“There can be no doubt that children should be taught those useful things which are really necessary, but not all useful things; for occupations are divided into liberal and illiberal; and to young children should be imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will be useful to them without vulgarizing them. And any occupation, art, or science, which makes the body or soul or mind of the freedman less fit for the practice or exercise of virtue, is vulgar; wherefore we call those arts vulgar which tend to deform body, and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb the mind. There are also some liberal arts quite proper for a freeman to acquire, but only in a certain degree, and if he attend to them too closely, in order to attain perfection in them, the same evil effects will follow.”
–Aristotle (Politics 1337b4-18)
Liberal Arts and Liberal Education
The central goal of the Arts of Liberty Project is to provide those engaged in the noble art of teaching with abundant resources to fulfill their mission. We believe that the liberal arts in particular and liberal education in general are the surest, most time-tested way to direct students toward a life that is truly free. The liberal arts develop foundational skills that free an individual to investigate the order in things, especially in human speech and in nature, while liberal education bespeaks the free pursuit of more universal knowledge that involves historical, philosophical, and theological inquiries, which are often exemplified in the great books. No one worth his salt has ever thought, of course, that the liberal arts and liberal education are certain, guaranteed paths to freedom; to think so would be to deny the very freedom this tradition of education seeks to enliven and foster. Rather, by developing these skills and growing in such knowledge, the one who studies the liberal arts and engages in liberal education puts himself in an excellent position to cultivate the moral and intellectual virtues that free him from vice and ignorance. Thus, when we speak of liberal arts and liberal education, the sense of “liberal” we have in mind is “what is conducive to liberating the mind and heart.” Toward this end, the liberal arts and liberal education are meant to assist the diligent, well-disposed student in his pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful.