Defining the Liberal Arts

Before I started the readings, my definition of liberal arts would have been a blend of math, science, humanities, and art or the facets that make up Occidental’s core requirements. Upon doing the readings, I realize that liberal arts are not so easily defined. In more technical terms, I would first say a liberal arts college is one that where the majority, if not all of, students receive Bachelor of Art as opposed to Bachelor of Science degrees. I think what Ferrall wanted to distinguish was the idea that a liberal arts education and colleges that are centered on vocational training are not complete opposites. They are different and the liberal arts, it is important to note, will never entirely be composed of vocational training., but there are similar elements in both. Additionally, there’s the point that universities, in comparison to colleges, are more focused on research; therefore, the liberal arts do not necessarily revolve around research the way a renowned university might. Liberal art colleges cater to undergraduates as undergraduates are often the only rank of students who attend them. Aristotle, on the other hand, would define liberal arts as the “studies worthy of free-born gentlemen” but I believe that statement is outdated and too simplistic. His idea is that liberal arts are the “study of wisdom” but to me, that is again too vague and not applicable in the 21st century. I think personally the way I would define liberal arts is separate from how I would define a liberal arts college. I think liberal arts are just the disciplines we study, and by that I mean, math is a liberal art but a program, or course, on business would not be considered a liberal art. I think what is most important about liberal arts is the freedom to discover what exactly one want to pursue and the opportunity to take classes in fields that will be outside one’s chosen major. The small class sizes, the more individualized learning, the “critical self examination” as Farrall would point out, I believe are unique to liberal arts colleges and make all the difference.


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