Even though Liberal Arts degrees typically fall at the bottom of the education hierarchy, I think it’s one of the most valuable educations for the future. Why? Because nobody can predict which job skills will stay in-demand in the future but what we do know we will need lots of people who are flexible, have wide understanding of the world and are excellent communicators.

The Liberal Arts has a bad reputation because it often attracts the slackers who go to University more for the country club atmosphere, the keg parties or because their parents gave them no other option. In computer science, math or sciences you can fall behind very quickly if you don’t do the daily work but in the Liberal Arts many people succeed at “bullshiting” their way through a degree with last minute essays and cramming right before exams.

However, if you really dedicate yourself to studying the Liberal Arts it can be one of the most challenging degrees. And few forms of education are so effective at building character, helping you adapt to change and making you a more well-rounded person — qualities that will serve you very well in life.

Now, you don’t necessarily need to sit in a University classroom to get a Liberal Arts education. For a fraction of the cost of a University degree (and zero debt), you can get your own Liberal Arts education while traveling the world and directly exploring the culture, history and museums of the places and people you are studying.

What Is The Meaning of Liberalism?

A Liberal Arts education basically involves reading the classical and modern literature that form the generally agreed upon Liberal Arts canon. Another important component is debating the issues with other intelligent and informed people who can challenge you to see your own cogntive biases and reality tunnels.

If you decide to go it alone you will save  the massive expense of going to University, which can enable you to work and travel to the actual places spoken of in the liturature. This way you will find many educated people of different cultures and open minded travellers that will debate with you long into the night.

I also recommend starting your own blog to express and crystallize what you are learning while building a forum to debate your ideas with other netizens. There are also many excellent online education forums and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) where you can debate with other students and create online study groups.

While liberalism’s meaning is often bastardized by pundits in the media, a liberal is a someone who has freed themselves from bigotry, authoritarian attitudes and established dogmas. Liberalism gets a bad name because of the elitism attached to attaining a Liberal Arts education at a prestigious University. Many highly educated people perpetuate this elitism through their often thinly-veiled contempt for people of lower educational attainment and lesser financial means.

This is misguided. A real liberal is someone who seeks the freedom and equality of all people everywhere in the world — and does not allow him or herself to be caged by any institutions or class biases.

The 4-Year Liberal Arts Reading List

This 4-Year Year Liberal Arts reading list is a guide to many of history’s most important books. If you read the books on this 4-year Liberal Arts reading list you can learn directly from the thoughts of history’s greatest thinkers and I can guarantee it will transform your world and make you a better person. This reading list has been reviewed yearly since 1937 by the Liberal Arts faculty St. John’s College to create a generally agreed upon Liberal Arts curriculum that anyone can study in their own time.

The first two years span over 2,000 years of intellectual history and the last two years are from the last 300 years that have seen the development of the ideas that underpin the science and freedom we enjoy in the modern world. The Liberal Arts reading list is organized in chronological order but you don’t necessary need to read these books in any particular order.

If you’re really determined, you can complete the entire Liberal Arts canon in about 4 years by reading a book every 1-2 weeks (some larger books will take longer to read though).

1st Year: Greek Civilization and the Classical Liberal Arts

The foundation of Western Civilization was laid by the Greeks. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle created a liberal renaissance in the ancient world. The Socratic Method and The Trivium still form of the foundation of critical thinking and rational debate.

  1. HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
  2. AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
  3. SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
  4. THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
  5. EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
  6. HERODOTUS: Histories
  7. ARISTOPHANES: Clouds
  8. PLATO (SOCRATES): Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
  9. ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
  10. EUCLID: Elements
  11. LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
  12. PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
  13. NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
  14. LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
  15. HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
  16. Essays by: Archimedes, Fahrenheit, Avogadro, Dalton, Cannizzaro, Virchow, Mariotte, Driesch, Gay-Lussac, Spemann, Stears, J.J. Thompson, Mendeleyev, Berthollet, J.L. Proust

2nd Year: Roman, Medieval and Renaissance Periods

The Roman Empire lasted nearly 700 years before collapsing under the weight of its immorality and greed. The period known as the dark ages followed, which was characterized by illiteracy and the authoritarian rule of the Catholic Church until the Renaissance challenged the Church’s absolutist authority.

