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Classification of Arts and Early Modern Sciences

Medieval Academia

Building on this Aristotelian foundation, medieval thinkers developed the core distinction between nature and artifice into an academic edifice. The sciences concerned nature. Since God is the author of nature, it follows that not only should people study nature, they also should expect to find regular order and well-defined kinds within it, as would be consonant with the perfection of the deity. Science is the practice of proper classification by definition. The arts more properly concern skills, whether mental or physical. The Latin root artes refers to the technical skills needed to produce something, a fact more apparent in the Greek root techne, as in the word "technology." For the medieval period there is no sense of the "fine arts." All art is craft. A painter or sculptor is as much a craftsman as a carpenter or shipwright. The goal of the artist is the technical perfection of their work or trade.

Although the sciences were broadly treated and classified in the same way, some innovation occurred in the classification of the arts. In the medieval period is seen the division of the arts into those that are "liberal" (meaning that they are suitable for free citizens) and those that are "servile" (work that was typically manual and done by slaves). Hence a liberal arts curriculum is first found in the early universities. Students who completed courses of study in grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy were awarded a bachelor of arts. This already implies a division in the arts, since these fields were thought to have redeeming features, whether beauty or intellectual stimulation. Interestingly, many of the fields now routinely called arts were excluded. Poetry and the visual arts, for instance, were not considered suitable subjects for inclusion. Unlike the other fields, these (and others) were not judged to be intellectual arts; competences in these areas were thought to depend on the practice of bodily skills and not on the deepening of mental skills.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterClassification of Arts and Early Modern Sciences - Aristotelian Background, Medieval Academia, Early Modern Context, Early Modern Classification In The Arts, Early Modern Classification In The Sciences