Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: liberal arts from The Macquarie Dictionary

the course of instruction at a university, comprising the arts, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

Etymology:

anglicisation of Latin art\xc4\x93s l\xc4\xabber\xc4\x81l\xc4\x93s arts of free men


Summary Article: liberal arts
from Greenwood Dictionary of Education

Comprising the basic disciplines in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, liberal arts are the integrating forces in the total university community and are traditionally provided with a central position in the institution’s structure, for they are the undergraduate mission of a university. Professional training, where these disciplines are to be applied, is exclusively a graduate-level responsibility. The traditional division of subjects into seven liberal arts goes back to Plato and Aristotle and was standardized by the middle of the first century b.c.e. The schools of the Middle Ages codified the seven liberal arts into the three literary arts of the Carolingian Trivium—grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic—and the four mathematical branches of the Quadrivium, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and theory of music. While this syllabus never claimed to embrace the totality of human knowledge, it did claim to provide an ideal of a general education suited to the whole person, and not just the professional training of the specialist—an ideal which continues to the present. (pk, jbh)

See also perennialism.

© 2011 John W. Collins III and Nancy Patricia O'Brien

Related Articles


Full text Article liberal arts
The Encyclopaedia of the Renaissance

Those arts which, according to a classification made first in antiquity, were worthy of study by a free (Latin liber ) man. In contrast with...

Full text Article Liberal Arts
The Bloomsbury Guide to Art

In the Middle Ages, the Liberal Arts formed the traditional curriculum of secular learning which dated back to late antiquity. There are seven...

Full text Article Liberal arts
Thames & Hudson Dictionary of the Italian Renaissance, The

These represented the subject matter of the secular ‘arts’ syllabus of the Middle Ages; first the preparatory trivium –...

See more from Credo