Lesson 1: Why the Seven Liberal Arts are “Liberal” and “Arts”

In this presentation, Dr. Christopher Perrin introduces the Liberal Arts as those arts that bring liberty and freedom to any human who masters them.

Recommended Reading

In this lecture, Dr. Perrin mentions Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain’s The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education (2013).

Outline of Session

Image: The Seven Liberal "Liberating" Arts

In this introductory lecture, Dr. Perrin describes the role of the seven liberal—or “liberating”—arts. Can you identify all seven of the liberal arts in the illustration below? Who (or what) is in the middle?

The image is titled “Philosophy at the Center of the Seven Liberal Arts,” c. 12th century, the Hortus Deliciarum (Garden of Delights). View a translation of the Latin phrases in this illustration here.

Discussion Questions & Activity

Vocabulary & Etymology Activity 

In this lecture, Dr. Perrin provides several examples of how vocabulary and etymology illuminate ideas about classical education. These examples included liberal, arts, and rudimentary. How often do you consider the nuanced meanings or histories of words you use on a regular basis? Take several minutes to complete the following activity:

  1. Choose a word that you use frequently in the classroom, or choose a word that you enjoy. (If you need help, here is a quick list: vocabulary, etymology, observation, grammar, dictionary, reading, insight, illumination, problem, joy, or difficult).
  2. Once you have chosen your word, look up its etymology on a website such as the Online Etymology Dictionary. Is it Latin, Greek, Germanic? What does the etymology tell you about the meaning of the word? Did you learn anything new?
  3. Do the same with an online dictionary, such as the English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Have you been using the word correctly? What did your search reveal?

Once you learn a word’s origin and clear meaning, you are free to use that word in a variety of new ways. Additionally, you now understand the word in a deeper, richer way.

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