How not to defend the liberal arts -

How not to defend the liberal arts


Spend long enough studying philosophy, and eventually someone — most likely a member of your family — is going to ask, “what are you going to do with that?” It’s a tough question to answer, since philosophy isn’t really something you do something with, like a screwdriver. It’s more like something you just do — like fly fishing. But academic philosophy, like every other department in the university, is in the selling game, trying to attract customers and the money they bring, money that enables you and your colleagues to keep doing philosophy.

And so during my time in academia, I spent a number of days at university fairs, these events in big convention-style halls where you set up a little booth, pile a few texbooks in front of you, and wait for prospective students to wander by. And when they do — parents hovering skeptically in the background — they want to know why they should study philosophy. One year, I remember manning the booth with a fellow grad student, and we had come up with what we thought was a pretty clever sales pitch. “It’s great preparation for law school,” we told our customers. “Think of it as like cross-training for your brain.” etc.

The truth is, neither of us really had two clues why anyone should study philosophy, or what you would do with it. It didn’t really bother us though, since philosophy was interesting, we were young and curious, and the harder, more pressing questions seemed a long way off. But the fact that the best we could do by way of justification for philosophy was its instrumental or technocratic benefits says a lot about our own disciplinary insecurity and the ideological tenor of the times (which, it has to be said, has only intensified over the last decade).

So that’s one bad way of defending philosophy (feel free to substitute your own favoured discipline for “philosophy”). The value of studying philosophy can’t be that it’s a form of preparation for law school, or that it provides a sophisticated critical/analytic training for your brain.

But at the same time, the liberal arts has to be useful in some sense, doesn’t it? I say this because there is a defense of the “squishy subjects” that makes the opposite error, by making their value far too, well, squishy. A case in point is a recent piece by Peter Berkowitz of the Hoover Institution, which was printed in the Wall Street Journal. According to Berkowitz, the true aim of liberal education is to prepare citizens for the proper exercise of freedom. “Education for freedom” or “Education for citizenship” is an old idea; here’s Berkowitz’s version of it:

How can one think independently about what kind of life to live without acquiring familiarity with the ideas about happiness and misery, exaltation and despair, nobility and baseness that study of literature, philosophy and religion bring to life? How can one pass reasoned judgment on public policy if one is ignorant of the principles of constitutional government, the operation of the market, the impact of society on perception and belief and, not least, the competing opinions about justice to which democracy in America is heir?

This makes me more or less uncomfortable, depending on how we are interpret the thesis. On a “strong” interpretation, Berkowitz comes close to saying that only people who have studied the liberal arts are truly indepedent thinkers and are positioned to judge public policy. At the extreme, only these people are truly citizens. I’ve never really been persuaded by these sorts of arguments, and it strikes me as a dangerous route for the defenders to take by moralizing the study of the liberal arts. It is a commonly held position in academic circles though — more than a few humanities profs console themselves with the thought that even if they aren’t as important or as well paid as the hotshots in the sciences or engineering faculties, at least they are better people.

A weaker version of the thesis says something like the following: A healthy society provides a cadre of intellectuals with the time, space, money, and resources to think deeply and broadly about all sorts of questions. The goal of these inquiries is not “freedom” or “citizenship”, and it certainly isn’t more questions. The answers matter because the questions matter, though their  practicality or application may not be always relevant or obvious. But it is worth having people think and argue about all sorts of things: immigration, equality, justice, voting behaviour, constitutionalism, race, culture, language, class and on and on, because we don’t really know what sort of problems we’ll face as a society.

On this view of things, the liberal arts work sort of the same way as your immune system. Your immune system doesn’t know what specific invasions it will face, so it just generates billions of shapes of antibodies, hoping that one of them will match the relevant antigen. I could go on, except I seem to have arrived at pretty much the same answer given by Paul Wells, in his excellent essay on the subject, which you must read if you haven’t yet.

The upshot: Study philosophy if you are bothered by philosophical problems. Study history if you are interested in problems in history. Etc. If you are lucky, you will have an interesting career. If you are very good and also very lucky, your work will be relevant and useful.

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How not to defend the liberal arts

  1. I have never understood this arts v science thing. It's a false choice.

    Maybe it's because we are coming out of a mechanical era, that we now gravitate towards what we think of as ‘practical' things. Like being an engineer, or figuring out the best way to get to Alpha Centauri , or using gene therapy to solve a physical problem.

