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.
- HOMER: Iliad, Odyssey
- AESCHYLUS: Agamemnon, Libation Bearers, Eumenides, Prometheus Bound
- SOPHOCLES: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Philoctetes, Ajax
- THUCYDIDES: Peloponnesian War
- EURIPIDES: Hippolytus, Bacchae
- HERODOTUS: Histories
- ARISTOPHANES: Clouds
- PLATO (SOCRATES): Meno, Gorgias, Republic, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Sophist, Timaeus, Phaedrus
- ARISTOTLE: Poetics, Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, On Generation and Corruption, Politics, Parts of Animals, Generation of Animals
- EUCLID: Elements
- LUCRETIUS: On the Nature of Things
- PLUTARCH: Lycurgus, Solon
- NICOMACHUS: Arithmetic
- LAVOISIER: Elements of Chemistry
- HARVEY: Motion of the Heart and Blood
- 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.
- THE HEBREW BIBLE
- THE BIBLE: New Testament
- ARISTOTLE: De Anima, On Interpretation, Prior Analytics, Categories
- APOLLONIUS: Conics
- VIRGIL: Aeneid
- PLUTARCH: “Caesar,” “Cato the Younger,” “Antony,” “Brutus”
- EPICTETUS: Discourses, Manual
- TACITUS: Annals
- PTOLEMY: Almagest
- PLOTINUS: The Enneads
- AUGUSTINE: Confessions
- MAIMONIDES: Guide for the Perplexed
- ST. ANSELM: Proslogium
- AQUINAS: Summa Theologica
- DANTE: Divine Comedy
- CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales
- MACHIAVELLI: The Prince, Discourses
- KEPLER: Epitome IV
- RABELAIS: Gargantua and Pantagruel
- PALESTRINA: Missa Papae Marcelli
- MONTAIGNE: Essays
- VIETE: Introduction to the Analytical Art
- BACON: Novum Organum
- SHAKESPEARE: Richard II, Henry IV, The Tempest, As You Like It, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Sonnets
- POEMS BY: Marvell, Donne, and other 16th- and 17th-century poets
- DESCARTES: Geometry, Discourse on Method
- PASCAL: Generation of Conic Sections
- BACH: St. Matthew Passion, Inventions
- HAYDN: Quartets
- MOZART: Operas
- BEETHOVEN: Third Symphony
- SCHUBERT: Songs
- MONTEVERDI: L’Orfeo
- 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.
- CERVANTES: Don Quixote
- GALILEO: Two New Sciences
- HOBBES: Leviathan
- DESCARTES: Meditations, Rules for the Direction of the Mind
- MILTON: Paradise Lost
- LA ROCHEFOUCAULD: Maximes
- LA FONTAINE: Fables
- PASCAL: Pensees
- HUYGENS: Treatise on Light, On the Movement of Bodies by Impact
- ELIOT: Middlemarch
- SPINOZA: Theological-Political Treatise
- LOCKE: Second Treatise of Government
- RACINE: Phaedre
- NEWTON: Principia Mathematica
- KEPLER: Epitome IV
- LEIBNIZ: Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics, Essay On Dynamics, Philosophical Essays, Principles of Nature and Grace
- SWIFT: Gulliver’s Travels
- HUME: Treatise of Human Nature
- ROUSSEAU: Social Contract, The Origin of Inequality
- MOLIERE: Le Misanthrope
- ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations
- KANT: Critique of Pure Reason, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
- MOZART: Don Giovanni
- JANE AUSTEN: Pride and Prejudice
- DEDEKIND: “Essay on the Theory of Numbers”
- “Articles of Confederation,” “Declaration of Independence,” “Constitution of the United States of America”
- HAMILTON, JAY AND MADISON: The Federalist
- TWAIN: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- WORDSWORTH: The Two Part Prelude of 1799
- 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.
- Supreme Court opinions
- GOETHE: Faust
- DARWIN: Origin of Species
- HEGEL: Phenomenology of Mind, “Logic” (from the Encyclopedia)
- LOBACHEVSKY: Theory of Parallels
- TOCQUEVILLE: Democracy in America
- LINCOLN: Selected Speeches
- FREDERICK DOUGLASS: Selected Speeches
- KIERKEGAARD: Philosophical Fragments, Fear and Trembling
- WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
- MARX: Capital, Political and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology
- DOSTOEVSKI: Brothers Karamazov
- TOLSTOY: War and Peace
- MELVILLE: Benito Cereno
- O’CONNOR: Selected Stories
- WILLIAM JAMES; Psychology, Briefer Course
- NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil
- FREUD: Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
- BOOKER T. WASHINGTON: Selected Writings
- DUBOIS: The Souls of Black Folk
- HUSSERL: Crisis of the European Sciences
- HEIDEGGER: Basic Writings
- EINSTEIN: Selected papers
- CONRAD: Heart of Darkness
- FAULKNER: Go Down Moses
- FLAUBERT: Un Coeur Simple
- WOOLF: Mrs. Dalloway
- Poems by: Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Valery, Rimbaud
- 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.