  1. THE HEBREW BIBLE
  2. THE BIBLE: New Testament
  3. ARISTOTLE: De AnimaOn InterpretationPrior AnalyticsCategories
  4. APOLLONIUS: Conics
  5. VIRGIL: Aeneid
  6. PLUTARCH: “Caesar,” “Cato the Younger,” “Antony,” “Brutus”
  7. EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
  8. TACITUS: Annals
  9. PTOLEMY: Almagest
  10. PLOTINUS: The Enneads
  11. AUGUSTINE: Confessions
  12. MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
  13. ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
  14. AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
  15. DANTE: Divine Comedy
  16. CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
  17. MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
  18. KEPLER: Epitome IV
  19. RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
  20. PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
  21. MONTAIGNE: Essays
  22. VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
  23. BACON: Novum Organum
  24. SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
  25. POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
  26. DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
  27. PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
  28. BACH: St. Matthew PassionInventions
  29. HAYDN: Quartets
  30. MOZART: Operas
  31. BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
  32. SCHUBERT: Songs
  33. MONTEVERDI: L’Orfeo
  34. STRAVINSKY: Symphony of Psalms

 3rd Year: The Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th Centuries

The separation of the church and state led to the Enlightenment and a new golden age of scholarship and innovation for the modern nations who freed themselves from religious theocracy.

  1. CERVANTES: Don Quixote
  2. GALILEO: Two New Sciences
  3. HOBBES: Leviathan
  4. DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
  5. MILTON: Paradise Lost
  6. LA ROCHEFOUCAULD: Maximes
  7. LA FONTAINE: Fables
  8. PASCAL: Pensees
  9. HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
  10. ELIOT: Middlemarch
  11. SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
  12. LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
  13. RACINE: Phaedre
  14. NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
  15. KEPLER: Epitome IV
  16. LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
  17. SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels
  18. HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
  19. ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
  20. MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
  21. ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
  22. KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
  23. MOZART: Don Giovanni
  24. JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
  25. DEDEKIND: “Essay on the Theory of Numbers”
  26. “Articles of Confederation,” “Declaration of Independence,” “Constitution of the United States of America”
  27. HAMILTON, JAY AND MADISON: The Federalist
  28. TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  29. WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
  30. Essays by:  Young, Taylor, Euler, D. Bernoulli, Orsted, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell

 4th Year: The Modern World In The 19th and 20th Centuries

The liberal ideals, laws and sciences provided the foundation for the modern world and the historically unprecedented levels of privilege, freedom and the high standard of living we enjoy today.

  1. Supreme Court opinions
  2. GOETHE: Faust
  3. DARWIN: Origin of Species
  4. HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, “Logic” (from the Encyclopedia)
  5. LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
  6. TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
  7. LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
  8. FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Selected Speeches
  9. KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
  10. WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
  11. MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
  12. DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
  13. TOLSTOY: War and Peace
  14. MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
  15. O’CONNOR: Selected Stories
  16. WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
  17. NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
  18. FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
  19. BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
  20. DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
  21. HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
  22. HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
  23. EINSTEIN: Selected papers
  24. CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
  25. FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
  26. FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
  27. WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
  28. Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
  29. Essays by: Faraday, J.J. Thomson, Millikan, Minkowski, Rutherford, Davisson, Schrodinger, Bohr, Maxwell, de Broglie, Heisenberg, Mendel, Boveri, Sutton, Morgan, Beadle & Tatum, Sussman, Watson & Crick, Jacob & Monod, Hardy

 

Since nearly all of these books are in the public domain, you can find them for free online. You can search any of these books on the Project Gutenberg and download them directly to your tablet, smartphone or e-reader. I have also created guides to classic ebooks and audiobooks that I recommend reading.

If you find this resource valuable, please share the knowledge of the Liberal Education canon with your friends and family.