Liberal Arts, Why?

Great_BooksI was recently given The Great Books of the Western World, a fifty four volume set of books that was published by The Encyclopaedia Britannica. The set includes books by authors ranging from Homer to Freud. I was extremely excited and grateful to receive such a gift, but the average man would simply wonder why someone would want to read so much old, boring, outdated knowledge.

I have always loved reading, and if you have read my post on why reading is important, then you probably have some idea of how much I love it. I knew I wanted to read the set, but I wasn’t exactly sure why I ought to want to read them. Before I delve into that, let me clarify a few things.

First, I am not advocating that everyone should go get their degree in one of the liberal arts. Quite the opposite. Engineers, scientist, businessmen, and technicians are all critical to our society and our economy. What I am arguing is that everyone ought to pursue a liberal education on his own, even if only in his leisure time.

Second, just because I recommend that you read something does not necessarily mean that I agree with it. For example, I recommend that everyone read Marx, but I do not necessarily agree with him. I simply believe that it is important to see and understand all sides of every argument.

Now, why should you pursue a liberal education? The ancient Greeks would have told you that you should study the liberal arts in order to be able to effectively participate in the democracy. The Romans might have told you that you should study them in order to be virtuous. In the middle ages, you may have been told that you ought to study them for religious reasons.

I think that all three answers are correct to some extent. All Americans have the right to vote, and therefore they should all study in order to understand the ideologies of the candidates and in order to make a more informed decision. I don’t necessarily think that a liberal education will make you virtuous, but it will definitely stretch our mind, and it will get you thinking about the big questions in life. Furthermore, I think that studying the liberal arts is an excellent way to prepare yourself to defend your faith, and I think that the liberal arts can actually help enlighten us on God and his nature.

Many times, when a candidate gets elected, I am left wondering why anyone would ever vote for such a candidate. If the voters were more educated, perhaps they would make better decisions. If they were more educated, perhaps they would realize how messed up our current system is.

Virtue may or may not be something that can be taught, but the first step is to spark within people the desire to be virtuous. By getting people to ask the big questions (Why do I exist? What ought I do? What is good? What is right?), we can at least get people started down the right track.

By thinking about how people think, about what is Good, or even about science and how everything came into being, we can learn a lot about God. God created man in his image, and when we study man we can gain insight into how God thinks. When we think about what is Good, we can gain insight into God’s nature. Science, also, is an excellent tool for learning about God. By studying the things that came into being through God’s creativity, we learn about God.

I don’t think that everyone should get up and tramp off to the nearest university, but I do think that we should begin looking into the world of ideas. Instead of getting on Facebook after work, perhaps you could try reading Plato. Instead of watching TV, perhaps you could read Locke. As a whole, our culture ought to focus more on answering its questions and less on entertainment.

You and I are where the change will have to start. We need to decide how we will spend our time. Will we spend our lives watching basketball, or will we study the Bible? (Yes, reading the Bible is indeed part of a complete liberal education.) Will we sit around and talk about the latest trends, or will we ask the big questions? Will we be concerned with the temporal, or will we be set our sights to something higher? The choice is up to us.

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