One might say that there are two versions of Liberal Arts. Traditionally – for example, in Aristotle – it has been seen as a ‘classical’ education of the intellect in higher forms of truth needed for an elite group of people who are destined to be the next generation of national and international leaders. A more modern version sees Liberal Arts education as providing the knowledge and critical skills needed for every citizen in a modern democracy. Our own view combines both of these. For us, Liberal Arts education offers the most profound ideas to all who seek them, whatever job they intend to pursue. They are as relevant to the parent and the teacher as they are to the MP and the leaders of business, science, industry and finance.
In addition, we have called our programme ‘Modern’ Liberal Arts in order to distinguish it from the colloquial sense of a classical education, and to emphasise further that our curriculum must engage with current issues, not least those regarding the question of the ‘other’. Medieval Liberal Arts engaged with non-Western traditions, and the translation of texts from Arabic and Greek into Latin was key here. Our own curriculum will continue to look at the points of engagement and those of tension between cultures existing within the West and beyond.
At the core, however, we are ‘modern’ because we work with a modern notion of freedom, and this distinguishes us from the notion of freedom – libertas – that characterised liberal arts education for over 2,000 years. The ancient notion of freedom included the need for slaves. Whilst we reject this, we accept that any discussion of freedom must explore the persistence of the many different kinds of slavery that persist in the world.