All Liberal Arts are useless

My physics advisor once told me that with physics we can understand the nature of sound and how we interpret it physiologically but physics can't tell you how to produce Mozart.

Well, it can tell us why the music sounds good, it is trying to explain why these people are able to do what they do and I don't see a reason why after enough research and study we wouldn't be able to deduce what 'creates' Mozart.
For me the arts are interesting because there is a human aspect to it.

OK, fair enough, but then this
I find it interesting to study how we as humans interact with each other and our surroundings.

isn't the arts. This is science.

When you get down to the brass tax of it all, the liberal arts is really just about entertainment and not anything salient.

Without entertainment and more importantly culture, the world would be a very uniform and dull souless place.

As much as I don't really get art or poems etc, I can appreciate the joy it can give. I've been told that some paintings really do express the emotions of the painter.

I do however love music, James May did a programme a little while ago that looked at technology and it's use to recreate music. A computer wrote a peice of music for the piano in the style of Beethoven. Although it did sound like a Beethoven peice, it just lacked 'something' when played next to a real peice, where you can 'feel' the music.

The arts looks into why some things do seem to be more than the sum of their parts, in a way that science simply can't explain becuase it's inherently subjective.

Also, I've got to say in the last 6-8 months or so there has seemed to a wave of intellectual snobbery creeping in on PF. (this isn't directed at anyone in particular)

Albert disagrees.

"It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."
—Albert Einstein

Albert disagrees.

"It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."
—Albert Einstein

And which field of liberal arts did Albert study?

Oh BTW, it's brass tacks, not brass tax.

Whoops. Thats what happens when I post in the morning.

ideasrule
Homework Helper
I agree. Studying any of the liberal arts in college in my opinion is a waste of time and resources. The world has a lot of serious problems, and learning about finger paintings and dancing isn't going to help solve them.

If finger painting and dancing don't help, how about politics, economics, history, sociology, culture studies, and anthropology? Understanding human behavior is the most important step in solving any problem, especially any problem in a democratic society.

I think liberal arts has its place in society, as I do enjoy the occasional TV show and movie now and then, but you don't need a college degree to write a movie script or act. When you get down to the brass tacks of it all, the liberal arts is really just about entertainment and not anything salient.

Even if this were true, so what? What's wrong with people pursuing their own interests and entertaining themselves, as well as their audience?

I don't know if Einstein specifically studied any of the "Liberal Arts" in college, or not. But what if he didn't? Is it necessary to take a formal class of study in a particular subject, in order to be able to appreciate it? I majored in physics and geology, but I still understand the importance of chemistry, biology, and the Arts.

The purpose of obtaining a liberal arts education, is to acquire general knowledge, and more importantly, to develop intellectual skills. It is primarily about learning how to be an independent thinker. Historically, a liberal arts education consisted of the study of several subjects, including philosophy, literature, languages, history, math, and science. Over the years, however, it seems as though math and science have been spun off by many universities into their own department. This has created a sort of "rift" in the educational system, and we see it in this thread. It's us (scientists) against them. And I think that is a damn shame.

The written and spoken language is how we convey ideas and thoughts. And learning to master that language is surely beneficial to anyone's life. Someone who speaks eloquently, most assuredly makes a better impression than someone who doesn't. Could any book be written without some ability to articulate ideas? Imagine trying to comprehend a technically correct, but poorly written, physics or math text book. Imagine trying to write a technical paper, without having the ability to clearly express your ideas and theories.

Think about the subject of history, for a moment. Imagine if we had no knowledge of what happened in the world last week, or last year, or five hundred years ago. Or imagine a world without any philosophical thought. Philosophy, a word of Greek origin, which literally means "love of wisdom".

Imagine having no books to read, plays to see, music to listen to, news to comprehend, or Star Trek to watch. Read any of the classic books, and tell me they are a waste of your time. Take The Count of Monte Cristo, for example. A brilliant work of art, written by Alexandre Dumas, more than 160 years ago. 1300+ pages, not one of which, is boring or repetitive. Only a creative mind and master of the written language could have penned such a wonderful story.

The Arts (liberal and fine) enhance our lives. I'm not sure I would want to live in a world without them. Closing your mind to the Arts is so self limiting. And so sad.

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Well said Triple D.

Is there something called Conservative art?

Gold Member
It's difficult to objectively argue about a word thats meaning is subjective in nature. Without coming to an agreement on how the word "useful" is defined within the discussion, then nobody's in a position to say someone else is wrong.

To some, grabbing a friend/acquaintance and discussing a particular artist's work for a couple hours would be "useful."

To others, "useful" means that it must have have some practical application in the physical world.

There's nothing wrong with either point-of-view, and I'm sure there are many others. I enjoy these discussions, but I think they'd benefit from having the participants be a bit more precise with their definitions/explanations, as a few of the posters in this thread have done.

What's wrong with people wanting to work in a field where they enjoy what they do? If you enjoy doing science, then go ahead and study science. If someone enjoys music and wants to study it, let them do just that.
Different areas appeal to different people.
People have been moved, changed, and have had their eyes opened when they experience different things. Some people have had their eyes opened when they were introduced to science. Some people have had their lives changed after listening to a beautiful symphony, or seeing a play for the first time.

Just because you don't like something doesn't mean everyone else has to agree with you.

russ_watters
Mentor
I agree. Studying any of the liberal arts in college in my opinion is a waste of time and resources. The world has a lot of serious problems, and learning about finger paintings and dancing isn't going to help solve them.

