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The Function of the Liberal Arts

17 September 2008

One of the things Dallas Willard has said that has stayed with me relentlessly is that, and I paraphrase, “no matter how much physics you know, no matter how much engineering, no matter how much science you learn, you will still not know what to do.”  Willard’s thinking is a pragmatic brand of idealism that presumes that perfect knowledge is ultimately attainable (of course, only when mediated by Christ) and that God has a transcendent purpose in revealing it to us:  He expects us actually to use it, which is what Christ means by discipleship (Matthew 7:24-27).  In Willard’s reading of the Bible, epignosis – knowledge, rightly construed – is the gateway to the “kingdom of the heavens.”

Consider this commentary, then, on the liberal arts and their place in knowledge:

“The utilitarian or servile arts enable one to be a servant – of another person, of the state, of a corporation, or of a business – and to earn a living.  The liberal arts, in contrast, teach one how to live; they train the faculties and bring them to perfection; they enable a person to rise above his material environment to live an intellectual, a rational, and therefore a free life in gaining truth.”

Sister Miriam Joseph, C. S. C., Ph. D., The Trivium:  The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (Philadelphia:  Paul Dry Books, 2002), x-xi.


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