This is a blog about the liberal arts. But what do I mean when I talk about the liberal arts? Nowadays to talk about the Western cultural patrimony as the liberal arts is controversial. A few generation ago, it wasn't, but alas, we live in these troubled times. So, whose liberal arts ought we to pursue?
I intend to stand on principle - and duck the question. I don't mean for myself; my views are the old fashioned views of someone in the 1930s or 40s. But as a more general question, I think it may best be ducked. If you have an argument to show that Western liberal arts have what everybody needs, I'm listening. But I am also listening if you want to persuade me that the Western liberal arts belong in the West, and some other thing, or maybe nothing at all, stands in the relation of cultural analog elsewhere.
Philosophically minded religious people will recognize my move here. As in religion (I am a Protestant Christian) so in the liberal arts: I am a local pluralist and, at a greater distance, an inclusivist. Let's start with religion. Christianity has broken into many sects, all within the boundary of Christianity (although that boundary gets a little blurry on the edges). The view that God will count anyone within that boundary as a Christian, that disputes about doctrine are about being right rather than being saved, is called 'pluralism'. The gist is that sects can argue with each other, but all are equally Christians. That is my view.
Just as I am a religious local pluralist, I am a Western liberal arts pluralist. If your home base is literature, Classics, history or - though I may need to hold my nose as I write it - in psychology, political science or social science, I'm not going to dismiss what you do. I think we could argue about methods, and I'd bet on my methods if we did, but you and I are both similarly searchers after truth.
What about things outside the Western tradition? During several desperate moments on the academic market, I tried to reinvent myself as semi-expert on Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism and Ethiopian philosophy. Ultimately, all of these traditions left me cold, so cold that I realized I'd rather be unemployed as a Western philosopher. But my inclination isn't to dismiss them, but rather to take the inclusivist stance, as I would in religion. You're a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu, Zoroastrian or atheist? Well, I don't pretend to know what arrangement God may make with you. It is as though I have the flu and you tell me about alternative medicine. I'm going to go see a doctor, but I don’t pretend to know that your treatment wouldn't work. I maintain an open mind. However, if you asked me, I'd suggest my cure. Similarly in religion, where if you're asking, I'd advise you to try it my way. Similarly again in the liberal arts. Do it your way if you like, ye plays the game and ye takes yer chances.
It's my inclusivism that allows me to duck the question about whose liberal arts. I don't know - and I don't need to know - what sort of tradition is best for you, though if you're asking, this blog offers one kind of answer.