Lookin’ pretty liberated.
Free for commercial use (via Pixabay)
Colleges are ancient institutions, with the oldest universities clocking in at around a thousand years in age. For those of you keeping score, that’s older than most nations. And those first universities were founded to organize the teaching of advanced subjects, like theology and law.
Over the centuries many scholars and thinkers recognized a certain set of skills and knowledge that a truly free person must possess in order to function in society. These were known as the liberating arts, which became the foundation of our liberal arts colleges today.
History, rhetoric, grammar and so on are the mainstays of the liberating arts. But there’s one discipline that was usually included that you may find as a surprising inclusion in a comprehensive education in what we now call liberal arts: astronomy.
Astronomy was once considered an especially important skill. After all, you have to understand the motions of heavenly objects and the positions of the stars if you want to have any utility in navigation, and – you’ll have to excuse the slightly anachronistic thinking – making and understanding horoscopes.
But right there, from the beginning, a part of science has always been part of the liberating arts, even before science itself was fully established as a philosophical discipline. The study of astronomy stretches back for thousands of years and across every culture. It’s no wonder that it was counted among the necessary skills that a truly liberated person would require.
The modern sense of splitting off science from the arts is just that: relatively modern. For centuries science and the arts went hand-in-hand. A truly well-rounded person had both the analytic and deductive reasoning skills that we associate with the scientist and the creative side that we associate with the arts.
In the end, it’s all just aspects of being a human.