    All well and good, but it can be argued that all of those things are just a trade. They don't teach people how to think , or how to deal with a wider society. To use an example everyone is familiar with, the engineer Scotty from Star Trek is not involved with First Contact, or a decision to fight or retreat, or trade negotiations. He's just the guy who keeps the engine running. Much like your local mechanic.

    It is quite possible for a brilliant engineer to be a teabagger socially. Or a KKK member for that matter

    • OTOH, a PhD in Comparative Literature can measure one society against another, and see how they fare, seeing as how nations are revealed in their stories. How to figure out when a society began to fail, or when it started to move ahead. All the things that have helped and hindered humanity in the effort to progress. Goodness knows, that knowledge is also vital to a civilization's survival. So the liberal arts type is likely to be a broader thinker and more open minded. However when questions come up in society about say, cloning, or stem cell research, or whether to fund a space shot, or global warming, he has no background or basis on which way to vote or promote.

      So I'm afraid we are going to need both arts and science. To understand the society we live in as a whole in a global age, and to have specific information in a technological age.

      • Always happy to hear someone defend Comparative Literature as a field. :) It may seem like a fluff major from the outside, but it does require you to genuinely understand the way that different societies approach the same general problems – for instance, the way that the law is portrayed in various literatures tells us a lot about the way that the law (and by extension the state) is viewed in those corresponding societies. I still vividly remember reading a Nadine Gordimer short story ("Happy Event") about the dichotomy between a white woman able to obtain an abortion and a black woman arrested for killing her newborn child that she could not support – that story told me more about apartheid-era South Africa than any number of magazine or newspaper articles could have told me.

        • Well it's not my field, but it has enormous importance to society. That's why I hate to see such things dismissed as 'arty-fairy' or 'fluff'.

          Humans have gone off in a variety of directions on the same set of problems, and it's vital for us to know the things that worked, and the things that didn't….before we make the same mistakes again.

    • The problem isn't that liberal arts students are more/less useful than those with other degrees, it's the ratios. Ultimately, in Star Trek, someone still has to run the engine. Right now, we have a lack of science-based professionals, in virtually all fields, from medicine to engineering to computer science. Yet we have an overabundance of people with arts degrees, minus a few specific disciplines.

      Besides, I reject, wholeheartedly, the assumption that arts majors – by virtue of being arts majors – are wider thinkers than others. When it comes to awareness of society at large, interest is the deciding factor. An interested science major will have a better, wider perspective on society than a disinterested arts major. People more interested in elements of society and society as a whole may lean towards studying arts programs, but that means the education is on the opposite side of the causation relationship than what you've presented.

      • Precisely my point. We need both things, but from time to time we'll have more of one than another if we insist on viewing them as separate fields.

        Engineers need to know about society just like liberal arts people need to know about science.

        • Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Having a complete understanding of the world takes more time than anyone has, and where to focus education is a key concern – while I'm quite up on, say, economics for a science major, in no way am I qualified to be an economist, just as any arts major interested in my field, biophysics, likely wouldn't be qualified to do research in such a field.

          I guess, to expand on Potter's line of reasoning, if you like philosophy, yes, you should study philosophy. But you don't need to declare a major in it, or even have a class in it, to do that.

          • No one is talking about having a complete understanding of the world. That isn't even possible.

            Nor is anyone suggesting that any one individual can or should have a degree in every subject.

            I said we need to be better rounded than what we are in order to cope with the 21st century.

          • I'm not saying we need a degree in every subject, but I am saying that some degrees have more value than others, which is what most commentators touch on when discussing the arts vs. science argument. Yes, we need to be better rounded than what we are, I absolutely agree there.

            But does better rounded mean continuing to have so many arts majors, even if they have some knowledge of the sciences? I would say no – we need more science majors and fewer arts majors, regardless of the breadth of their study, simply because we have too few science majors to fill the needs of our society, and an overabundance of arts majors. They still need to be thought of differently, because they are, ultimately, learning different things and will fill different roles in society.

          • No, they all have value to society.

            We do not need a society totally based on philosophy, but without technology.

            And we do not need a society totally based on technology without the thinking ability to use it wisely.

          • Of course they all have value, but value relative to each other is a different matter. A loonie has value, just as a toonie does, but one has more value than the other.

            All I'm saying is that given our lack of science-based professionals relative to our current needs, and our overabundance of arts-based professionals relative to our needs, a degree in science is currently more valuable, both to individuals and to society as a whole, than an arts degree.

            I'm not presenting an either-or opinion. Of course, both the arts and sciences have value. But there is a certain false-equivalence that is being presented here, that because both are needed, it doesn't matter which program a student chooses to study – and yet, because too many choose the arts and too few choose the sciences, it does matter.

