, logic and rhetoric
  • Mathematics, astronomy, arithmetic, music and geometry.
  • Natural science
  • Moral philosophy – ethics
  • Literature (poetry, greek tragedy, novels, history)

The Humanitas team are currently in the process of creating a Liberal Arts/Humanities curriculum.