In the medieval university, the seven classical liberal arts were split into two categories.
The trivium included modes of argument and thought: logic, grammar, and rhetoric.
The quadrivium were the sciences, bodies of knowledge with particular content: geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music.
Brittanica identifies the liberal arts of the modern university as literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science.
Wikipedia’s more expansive definition is arguably better: art, literature, languages, philosophy, politics, history, mathematics, and science.
But what are the emergent liberal arts — liberal arts 2.0?
I think the best way to think about this is not to think of the “new” liberal arts as supplanting the “old,” but as a complementary set, like painting, architecture, and sculpture as the new, humanist plastic arts during the Renaissance. Like the trivium and quadrivium, we have the octet of “modern” liberal arts and a set of newer concerns.
With that proviso in mind, here is my fairly conservative attempt at a list:
Food, Ecology, and the Environment
What do you think?
Update: Let me just clarify that I’m not just using these terms in the way that they’re understood in colleges and universities. So by “economics,” I don’t only mean what you learned in ECON 101 or the work of professional economists, but a broad and flexible consideration of labor, exchange, incentives, and value as they affect… anything.
Likewise “photography” doesn’t just mean snapping pictures but learning how to read, think, produce, and talk about images, whether still or moving. Art is the aesthetic dimension of anything independent from its use. Design is the aesthetic dimension of anything dependent upon its use. And “aesthetic” is about beauty, yes, but also perception. “Food” is about cooking and eating, but also about our relationship to plants and animals and to each other and our industries oriented around nutrition. Maybe “ecology” would be a better (or at least more encompassing) term. Languages includes speaking, writing, typing, and natural and programming languages. And so on.
These are sciences with a body of knowledge, yes, but they’re also ways of thinking about things, the world, individual people, societies. Your average boring object sitting on your desk or table right now can be thought of in terms of its history, its design, its economics, its politics, its physics and chemistry, etc. And if you take a look at the newspapers, blogs, and books you read, they’re usually doing one or more of these right now — reframing a problem that you thought about one way in the light of another.
“Music” or “Astronomy” are still disciplines, but they don’t mean the same thing that they did in the Middle Ages. The liberal arts for the new millenium doesn’t just change what the arts are — it changes what they mean.
Robin’s note: Weird, new comments seem to be broken on this post. Don’t worry, we’ll continue the conversation on another one, soon.
Tim’s note: Comments are back!