  2. Yes, I even asked myself what in the world I was going "to do" with a degree in philosophy, which is why I studied business at community college at the same time.

  3. I'm with Emily. I have both an Arts and Science degree and have found both very useful, personally and professionally.

  4. The best answer I ever heard on the subject went something like this (from memory):

    "The Liberal Arts are the tools by which we understand the world around us. We are all Liberal Artists whether we choose to be or not. The only choice we have is whether to be a good or a bad Liberal Artist."

    It should be noted that the "Liberal Arts" to which he was referring were not just any arts classes in university, but the traditional Trivium and Quadrivium augmented by Philosophy and Theology, studied as a coherent whole in a carefully selected order.

    • Except that engineering is a hard skill, while skills gained from a liberal arts programs are generally much "softer", so to speak. Information technology is an other good example. You graduate with a degree in that field, and you've set yourself up for a well-defined high paying job right off the bat. You generally can't say the same with philosophy or psychology. Trust me.

      • That has to do with the values in current society, not the value of the subject itself.

        A hockey player can make far more money than a doctor, but one entertains and the other saves lives.

        • Not really. Again, if you graduate with a degree in engineering, you are trained in a hard skill that has direct and unambiguous applications in the workforce. Same as a doctor. However, if you graduate with a degree in liberal arts or social sciences, your career options aren't nearly as well defined. You can go into sales, marketing, customer service, or any number of other jobs that don't require so-called "hard" skills. It's a distinction that will always be there, regardless of how much value you put into these "softer" educational fields.

          That's why I'm a proponent of having these liberal arts programs accompanied by some practical workforce training, as well as having science students round out their studies with some liberal arts courses, too – and any additional practical training they might need.

          I've studied at both university and community college. Although the former has changed since then, I can tell you that the latter was much better at preparing me for the so-called "real world".

          • If all you want is a good paying job, and one that can't be outsourced, become a plumber.

            Career options are as well defined as you wish to make them.

            The choice between 'hard' and 'soft' is also a false one.

            Anyone who watches TEDTALKS knows that we have no idea what the world will be like in the next 5 years, much less the next 30, yet we are starting kids in school today that will retire in 2060 or so…and have no idea what to teach them.

            The ability to think and be creative is therefore vital.

          • I don't disagree with you about the value of critical thought and understanding. In fact, I even suggested that science students be inculcated with such skills as much as possible. All I'm saying is that there is a tangible distinction between a field like engineering and IT and ones like history and English. In the former, you can graduate and be employed directly in the field in which you were trained. In the latter, you most likely can't, and need to target a career with additional efforts. That doesn't mean that one is better than the other. It just means that they involve different approaches to study, work, and career.

          • Well I'm glad we agree on something, but I don't see any tangible distinction between say engineering and history. Engineering played a big part in history, and history plays a big part in the engineering we now do.

            What you seem to be talking about is the fastest way to a set career. Yes, they are different that way. A History or English grad can teach, write books, or work in any number of companies or fields. An engineer…engineers.

            There is nothing wrong with either of them…I just want both taught so we have a fuller understanding of the society we live in. Once people have that, they can specialize in any field they choose….and have a better understanding of it.

          • Not really. Someone with a degree in history can't specialize in engineering, medicine, or IT as a career. Yet both can get into management consulting, for example. Hard skills vs soft skills.

          • Someone with a degree in engineering or medicine can't specialize in history either.

            A history major can however do management consulting.

            Skills are skills, they are neither hard nor soft.

          • Are you "Nola" from the old Bourque boards?

          • Who says a history major can do management consulting when an engineering major can't? Exactly what skills does a history major necessarily pick up, relevant to management, that an engineer necessarily doesn't?

      • "Except that engineering is a hard skill, while skills gained from a liberal arts programs are generally much "softer", so to speak."

        It's not a question of "skill" for money-earning purposes. It's a question of pursuing knowledge for its own sake.

        Ends vs. means, in other words.

        • How aren't the skills that you gain from an education important – hard or soft?

          • They are important, but there are two kinds of education: (a) training for a profession (i.e. "skills") to earn money and contribute something tangible to society, and (b) pursuit of wisdom for its own sake. The goal of the first is good and worthwhile, but the goal of the second is priceless.

          • Yes, but the goal of the second can be pursued outside of formal education, can't it?

