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Liberal Arts: Meaning , Scope and Origin
05 พ.ค. 64 | พระพุทธศาสนา
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ผู้แต่ง :: พระเทพวัชรบัณฑิต, ศ.ดร.

Liberal Arts:

Meaning , Scope and Origin

 

            The word  Buddhist Liberal Artslooks strange, we are not familiar with this word. Therefore there may be many questions arising is there Buddhist Liberal Arts ?, is there Liberal Arts in Buddhism ?or how is Buddhist Liberal Arts ?

            To mitigate wondering issues, now the definition of the term should be made in brief. “Buddhist Liberal Artsmeans the Liberal Arts in Buddhist Way through which the educated persons can get the knowledge, awakening and cheerfulness in wisdom. To make it clearer, the Liberal Arts in the right way to enlighten the students and finally to get the Summum Bonum in Buddhism.

 

Meaning of Liberal Arts

            Having made the short definition of Liberal Arts, lets back to the word Liberal Arts”. Before talking about any other issue, the understanding of the term should be made first to make all the peoples get the same idea of the term. What is it called Liberal Arts ?, which one  is the kind of Liberal Arts ?” 

            Liberal Artsis academic term used to mention academic affair, or set of knowledge, it is the term used for systematizing in western tradition from time immemorial. “Liberalmeans free, Artscraft, therefore Liberal Artsmeans free craft. But the word Artshere is not used in terms of craft as understood by the public today, but it is used in terms of knowledge-body for studying and teaching. Therefore the Liberal Artsis usually translated Academics for free people”. This is the original meaning of the term. In the period of ancient Creece, the Liberal Arts and Servile Arts are used together, the Liberal Arts is for free people(high class, the boss), in the meantime the Servile Arts is for the slave people, so sometimes the Practical Arts is used instead of Servile Arts, its meaning is practical knowledge or action knowledge.

            In conclusion, in ancient Creece the academics is divided into two: (1) the Liberal Arts and (2)Servile Arts. In those days the prominent philosophers are Plato and Aristotle. They themselves gave the definition of the word Liberal Arts”. Its essence as Plato and Aristotle liked is the the subject for training and equipping the people with excellence in wisdom and morality, especially in expression, communication and logical thinkingThis is the meaning which the creek philosophers have gave. Meanwhile the opposite subject is Servile Arts or Practical Arts is used for training and equipping the peoples with the excellence in handycraft, labor and various vocations.

            Liberal Artsconsists of three main principles:

            (1) it is the subject matter which is appropriate for free people, high class or the elite class in society.

            (2) it is the subject matter which the people who are intelligentsia can study, i.e. in studying the Liberal Arts the cleverness and intelligence are needed. It is very hard for the craftman ot labours. It is not like Servile Arts or Practical Arts which is aapropiate for low class.

            (3) it is the academics for developing and upgrading the graduateds intelligence and mind. The purposes of the Liberal Arts are not to get the mateirals(money, goods) in return, but for the spiritual happiness. It is different from the purposes of studying the Servile Arts, i.e. the people who study want the material happiness in return.

            On the contrary to the Liberal Arts, the Servile Arts consists of the opposite three main principles:

            (1) it is the subject matter of the slave and the labours who work with workmanship.

            (2) it is the subject matter which can be studied by manual skills. No intelligence and ability are used for studying the Servile Arts.

            (3) the Servile Arts does not develop and upgrade the graduateds intelligence and mind. The purposes of studying the Servile Arts are to get the materials or the benefits in return only.

            This is the method of academic division in Greek period of which some dimensions are continued upto the present. Having excluded the social-class affair, this tradition of academic division has been still usedful for the any action in the contexts of Liberal Arts in the present day.

 

Contents and Scope of Liberal Arts

            In the period of ancient Creece, there had not been the certain number of subjects and the subject-title  in Liberal Arts. In BC. 100 or one century before CE. , the seven subjects in Liberal Arts have been created and called the Seven Liberal Arts”. This tradition had been obviously seen in the middle age of Europe; the Liberal Arts subjects was divided into two sections:

            Section I: the Trivium section; it means the group of three or trichapter. It consists of grammar(including literature), logic, rhetoric which are the basic. Later on, the person who finished studying these subjects was given a degree, and finally this degree has been developed further upto bachelor degree.

            Section II: the Quadrivium section; it mens the group of four or fourchapterIt consists of arithmetics, geometrics, astronomy and musicsLater on, the person who finished studying these subjects was given a degree, and finally this degree has been developed further upto master degree.

            This method of academic division had been continued from time to time upto the Middle ages of Europe. However in the middle age of Europe, especially in the Dark Ages, the situation of various sciences study become decreased and slowdown. Furthermore the intellectuals activity was blocked in this period until the ages of Renaissance come to the scene. In this period, there was  a revival of various sciences and the meanings of Liberal Arts was extended broader, covering not only the Seven subjects but all the subjects-matters. Whatever subjects were included in the section of general education not vocational or specific subjects called Liberal Arts. This kind of meaning is closely to the meaning used in the present.

            In the present day, the Liberal Arts is developed wide and far both in meaning and scope. Sometime it means the group of subjects: literature, language, philosophy, history artithametics, science. All the students are supposed to study these subjects to qualify themselves before studying various sciences in more detailsThe purposes of these subjects are to equip the students with general knowlwdge and to develop the intellectual ability. This tradition is the contrary to the tradition of various vocational and technical field  in the present day in which the Liberal Arts has been categorized into three groups:

            Group I: the Humanities consists of literature, language, philosophy, fine arts, history, religion, arts and music etc.

