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The seven liberal arts - Picture from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad von Landsberg (12th century)

Liberal arts are the skills derived from the Classical education curriculum.





The term liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities, unlike the professional, vocational, technical curricula emphasizing specialization. The contemporary liberal arts comprise studying literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.[1] In classical antiquity, the liberal arts denoted the education proper to a free man (Latin: liberus, “free”), unlike the education proper to a slave. In the 5th century AD, Martianus Capella academically defined the seven Liberal Arts as: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music. In the medieval Western university, the seven liberal arts were:

  1. grammar
  2. rhetoric
  3. logic
  1. geometry
  2. arithmetic
  3. music
  4. astronomy

Liberal arts colleges in the United States

In the United States, Liberal arts colleges are schools emphasising undergraduate study in the liberal arts. Traditionally earned over four years of full-time study, the student earned either a Bachelor of Arts degree or a Bachelor of Science degree; on completing undergraduate study, students might progress to either a graduate school or a professional school (public administration, business, law, medicine, theology). The teaching is Socratic, to small classes, and at a greater teacher-to-student ratio than at universities; professors teaching classes are allowed to concentrate more on their teaching responsibilities than primary research professors or graduate student teaching assistants, in contrast to the instruction common in universities. Modern liberal arts colleges accommodate the non-traditional student, which allows for - among other things - part-time study. Despite the European origin of the liberal arts college,[2] the term liberal arts college usually denotes liberal arts colleges in the United States.

Liberal arts universities and colleges in India

Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) Gandhinagar, Gujarat is one of the Indian universities which has begun a liberal arts program, a Bachelor of Liberal Studies, through its new School of Libaral Studies. Inaugurated in 2009, the course follows the USA system of liberal studies with some changes. The Foundation for Liberal And Management Education (FLAME) in Pune is also promoting the study of liberal arts in India.

See also


Further reading

  • Blaich, Charles, Anne Bost, Ed Chan, and Richard Lynch. Defining Liberal Arts Education. Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, 2004.
  • Blanshard, Brand. The Uses of a Liberal Education: And Other Talks to Students. (Open Court, 1973. ISBN 0-8126-9429-5)
  • Friedlander, Jack. Measuring the Benefits of Liberal Arts Education in Washington's Community Colleges. Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1982a. (ED 217 918)
  • Joseph, Sister Miriam. The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Paul Dry Books Inc, 2002.
  • Pfnister, Allen O. "The Role of the Liberal Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 55, No. 2 (March/April 1984): 145-170.
  • Reeves, Floyd W. "The Liberal-Arts College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 1, No. 7 (1930): 373-380.
  • Seidel, George. "Saving the Small College." The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 39, No. 6 (1968): 339-342.
  • Winterer, Caroline.The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Wriston, Henry M. The Nature of a Liberal College. Lawrence University Press, 1937.
  • T. Kaori Kitao, William R. Kenan, Jr."The Usefulness Of Uselessness" [1] Keynote Address, The 1999 Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth's Odyssey at Swarthmore College, 27 March 1999

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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Simple English

Liberal arts is the term given to an education based on classical antiquity. It is meant to be a practical education which develops mental capacity. It was designed in the late medieval period (12th/13th centuries) using ideas from Ancient Greek and Roman culture. The students were meant to be young gentlemen, that is, from respectable and important families. In modern times, liberal arts colleges educate both sexes, and a wider range of people.


The seven liberal arts

The seven liberal arts were taught in two groups: the trivium and the quadrivium :

During the Middle Ages, the liberal arts were central to university education. The quadrivium followed the preparatory work of the trivium.

The area and range of the liberal arts evolved in time. Originally, most of the teaching, and all of the text-books, would have been in Latin, the language the students would have learnt at school before they came to college. In the beginning the courses were aimed at educating the elite in the classical works. Eventually, the meaning of "liberal arts" got extended to include both humanities and science. But even today, practical activities as agriculture, business, engineering, pedagogy or pharmacy are excluded from the liberal arts. The liberal professions include only professions which require education at university, mainly law and medicine.

The trivium

The trivium (Latin for three ways), included the literary disciplines:

  • Grammar, the science of the correct usage of language. It helps a person to speak and write correctly;
  • Dialectic (or logic), the science of correct thinking. It helps you to arrive at the truth;
  • Rhetoric, the science of expression, especially persuasion. Ways of orgnising a speech or document. Adapting it so that people understand it, and believe it.

The quadrivium

The quadrivium (latin for four ways), included the disciplines connected with mathematics. They were:

Liberal arts colleges

Liberal arts colleges are a modern re-interpretation of the old idea. Mostly in the United States, these colleges concentrate on good teaching, and are closer to the Oxford & Cambridge type of tuition than most universities. They are mostly or entirely fee-paying institutions, and so continue to offer an elite education to students from prosperous families. The courses are mostly or entirely undergraduate courses.

Writings on the subject

  • Charles Blaich, Anne Bost, Ed Chan, and Richard Lynch 2004. Defining liberal arts education. Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts.
  • Sister Miriam Joseph (2002) The Trivium: the liberal arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric. Paul Dry Books.
  • Brand Blanshard 1973. The uses of a liberal education: and other talks to students. Open Court. ISBN 0-8126-9429-5
  • Winterer, Caroline 2002. The culture of classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American intellectual life, 1780-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


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