The Liberal Arts and the End of Education Essay

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The Liberal Arts and the End of Education

ABSTRACT: An international conference that takes Philosophy Educating Humanity as its theme does well to revisit the liberal arts tradition. Although the liberal arts are most often assimilated to studies brought together as the Humanities, the old usage included the arts which employed artificial languages in mathematics, music, and astronomy, as well as the literature and letters of the various natural languages. The current conflation of liberal education with the humanities does violence to the historical tradition in education, reducing it to fluff in the eyes of tough-minded scientists who know that only numbers deliver objectivity. The liberal arts of the traditional undergraduate
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Some variation of this curriculum prevailed in universities throughout the classical period, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its early articulations in Plato, Boethius, Nicomachus, Martianus Capella, Ptolemy and St. Bonaventura and others give way to the advance of modernity.. Jonathan Swift recorded the first great battle of the "new" versus the "old" learning. Matthew Arnold and T. H. Huxley engaged in a debate about the respective roles of literature and the sciences at the end of the nineteenth century. that now seems a rearguard action. When Arnold defended letters, he did so by advocating what was left in the nineteenth century of the liberal tradition. When Huxley put education in the sciences forward as the appropriate wisdom for his time, he had already absolved himself and his society of debts to transcendent values. Hopes for a consistent and inclusive schema of meaning were buried along with the ancient division of a complete education into the studies of the trivium and the quadrivium. The practical man is the man of the age, but his practicality lacks purpose. The man of letters in the nineteenth century, not yet but on his way to imprisonment in the ivory tower, makes no difference. About this time,
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