          • Sure, but it's extremely difficult that way. One can save a lot of time, and therefore get a lot farther, if one has a well-constructed curriculum that presents everything in the right order, with complementary ideas treated together, and that is comprehensive enough to avoid one having to rediscover everything that's already been reasoned out by other smarter people.

            It is also vastly more efficient to do this in a group, so that people can bounce ideas off each other, correct each others' mistakes, weigh competing claims/ideas against each other, and forge ahead as a team rather than trying to hack through everything on one's own.

          • Well, then, I guess I'll have to disagree with your conception of formal education. As even you admit, it is structured, which means that it instills skills in people. In fact, without such skills development, I doubt very much that we would have a formal education system supported by taxpayers.

            It should also be noted that Socrates — one of the wisest men in Western civilization — was an illiterate who pursued wisdom of its own sake, and apart from formal education. So, I don't think you necessarily need infrastructured education to pursue pure learning.

          • "Structured" doesn't necessarily mean "all about job-oriented skills".

            Socrates didn't go through a structured curriculum, true, since there wasn't such a thing at the time. You'll notice though that he otherwise did exactly what I've just described: went to glean what knowledge he could from all the purportedly wise men he could find, and worked toward knowledge in a group through discussion and dialectic. He also did all this full-time. Nowadays one gets this sort of education (and better) by attending one of a few select Liberal Arts schools.

            You can't do it on your own otherwise, since (a) most of the wise men in question are dead and it's hard to know which ones to read and in what order without a guide, (b) doing this sort of thing full time means you're either in school or retired, and (c) you probably won't find a group of people striving for the same thing and submitting to the same guide outside of a school.

            I grant you, though, most schools do not achieve this either. But there are a few.

          • Actually, my guess is that there was a formal education system at the time. It's why Plato was able to write about the life and thoughts of his beloved mentor Socrates. So, then, both Plato and Socrates appear to confirm the dichotomy which I'm outlining, which is that there are structured educational alternatives that instill skills in people such as writing and engineering, and that there are informal alternatives that are pursued for their own sake and on one's own schedule and resources.

            But I suppose that I should also reiterate that I don't think the two propositions are mutually exclusive.

          • My understanding is that Plato was one of Socrates's disciples, so if anything he was in a sort of informal school being run by Socrates.

            I think you're right about the things that are pursued "for their own sake and on one's own schedule and resources" though. That's actually where the name "Liberal Education" comes from. It was the education of a free ("liber") man: i.e. one who doesn't have to work 10 hours a day to survive and can therefore devote himself to higher things.

          • Plato was certainly one of Socrates' disciples. However, Plato would have been part of a group of boys, all from well-to-do families and educated in Athens' most prestigious learning forums, who drove the establishment crazy hanging out with that iconoclast Socrates. So, in essence, Plato's informal education with Socrates would have been more of a rebellious extra-curricular activity than an institutionalized form of schooling. Indeed, as a result of the latter, Plato went on to create the former with his mentor as inspiration, not role model.

    • I was going to make something of a similar point – there is a lot more value to studying the "Liberal Arts" as opposed to studying any one of the liberal arts. From the citizenry perspective, it really helps if you have a broad base of people who have at least a basic level understanding of science, history, math, literature, politics, psychology, etc. This is all the more important for people in high level management-type jobs (esp. in government) who have to make decisions about things that are well outside of their primary knowledge base. You might not understand physics well enough to build the solution to a massive off-shore oil leak, but at least you can understand why the leak is important and why certain proposals won't work.

  5. "The upshot: Study philosophy if you are bothered by philosophical problems. Study history if you are interested in problems in history."

    Spot on. My grandfather was slowly dying when I was applying for university all those years ago and he liked to crack wise about university educations. Anyways, when he was in serious mood and not making fun of me, granddad said that no one spent one second worrying about how they didn't work hard enough when they were looking back over their life.

    I was told to study history because I enjoyed it immensely and that's all the reason I needed. You have short time on planet and it's too brief to be doing things you dislike.

    I took a couple of philosophy classes in uni and I remember one prof saying that philosophy taught you to think clearly, logically. Prof said he was using ways of thinking that he learned from philosophy to make money in real estate market by figuring out which areas would be gentrified next and buying homes before neighbourhood became trendy.

  6. "The upshot: Study philosophy if you are bothered by philosophical problems. Study history if you are interested in problems in history."

    Spot on. My grandfather was slowly dying when I was applying for university all those years ago and he liked to crack wise about university educations. Anyways, when he was in serious mood and not making fun of me, granddad said that no one spent a second worrying about how they didn't work hard enough when they were looking back over their life.

