In general, courses of universities fit into either the liberal arts or specialized subject categories. As for the specialized subjects, it is easy to understand their value and purpose. For example, Newtonian mechanics enables us to fly in airplanes or even take people in rockets all the way to the moon. Or with quantum mechanics, we can produce electron microscopes, thus revealing the structure of viruses, such as Ebola. In this way, specialized knowledge contributes to advances in society and expanding the areas of human activity. Also, if you look at it from an individual’s perspective, specialized knowledge provides employment and creates an economic base.
However, human beings are complex, and specialized knowledge alone does not lead to wiser and happier lives. It cannot satisfy the other various aspects of our existence, including love and passion.
Love or passion is one of the strongest human emotions. For that reason, it has been a theme featured in a number of literary works since ancient times. Among the famous works with this theme, I would like to briefly talk about Goethe’s Faust.
Dr. Faust remained a bachelor and immersed himself in scholarship in order to better understand the world. But in his later years, feeling a sense of vanity with his studies, he fell in love with a young woman, Margaret. After being rejuvenated by selling his soul to the Devil, Mephistopheles, Faust sleeps with Margaret, she becomes pregnant and the story ends in tragedy.
Faust, a work that Goethe spent 60 years of his life writing, makes us realize that in human existence, there are aspects that cannot be fulfilled through specialized knowledge alone. It is these aspects into which liberal arts courses aim to provide better understanding.
What liberal arts courses aim to do is to promote the growth of a student's entire character. However, since an individual’s character does not fully mature until 50, it is difficult for young students to understand the role and significance that liberal arts courses play in their lives. But even if it is difficult to grasp this role, the necessity for a liberal arts education remains.
There are mathematicians and musicians who become mentally troubled in the course of their study and training. This shows that even the psyches of the very talented sometimes succumb to the strain of highly specialized training over a long period of time. They could be considered modern Fausts.
As mentioned at the outset, advances in specialized subjects will continue to open up the frontiers of the unknown. This means also that we cannot foresee the world to come. When one proceeds into the unknown world, stability and growth of an individual's character is critically important. It is against this backdrop that the cultivation imparted by courses in liberal arts will be realized.