What this blog is for

For all the reflection that gets done in liberal arts programs, a surprisingly small amount of time is spent thinking about what a liberal arts program actually teaches one to do. I think that's because the liberal arts have become professionalized, and so the tacit assumption is that if you really like history, or English, or philosophy, you'll become a professor in that discipline and derive your living from it materially as well as spiritually. Studying the liberal arts teaches you to do the liberal arts for a living.

If you don't end up working in the liberal arts, there's a backup answer. The liberal arts provide you with soft skills that you can bring to bear on problems in the corporate world. And that's true, as far as it goes, though it's pretty bleak to suppose we read Plato on the ultimate insignificance of worldly success in order to learn to create efficiencies in global capital. Speaking of Plato, he'd be the first to point out that the suggestion that we learn the liberal arts in order to be able to do something else explains liberal arts as a means, we really we are looking for an explanation that makes liberal arts an end.

The clue is in the name: liberal arts are the arts of freedom. They are the arts that a man of leisure might choose to engage in. If you were a prince with lots of money and servants, and if you had nothing to do but exist, no one could fault you for exploring history, philosophy and culture. Now few of us are in danger of having this problem, but there's another sense in which liberal arts are freeing. Freedom is not a very natural state for human beings; even in politically free countries, citizens rush to bind themselves to ideas, ideologies, or failing that to slogans and material goods. The liberal arts are paths to freedom. They show us how to live a free life. That's what I think, anyway.

So how does one live a life in the liberal arts, a life illuminated by what Hume called the calm sunshine of the mind? This blog is an attempt to piece together an answer.