    I was told to study history because I enjoyed it immensely and that's all the reason I needed. You have short time on planet and it's too brief to be doing things you dislike.

    I took a couple of philosophy classes in uni and I remember one prof saying that philosophy taught you to think clearly, logically. Prof said he was using ways of thinking that he learned from philosophy to make money in real estate market by figuring out which areas would be gentrified next and buying homes before neighbourhood became trendy.

  7. Great post, but it seemed to me to go down the wrong track when it started lumping constitutional/administrative law, economics, political economy and poli sci as liberal arts, which I suppose they kinda are, but…When people complain about liberal arts it is the softer stuff that bugs them.

    Conservatism is not incompatible with affirming that someone who has studied some combination of economics, public administration, political science, and law is in fact better placed to judge public policy, although the internet allows some people to bridge the gap. We also affirm that academia is so hostile (and, perhaps soon, violent) to even mainstream conservatism (see U of O Coulter disgrace) that it's understandable that the word liberal is used to describe pretty much any non-science department, so thoroughly have they ideologically cleansed academia from what they perceive to be WrongThink.

    In fact, we conservatives would be quite happy to restrict voting to those who could demonstrate a basic understanding of public affairs, literacy, and such, but leftists banned that option in Canada (Charter, activist judges) and the USA (Voting Rights Act of 1965).

    "It is quite possible for a brilliant engineer to be a teabagger socially. Or a KKK member for that matter "

    LOL, why stop at KKK when you could have went Waffen-SS obergruppenfuhrer? That was a deliberate and gratuitous attempt to smear fiscal conservatives as KKK members; good heavens you people are ugly.

    • What does any of this have to do with 'conservatism'?

      What 'softer stuff that bugs them?'

      This is about academics, not your political party.

      I happen to BE a fiscal conservative, and I know that conservatives generally speaking aren't engineers, or even scientifically minded.

      ''when you could have went"? See, here's where a knowledge of language would come in handy. Not to mention logic.

      • "I happen to BE a fiscal conservative"

        Really? OK, here's a great chance for you to prove that. Tell me what spending cuts you'd make to eliminate the deficit. Pensions, health care, transfer payments, feminist agencies, foreign aid, you name it, I'd cut it. What would you do? Be specific. I'm also curious to hear what would be in your estimation a good percentage of GDP per capita for the federal government to spend.

        • Kindly campaign elsewhere. The topic here is the arts and sciences.

          • I thought the topic was the KKK and a vulgar homosexual sex act known as "teabagging"? Oh, right, that was you discussing arts and sciences. Typical leftist: unable to think rationally so she shouts insults instead. Ill mannered, ill tempered.

          • That's because you have no ability to reason, think and use logic. Or read for that matter. I told you liberal arts were important, but would you listen? Noooo.

          • You compared citizens genuinely alarmed at growing public debt as KKK members because…I have no ability to reason, think, and use logic? Well that doesn't make sense.

            Ah, I see what you're doing, you're just spewing insults again, hahaha, silly leftist!

            Getting back on topic, I guarantee you that our friend Emily hasn't the foggiest idea what Canada's public spending as a percentage of GDP is, or where this might rank among OECD countries, or how this might relate to sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, and yes that makes her opinions on the matter substantially lesser than mine.

            Worse, much public policy is based on wholly unscientific theories, in particular the blank slate theory and the humans-as-randomly-interchangeable-economic-inputs theory, and it costs us tens of billions of dollars in waste every year. Judging by recent events at U of Ottawa leftists are very, very afraid of being confronted with science-based social policy and it's no wonder they resort to smearing their opponents as KKK members: the science is against them. We don't seek to suppress or ban out opponents freedom of expression, belief, or association, unlike leftists. We, therefore, win.

          • No I didn't. This is why I recommend you brush up on your reading and language skills.

            The rest of your post is rubbish as well.

            Go find a website you're more suited too. I hear the Freepers are looking for new people.

          • "Ah, I see what you're doing, you're just spewing insults again, hahaha, silly leftist!"

            Don't you see the… never mind, you wouldn't.

          • Neither silly nor leftist can reasonably be considered an insult; comparing fiscal conservatives to KKK members, however, is insulting, as is informing a demonstrably well informed and articulate adversary that he has "no ability to reason, think and use logic". See the difference?

          • Uh, Bonk, if you know enough to be familiar with what the euphemism "teabagging" means, you should leave the gay porn sites long enough to look at the boy/girl ones; you will find that it isn't confined to boy/boy scenarios anymore.

