We believe that the liberal arts in particular and liberal education in general are the surest, most time-tested way to direct students toward a life that is truly free. The liberal arts develop foundational skills that free an individual to investigate the order in things, especially in human speech and in nature, while liberal education embodies the free pursuit and acquisition of more universal knowledge that involves historical, philosophical, and theological inquiries, which are often exemplified in the great books.
No informed person has ever thought, of course, that the liberal arts and liberal education are certain, guaranteed paths to freedom; to think so would be to deny the very freedom this tradition of education seeks to enliven and foster. Rather, by developing these skills and growing in such knowledge, those who study the liberal arts and engage in liberal education put themselves in an excellent position to cultivate the moral and intellectual virtues that free them from vice and ignorance.
Thus, when we speak of liberal arts and liberal education, the sense of “liberal” we have in mind is “what is conducive to liberating the mind and heart.” Toward this end, the liberal arts and liberal education are meant to assist diligent, well-disposed students in their lifelong pursuit of the true, the good, and the beautiful.
The classical liberal arts have long been considered the natural beginning of a liberal education; for they allow us to discover order in things more familiar to us as well as provide the means for inquiry into more difficult matters. The liberal arts include the arts of the trivium—grammar, logic (or dialectic), and rhetoric—and of the quadrivium—arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
Those versed in the trivium, then, are enabled to speak, to reason, and to convince (as well as to discern how well others are doing so when they speak or write); while those versed in the quadrivium are equipped to articulate various types of order discoverable in the physical, sensible world we inhabit.
To be sure, such skills and knowledge are good in themselves, and yet they also prepare one for inquiring into higher, more difficult matters. The liberal arts, therefore, constitute the essential beginning of a liberal education.