National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2000


Published in the Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 1:1, Spring/Summer 2000. Copyright © 2000 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Current justifications of liberal education usually take one of two tacks: itemizing the applicable skills that students derive from a liberal education, or asserting that it is liberal education that society must look to for the capacity for community or citizenship. The former is an argument probably worth making because it appeals to the preoccupations of students, parents, and employers, but it is the second that reveals the relevance, for our time, of liberal education. Bruce Kimball argues that this latter focus on the virtues instilled by education de-emphasizes rational inquiry and the individual pursuit of truth in what he calls the "philosophical" tradition in liberal education and reasserts the "rhetorical" tradition, which with its sources in classical rhetoric and Christian humanism emphasizes the cultivation of the powers of persuasion and civic skills and virtues (6). This identification of two traditions in liberal education provides one context for understanding the academic preoccupations of recent decades: the possibly futile and potentially oppressive nature of rational inquiry; the challenges to values and beliefs posed by cultural, ethnic, and national identity; and the fact that the academy is now the most influential institutional conveyer of values.