In the history of education, the seven liberal arts comprise two groups of studies, the trivium and the quadrivium. Grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (or logic) make up the trivium. The quadrivium consists of the studies of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. These liberal arts made up the core curriculum of the medieval universities. Colloquially, however, the term 'liberal arts' has come to mean studies intended to provide general knowledge and intellectual skills, rather than occupational or professional skills. The scope of the liberal arts has changed with society.
The term liberal in liberal arts originally meant "appropriate for free men," i.e., those citizens of the republics of classical antiquity and a generalized education thought to be most proper for these social and political elites. As such, the course of study in the "liberal arts" was almost entirely devoted to the classics while shunning most training directly applicable for a given trade or pursuit. Later, the "liberal arts" broadened to encompass study in the humanities more generally.
Liberal arts colleges are still typified by their rejection of more direct vocational education, with graduates often leaving to pursue more specialized training at other institutions, such as professional schools (for instance, in business, law, or medicine) or graduate schools.
Today, the liberal arts are sometimes promoted as "liberal" in the later Enlightenment sense, as liberating of the mind, removing prejudices and unjustified assumptions. In spite of the term's original medieval meaning, this is treated by some today as the central meaning of the term.
Dante's Divine Comedy and Convivio where he drew a connection between the liberal arts and the seven astrological planets.
- Friedlander, Jack. "Measuring the Benefits of Liberal Arts Education in Washington's Community Colleges". Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Community Colleges, 1982a. (ED 217 918)
- Wriston, Henry M. The Nature of a Liberal College. Lawrence University Press, 1937.