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01 JANUARY 2011

New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical

"Before interdisciplinarity in either the disciplinary producing or disciplinary–circumscribing senses could manifest itself, disciplinarity itself had to take on its peculiarly modern form. Any assessment of interdisciplinarity – multi – and trans–, noncritical and critical– will benefit from an appreciation of this background.

Prior to the modern period, learning exhibited a kind of unity that might be called predisciplinary. Aristotle, it is true, introduced distinctions between logic, physics, and ethics, but these were never of a kind to raise the possibility of cross–disciplinary formations such as 'physical ethics.' During the Middle Ages, the division of the artes liberales into grammar, rhetoric, dialectic (the trivium), arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the quadrivium) ensured that the education of 'free men' included all the knowledge and skills needed to exercise their social roles. Insofar as it existed, disciplinary specialization was present more in the 'servile arts' of artisans and tradesmen. Not even teachers of the liberal arts became specialists in their different branches, because the idea of, for example, possessing arithmetic without grammar would have been considered a deformation of the mind. In the monastery schools, the unfettered pursuit of knowledge was viewed skeptically, criticized as curiositas, and therefore subject to disciplinization in a premodern behavioral sense. Only at the end of the Middle Ages, as the infinite pursuit of disciplinary knowledge took on the character of a spiritual activity, would Renaissance men become necessary to cross boundaries and synthesize diverse areas of learning."

(Robert Frodeman and Carl Mitcham, 2007, p.508)

[1][2] Frodeman, R. and C. Mitcham (2007). "New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical." Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 27(6).


Aristotlearithmetic • artes liberales • artisanastronomy • cross boundaries • cross-disciplinary • curiositas • dialecticdisciplinary knowledgedisciplinary specialisationdisciplinesdiscursive fielddivisionethicsEuropean Renaissance • free men • geometrygrammarinterdisciplinarityknowledgeknowledge integrationlearningliberal artslogicmiddle agesModern • modern period • monastery schools • multidisciplinaritymusicorderingphysics • predisciplinary • premodernpursuit of knowledgeQuadriviumrhetoricservile artsskillsocial construction of knowledgesocial rolesspecialisation • spiritual activity • synthesis • tradesmen • transdisciplinarityTrivium • unity


Simon Perkins
01 JANUARY 2011

The liberal and servile arts: internal justification versus external purpose

"'Liberal arts,' therefore, are ways of human action which have their justification in themselves; 'servile arts' are ways of human action that have a purpose outside of themselves, a purpose, to be more exact, which consists in a useful effect that can be realized through praxis. The 'liberality' or 'freedom' of the liberal arts consists in their not being disposable for purposes, that they do not need to be legitimated by a social function, by being 'work.'"

(Josef Pieper, 1998, p.41)

Pieper, J. (1998). 'Leisure, the Basis of Culture'. South Bend, Indiana, St. Augustine's Press.



Simon Perkins
20 NOVEMBER 2007

The Seven Liberal Arts: The Trivium & The Quadrivium

"Originally the liberal arts were seven in number. They were divided into the three–fold Trivium of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, and the four–fold Quadrivium of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. These words mean, respectively, a three–way and a four–way crossroads, implying that these paths of knowledge are fundamentally interconnected –– and, by extension, that all other paths can be found to intersect here, as well. The T[rivium]. was the basis of elementary education (whence we probably get the word 'trivial'): Grammar taught the craft of reading and writing; Logic, of careful reasoning; and Rhetoric, of effective communication. The Q[uadrivium]. was the basis of advanced education: Arithmetic taught the science of number; Geometry, of form; Music, of sound (and of 'harmony' in the most general sense of the word –– 'number in motion', as it was often put); Astronomy, of time (of 'form in motion'). Moreover, from the very beginning, whether openly acknowledged or carefully alluded to, each of the Quadrivial sciences was accompanied by its complementary metaphysical art. Each dealt not only with the outer structures, but also with the inner meanings of its discipline. Thus, Arithmetic included Arithmology, the understanding that numbers were not merely quantities, but also qualities (that 'two', for instance, is also 'duality, polarity'); Geometry included what is nowadays called Geomancy, the understanding (in, for example, the design of temples or cathedrals, or in the graphic arts) that the spirit and the emotions can be affected in particular ways by particular forms; Astronomy included Astrology, the divination of the meanings of cycles of time; and Music included not only the study of 'practical theory', of nomenclature and technique (e.g. 'this is a minor third', 'this is the Mixolydian mode'), but also the study of 'speculative theory', of the meanings and influences of tones and intervals and scales.

Traditionally the seven liberal arts have been positioned in opposition to the 'servile arts'. In this sense while the liberal arts generally refer to knowledge 'appropriate for free men' (social and political elites) the servile arts have been associated with specialised tradesman skills and knowledge e.g. engineering and design."
(Steven C. Rasmussen 28 March 1996)




arithmeticastronomycathedralcraftcurriculumcycledesigneducationeducational modelemploymentengineeringEuropeangeometrygrammar • high middle ages • interconnectedliberal arts • liberalis arts • logic • medieval university • musicpremodernprofessionalismQuadriviumqualityrhetoric • scholastic guild • scienceservile arts • seven liberal arts • skills • studia generalia • studium • trade • tradesmanship • Trivium • universitas magistrorum • universitas magistrorum et scholarium • universitas scholarium • universityvocationvocational training

Industrialisation: Pin Making and the Division of Labour

"To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin–maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head: to make the head requires two or three distinct operations to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upward of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upward of forty–eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty–eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of proper division and combination of their different operations."

(Adam Smith, 1776)

Fig.1 Title: "Epinglier, Plate II (Pin Making)", Engraver: Defehrt, Designer: Goussier, Date: 1762, Medium: Original Engraving, Art of the Print (Defehrt – Diderot's Encyclopedie), [].

[Smith's theory of specialisation has come to dominate Western economic theory in the 200 years since it was first published.]



177618th centuryAdam Smithbusinessdivision of labourindustrialisationindustrymanufactories • manufacture • manufacturingmass productionpin • pin-maker • servile artsskillspecialisationtraditional process • workman

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