I think liberal arts has its place in society, as I do enjoy the occasional TV show and movie now and then, but you don't need a college degree to write a movie script or act. When you get down to the brass tacks of it all, the liberal arts is really just about entertainment and not anything salient.
Note that there are some liberal arts that directly deal with real-world problems and others that indirectly assist you in dealing with them. Such courses are not useless. In fact, I'd say no education is complete without at least a little bit of:

Economics
English
Government/Law
History
Philosophy
Psychology

russ_watters
Mentor
What's wrong with people wanting to work in a field where they enjoy what they do?
The problem is in the faulty premise: Not a lot of people can work in the liberal arts fields and I'd wager that only a tiny fraction of people with such degrees actually work in their field. You'll find too many waiters and bank tellers with liberal arts degrees and I'd even wager that most will tell you that studying it was a mistake.
Keep fretting, parents: The college major your children pick will indeed have a big impact on their career options.

While that may not seem like an earth-shattering revelation, a Bee analysis of new Census Bureau data lays out the stark contrasts between chosen disciplines in illuminating detail. Is your child, for instance, thinking about …

… a philosophy degree? Philosophy graduates in California last year were about five times as likely to be unemployed as nursing graduates.

… ethnic studies? Computer engineering graduates in California typically make twice as much.

… a drama degree? Theater majors were about eight times as likely to work in the food services industry as those with accounting degrees.
http://www.sacbee.com/2010/11/20/3199703/for-area-job-seekers-not-all-college.html [Broken]

And in the middle of the page is a table showing the Top 10 majors held by restaurant workers. Every single one is a liberal art.

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The problem is in the faulty premise: Not a lot of people can work in the liberal arts fields and I'd wager that only a tiny fraction of people with such degrees actually work in their field. You'll find too many waiters and bank tellers with liberal arts degrees and I'd even wager that most will tell you that studying it was a mistake.

You can replace liberal arts with science in the above paragraph and its still true, especially if you use "physics" specifically.

Edit: For instance, I have a phd in theoretical high energy physics and I work as a bartender.

russ_watters
Mentor
You can replace liberal arts with science in the above paragraph and its still true, especially if you use "physics" specifically.

Edit: For instance, I have a phd in theoretical high energy physics and I work as a bartender.
While I sympathize with your particular situation, I highly doubt that it is generally true. The overall unemployment rate for phd physicists is very low:
In 2006, the median annual salary for full-time employees holding the PhD physics degree (excluding those in postdoctoral positions) was $97,700 based on results of the 2006 AIP Membership Survey. Among AIP society members with a PhD physics degree, the unemployment rate was 1.7%. http://cnr2.kent.edu/ug_pages/careers.html I've even heard the demand for physics is pretty high in the financial industry due to the math and analytical skills. While I sympathize with your particular situation, I highly doubt that it is generally true. The overall unemployment rate for phd physicists is very low: http://cnr2.kent.edu/ug_pages/careers.html Same with the overall employment rate for ANY phd, including liberal arts. I myself am not unemployed. The point is that people don't get jobs in the field of their degree. Very few undergrads with science degrees end up in science fields, just as very few liberal arts majors end up in liberal arts fields. There aren't enough jobs in either field. AlephZero Science Advisor Homework Helper And which field of liberal arts did Albert study? He was a pretty mean violinist. Though some of the professional musicians he played with (who were his personal friends) complained that he couldn't count. So after 4 years of high school in the academic track, you want 4 years of vokey at the university level? Liberal arts is generally useless. agree I think that science has not integrated itself with liberal arts yet. I see science and liberal arts being integrated. Using technology and other methods developed in scientific fields to help better understand our current society on a new level. Heres an example of integration: For my "social religious history" course project I have written a program that scans the internet on forums (I did 2 and had it collect data for a day or 2) too see how views of old ideas about a particular religion has changed, and how the ideas are being used/labeled. Also I wrote a program to further help analyse my results. Just imagine computers analyzing language; scanning the net, and telling us whats the consensus on a particular subjective topic is. I do agree that liberal arts provides no use to the advancement in our society other than providing us some entertainment. I think that science has not integrated itself with liberal arts yet. From the above, science was part of liberal arts. So it's 'coming apart' not waiting to integrate. russ_watters Mentor Same with the overall employment rate for ANY phd, including liberal arts. I myself am not unemployed. The point is that people don't get jobs in the field of their degree. I'm not sure if that's true or not (doesn't seem like it would be), but with a median salary of >$100k, I would tend to doubt that many are bartenders.

I wonder if most of the people who are posting even understand what the "liberal arts" are. Everybody I've seen thus far seems to mostly bash cinema, artwork, etc, which only tangentially constitute the liberal arts. Most of these belong solidly in the realm of the "fine arts," an entirely different realm of discussion.

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I'm not sure if that's true or not (doesn't seem like it would be), but with a median salary of >\$100k, I would tend to doubt that many are bartenders.

The spread is huge, so the median isn't that great a judge. Also, for physicist, I think the median is something like 95k. With my bartender's salary+tips I make more than the bottom 10% of physicists, and I just got my degree this year (and the data excludes postdocs. I expect I make more than most postdocs). Which is why I'm bartending and not an adjunct prof.

Science degrees are definitely employable, but most people who get the degree won't get a job in science. Just like liberal arts degrees- getting a degree in history or fine art doesn't mean you work in history or fine-art. There is a reason the APS focuses on how flexible the degree is ("physics graduates are well trained to do anything!") and not on the great careers in physics.

The point being you can't judge a degrees "worth" by the job you end up with. Or if you do, nearly all degrees end up looking like a waste of time.

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