Part 4, Notes on “The Liberal Arts Tradition” by Clark and Jain – “The Seven Liberal Arts”

(Link to notes on previous chapter.) (Link to book on Goodreads.) (Link to notes on next chapter.)

Continuing through their PGMAPT framework, we have reached the Liberal Arts – this is a very short chapter before they get into the Trivium proper, but I thought it worth a short post since they again lay out some of the distinctive language they will be using.

So just a reminder that, in their minds, “science” is just knowledge, coming from the Latin scientia (which means “knowledge).  The arts, then, are skills which produce knowledge:

From an ancient or medieval lens, the liberal arts would have been the seven ways in which knowledge was justified.


…an art is geared toward the production of something.

Now that “something” could be something practical like a sword blade (the art of the blacksmith for example), or knowledge that can exist in the mind alone.  I especially appreciated:

The ancients and medievals had clear distinctions between imitation, art, and science.


One of the ancient maxims in education was “imitation precedes art”.

Teaching college, I can say without any hesitation that even at the college-level, to a significant degree students learn (especially early in their career) by imitating the instructor.  Over time they develop the skills that enable them to “fly alone”.  Indeed, as they say:

An art arose only when imitation was joined with reason.

They share an example from Augustine to the effect that a songbird can sing beautifully by imitation, but since it has no reason it cannot sing by art.  Therefore,

An art must be the well-ingrained imitative habit honed by its accompanying science.


The liberal arts are the tools of learning through which arguments, poems, and proofs are uncovered.

I think I’ll leave that there.  At the end of the chapter they have a statement I probably don’t completely agree with, but I’ll share it since it does help lay out their overall project – the next post should get into the Trivium proper.

Because the liberal arts require an imitative foundation, they can only come after the establishment of piety and the musical and gymnastic training.  But because they are the tools of learning, they must precede philosophy, which encompasses all the particular sciences, and the apex, theology.

See you for the Trivium…

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