Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour

February 2, 2018, by Michael Timmins

What does it mean to be human? Introducing Liberal Arts.

What does it mean to be human? This is the classic philosophical question where we debate the core qualities of humanity in order to establish a fundamental truth about our existence. However, thinking about ‘being human’ is far more important than just an intellectual exercise. Understanding what it is that makes us human is at the core of important political, social and economic planning. Indeed, those who are able to identify key aspects of our humanity can serve as highly valuable members of governments, businesses, charities and schools.

The range of subjects represented in the Liberal Arts degree represents an acknowledgement that the way in which we think and act in this world is more complex and more varied than we perhaps realise. As humans, we make choices everyday about who we are and how we respond to others. From the clothes we wear, the products we buy, the friendships we create to the way we vote, our lives are composed of events and decisions that define us. We make these selections on the basis of who we think we are, who we might like to be, what we think is right and what we think is necessary.

These are not necessarily actions that can be accounted for by quantifiable means or that can be explained by algorithms or formulae, as they reflect the ephemeral nature of what it means to be human. This raises the question of how we can understand our humanity? Fortunately, this issue represents a well-trodden path for the Liberal Arts scholar. From the work of authors and artists, to political theorists, sociologists, historians and philosophers, we are overwhelmed with responses to this issue.

Liberal Arts enables us to take this issue of being human and examine it from a variety of perspectives. From religious texts to psychoanalysis and social theory, Liberal Arts students engage with what makes us human as an essential part of their degree programme. This provides insight into how we live, what makes us behave in the way that we do, what we need to do to think and act in other ways.

From the designs of the latest technology, fashion or lifestyle choice, to the alterations in government policy, charity initiative or educational development, there is a need for a detailed and multi-layered understanding of human behaviour. Understanding what it means to be human is essential in shaping our world.

As a Liberal Arts student, the significance of the range of disciplines that can be studied at the University of Nottingham is that it focuses on understanding humanity. Whether that is from our earliest interactions as evidenced by archaeological excavation, or, through assessing psychological responses to particular stimuli within the laboratory. The Liberal Arts student is well-versed in reading, analysing and interpreting humanity.

To consider what it is to be human is a vital question that assists us in innovating and changing the world.

Ross Wilson
Director of Liberal Arts, University of Nottingham

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