The Art that Liberates Us

“Free your mind,” Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix. In “The Art that Liberates Us” (CUA Primer, pages 43–45), Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) discusses how education can do just that.

We’re now over halfway through the summer reading, and today’s passage provides us with an opportunity to see where we’ve been and to take stock.

Hang around colleges long enough and you are sure to hear the phrases “liberal arts” or “liberal education.” Here liberal isn’t referring to a political philosophy, though sometimes people make jokes about that. Rather, liberal here refers to free people. Like the word liberty, the word liberal comes from the Latin word for freedom. In the past, privileged Greek or Roman men had the freedom to explore education because of work done by lots of other people who did not get that same opportunity, including people who were not politically free. These days, although many people face difficult circumstances, there is hope that the benefits of technology and representative democracy will allow more and more people the opportunity both to experience political freedom as citizens and to educate themselves in ways appropriate to their intrinsic freedom and dignity. A good education helps people live more freely–that is, more in accord with their intrinsic freedom and dignity.

Where in today’s reading does Montaigne bring up themes that we have discussed earlier in the summer reading? How do these themes point to the ways that education can free people’s minds? How do you think that good education can free people’s minds?

(By the way, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been reading these posts for your interest and for the many and wonderful comments you have left so far!)

Photo: “colosseum, rome” by chris donbavand is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Cara Dimarcantonio says:

    Earlier in the summer reading, when we discussed the importance of reading old books with C.S. Lewis, we learned that the study of history is essential for every person to shape his or her world view. Just as today’s passage points out, our generation and our individual lives are brushstrokes within the masterpiece of creation.
    This perspective can be gained through education, an education that would not be complete without history lessons. Of course, a good education in history would not, as Montaigne points out, simply regurgitate meaningless names, dates, and places at will to a room of students who could care less. Instead, a good historical education would cause those students to consider the significance of each piece of history within the universe and allow them to make inferences about humanity that would impact their later life decisions.

  2. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    Some past excerpts that come to mind when reading “The Art that Liberates Us” are “Breeze of the Centuries” and “An Eye for Things Overlooked.” “Breeze of the Centuries” shows that reading old books can help fill in the gaps of our present perspectives today. Because we live in a unique time period with unique ideas, it helps to expand our thinking by looking at other time periods and learning their ideas. This can relate to our reading today because Montaigne discusses expanding our thinking through books, not necessarily paying attention to the little details but to focus on the bigger picture, the life lessons.

    “An Eye for Things Overlooked” discusses the significance of paying attention to the things around us. Painting and sculpting can help with such things because to create masterpieces means to pay attention to every little thing created. Montaigne similarly presents the idea of attempting to know everything and everyone in order to have good judgment. He says, “Wonderful brilliance may be gained for human judgment by getting to know men.” He also says that only those who try to understand the world around them can they see things in “true proportion,” or “true value” as I would interpret it. This is exactly what a liberal arts education is, expanding our minds and trying to learn about the world, not just the small things that we are accustomed to every day.

    To be completely honest, however, all of our readings can be related to “The Art that Liberates Us” because every reading had something to do with going beyond what we already know, understanding things from a bigger perspective. Though the two excerpts I have talked about above really shout out to me, it’s best to remember that a liberal arts education does not only focus on two excerpts but all that we have been exposed to so far.

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