Regarding Geoffry Hinton’s Oct. 20 letter, “Liberal arts foster a lifelong quest“: The definition of liberal arts is confusing. Hinton appears to have quoted Wikipedia’s 13th-century definition in which even medicine, law, and all arts and sciences are liberal arts.
In some American liberal arts colleges, most arts and sciences except medicine, law and professional courses are considered liberal arts. However, the common perception of liberal arts is that they consist of the humanities and nonmathematical social sciences like history, politics and sociology.
I suppose that professor Dipak Basu (Oct. 13 letter, “Limited time to learn essentials”) and professor Takamitsu Sawa (Sept. 17 article, “Lack of liberal arts education is sapping Japan’s creativity”) have considered this specific definition.
Given the privatization of education and the huge costs of university education outside the European continent, very few students in North America, the United Kingdom and Japan are willing to study liberal arts subjects that have very little value in the job market. Although a job-oriented education is not desirable if the main aim is the greater good of society, this is a fact of life.
In the U.K., most universities are closing down liberal arts departments due to lack of demand.
In Japan, private universities that are mainly in the business of teaching the liberal arts are in great danger of financial collapse. Therefore, it would seem that if a healthy society is to promote liberal arts, universities must be completely nationalized, fees must be abolished as under the system on the European continent, and the idea of privatized education must be banished.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.