            Group II: the Science and Mathematics consist of physics, chemistry, biology, arithmetics, geometry etc.

            Group III: the Social Sciences consists of sociology, politics, law, economics etc.

            This is the method of grouping the subjects for studying by means of copying the Liberal Arts subjects. However this method of division becomes in later time.

            Talking only about Thammasat University, it is informed that all the students who are newcomers are supposed to commence their education by studying in first year of the faculty of Liberal Arts. All the newcomers have to study together. This shows that the Liberal Arts subjects are used as the basic subjects for studying the various subjects; vocational and specific subjects in the next step. In this matter, the meaning of Liberal Arts can be seen in two aspects:

            1. the academics is divided into two kinds; (1)general basic academics (2)vocational and specific academics.

            2. the general basic subjects are picked up to be studied before studying the vocational and specific subjects.

            One more thing, it is very good that all the students have occasion to study together, because they have a chance to meet and know each other. Owing to they used to study in the same faculty, later even though they are separated from each other to study in various faculties, they still have a good relation with each other. Therefore the faculty of Liberal Arts is regarded as the center of all students and the starting point of the Thammasat University-students. Now may I stop talking about the definition of Liberal Arts as given by the western scholars.

 

Liberal Arts in Western Tradition

            In  reality, there has already been Liberal Artsin Thai language. Talking only in term of real essence without  involving Liberal Arts in Western tradition, there  has also been Liberal Arts in Eastern tradition. In ancient time, the academics which has been studied in Thailand  consists of royal tradition(rajaniti) and world tradition(lokaniti). In this, there have also been eighteen kinds of Liberal Arts. It is clear that the Liberal Arts is originated on the basis of Eastern tradition as well.

            The eighteen kinds of this arts is not entitled Liberal Arts in reality. The original word is arts(sippa in Pali and Silapa in Sansakrit)”. This  arts(sippa) is academic affair in itself, ie. the whole academics is called arts(sippa)”.  This Eastern tradition is equivalent to the meaning of  Artsreferring to various sciences  in English unexpectedly. In those days, all the subjects-matters are called Arts, meanwhile the word Sciencesis originated in later time. Therefore the essence of the Western and Eastern Arts is the same in origin.

            Therefore the word sippa or silapa(arts)” in original meaning is not mentioned to the beautiful affair as understood in the present, but mentioned to the whole academics which is used for studying.

            In conclusion, the whole academics in Eastern tradition is called sippa or silapa(arts). It consists of eighteen kinds of arts. It is informed that the Buddha Himself before renunciation  from His family finished studying eighteen arts which is called Liberal Arts.

            Why does  the word sippa or silapabecome Liberal Arts ? there is no clear cut answer. But we can see the track of evolution in this matter. The word sciencesfollowing the word sippa or silapa(arts)”  means text or book. In Pali it is written sippasattha”. The word sciencesis equivalent to satthain Pali. The word satthameans text or book. The word sippameans the academics for studyingTherefore the word sippasattha”  means text or book containing various subject-matters. Later period, the word satthawhich means text or book is translated differently from the original meaning, ie. this word means the knowledge. Finally, the word sciencesmeans the knowledge as well.

            To cut off all the confusions, the definition of Liberal Arts or sippasattha is recreated, it becomes two kinds of definitions:

            1. the sippasattha(subject and book) in original meaning according to the Eastern tradition(India) is mentioned to the text or book containing the eighteen various subject-matters for studying.

            2. the sippasattha is originated from two words: (1)sippa or silapa (2)sattha or sastra. The word sippais equivalent to Arts, and the word sattha or sastrais equivalent ot Sciences. This is the method of academic division which is popular in the present Western tradition.

            In later time, when the word sippasattha or sipalasastrahas been separated from each other becoming sippa or silapaand sattha or sastra, the meaning of this word is also separated from each other. That is to say, the word sippa or silapa(arts)” means the academic subjects referring to beautifulness or the academic subjects pertaining to handycraft, meanwhile the word sattha or sastra(sciences) means the academic subjects referring the truth.     

              Regarding the eighteen sippasatthas or silapasastras(arts and sciences) in Eastern tradition, there are informations about the subject-matters which are not consistent,. Even though these informations are different from the original, this can happen because of passing through long periods, but some of these are consistent.  The group of subject-matters can be shown here for instance as follows; law, archaeology, medicine, history, astronomy, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, dramatics, mathematics, physical education, custom-subjects, technics, arrow-shooting, art of war, magic and general subjects. The  titles of these subjects are translated from the Pali-Sansakrit words.

            For further informations, these are the titles of eighteen sippasattha-subjects in Pali-Sanskrit:

            1. Suti =general subjects or knowledge

            2. Sammati =custom-knowledge

            3. Sanghaya = mathematics

            4. Yogayamtra =technics

            5. Niti =law

            6. Visesika =the knowledge for auspiciousness affairs

            7. Gandhabba =dramatics

            8. Ganika =physical education or knowledge for building the physical strength

            9. Dhanubbedha =arrow-shooting or subject on how to shoot the arrow

            10.Purana =archaeology

            11.Tikicha =medicine, knowledge for curing the patient

            12.Itihasa =legend or history

            13.Joti =astronomy

            14.Maya =art of war

            15.Chandasa =poetry

            16.Ketu =rhetory

            17.Manta =magic or knowledge for magic spelling

            18.Sadda =grammar

 

Liberal Arts:

Eastern or Western ?