In defense of the liberal arts


I attend a liberal arts university. In addition to the English classes for my major, I am required to attend history, Bible, communications, philosophy, science, arts (music, art, or theater), and math/computer science classes. Sometimes my friends, here or at other liberal arts schools, complain about taking so many classes unrelated to their majors. While I could write a long defense of liberal arts, it would be boring and probably redundant for most of you. Instead, I would like to share a story that illustrates some of my favorite aspects of a liberal arts education.

This semester I am taking (in addition to other things) a philosophy class exploring major patterns in Western thought and a British Literature survey class. These two classes meet on the same day, separated by four hours. One morning last week, we studied Seneca in my philosophy class. Specifically, we read a selection from “On Happiness” and discussed his belief that happiness only accompanies virtue. 4 hours later, I was listening to a lecture on Alexander Pope (totally fascinating, but that’s a different story!). My teacher mentioned some of his writings that we didn’t read and told us that he believed virtue was happiness. In a terrific “ah-ha!” moment, I made the connection: Pope is a neoclassic, almost certainly well-studied in the Greek and Roman writers – if not Seneca, then others like him.  When I mentioned the connection, half the class nodded along with me, because they too are taking that philosophy class. Instead of simply knowing that the neoclassics studied the classic writers and allude to and copy them, we got to see it in action.

This is why I love liberal arts. Instead of classes being isolated, individual subjects, they all weave and connect – exactly like real life. In real life, our english is not separate from history, arts from science, philosophy from communication. They all come together to give us a more complete picture of the world. Why would anyone ever resign themselves to one tiny thread when they can view the whole tapestry?