Monday, June 10th, 2013
In this weekend’s “Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson”, authors and Weekly Standard contributors Joseph Epstein and Andrew Ferguson discussed the value of a liberal arts education. Amid declining enrollment in typical liberal arts courses and slashed program budgets, Epstein and Ferguson explained the concrete benefits of the once-popular department. Without liberal arts education, American society may lose its aspirational character, Ferguson argues:
It’s kind of a death of aspiration. The idea that you can be a better person, that there are things out there that you can appreciate more fully, that you can acquire certain mental habits that you don’t have now that will actually contribute to you flourishing as a person. Those are things worth building your life around. I’m worried that if we don’t have a large number of people with that sense of a value of liberal arts that we also lose that sense that there’s something higher to strive for.
Echoing Ferguson’s belief in the aspirational benefits of a liberal arts education, Epstein suggested that the lack of liberally educated citizens hurts civic engagement:
It’s not good for the country. Instead of the educated person, we now have “the expert”. And the expert, I think Mark Twain said it, is the guy from out of town.
For another perspective on the role of a liberal arts education in American civic life, consider Paul Cantor’s The Literary Profession and Civic Culture, the fourth in our series exploring the role of professions in a modern liberal democracy. Cantor concludes that the humanities are suffering in today’s higher education environment because humanities professors have given up on the public purpose of liberal arts.