      • "''when you could have went"? See, here's where a knowledge of language would come in handy. Not to mention logic."

        In fairness, later in the same paragraph he made a brave and correct use of a semicolon. You have to admire him for that.

        • Any thoughts on an optimal level of public spending as a percentage of GDP, "rad" "dude"? Just kidding, go back to your "X" "Box".

          • In my 50s, graduate degree, grown children, help run a private business. I chose Be_rad because my name, Brad, was taken. I went with a whim and gave it an avatar that matched.

            It's amazing how quickly snarks like you go straight to an assumption not matched by my history of posts or even the comment you choose to slag.

            AND I gave you cred for your semicolon. This is the thanks I get?

        • I have no idea why he's so set on discussing the GDP on this thread. He doesn't even do that well!

          Semicolons are always good though. LOL

    • Perhaps thinking about social problems in rigorous philosophical way makes you more inclined to be a left of centre or "liberal". I do not think ideology is really the reason liberal arts students are socialists and what not, studying philosophy has actually made me more conservative. I used to take positions which can charitably described as Chomsky-esque. I now realise his (and many others') dubious politics stems from his dubious reasoning and ideology. I would still see myself as left wing, but whatever doubts I have about 'my' side come from my philosophy degree and not in spite of it.

  8. English isn't your first language, right?

    • Great, I've got another feminist stalker, *groan*.

  9. When it comes to these sorts of posts, essentially saying that the Liberal Arts have value, I can't help but think it's a strawman.

    Most criticisms I ever here about the Liberal Arts is not that the fields have no inherent value – on the contrary, many who criticize the arts, myself included, go out of our way to study them on our own time or during our rare free courses. What I typically hear are basically two criticisms, the first being that an arts degree holds lower value for the majority of people, compared to a major in the sciences, and secondly that it's too easy of a major.

    Perhaps I'm simply not hanging around the right kind of liberal arts-haters and that typical criticisms are more fundamental, but after having read several blogs from Maclean's writers about the subject, it would be quite refreshing to read a defense of what seem to be the more common critiques of the disciplines.

    • As to it being "too easy of a major" compared to (for example) the sciences, that depends on the school. In principle it is tougher material. I will grant, however, that it is so at most if not all Canadian universities – but that's due to the influence of humanism; it's not because of the Liberal Arts per se.

      As for lower value, that depends on what you are measuring. For salary prospects, sure. But for intrinsic worth – very debatable.

      • For ease, you're right, it does depend on school, and I agree, it's not because of Liberal Arts per se. I think one of the greatest improvements arts programs in Canada could make is to design their programs with heavier workloads and more competitive entrance requirements – this would both increase the perceived legitimacy of those programs as worthwhile endeavors, and increase the relative ease of access to science-based programs.

        As for lower value, let me be clear – I do mean this in the context of our society as it current stands. If roles were reversed and we had too many medical professionals, computer programmers, engineers and science researchers, but not enough prospective journalists, historical scholars, or political pundits (there are better examples of arts-based professions, I know, but I'm having a brain fart right now and can't think of them), my position would be flipped. Value to society depends on society's needs in relation to its resources, and we simply have too many smart people with arts-based knowledge for ours needs, but not enough with science-based knowledge.

        There are some other reasons I question the overall value of an arts based program for many former, current and prospective arts-based students, mainly because I feel the important lessons learned in an arts program can be learned in any other program or outside school altogether, but those are really secondary points.

        • All true. However I question the perspective: you are primarily thinking of "value" only in terms of "value to society". I am thinking of it in terms of "value to the recipient". In my view the Liberal Arts are more inherently valuable in this sense when done well, and of considerably less value in this sense as done at most universities.

          Your final point hits on this: it does seem that the important lessons learned in most of today's arts-based programs can be learned elsewhere. However this is not so in a well-conducted program which tries to introduce students to truth (as the sciences try to do) rather than providing a cursory view of various subjective viewpoints.

  10. When colleges and universities became more focussed on specific career-oriented degrees. The commercial value of an arts degree dropped and students with lbieral arts degrees discovered that they needed to add more specific skills-oriented courses to their repetiore, if they wished to be hired.

    Learning, for learnings sake, and out of desire and interest should be more eoncouraged. First learn how to think, then acquire skill sets as needed and since people will change careers more often, that will be an ongoing process.

  11. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed reading it and found it interesting and informative. I look forward to more posts in the future.

  12. I think people can argue the importance of both a liberal arts education and the importance of a science/business education. We need both types of education within our society.