“We are greatly indebted to Scott Lee, the distinguished and longtime leader of the Association of Core Texts and Courses, for this insightful exploration of the possibilities and problems of liberal arts education, which draws upon his addresses and conversations across many decades, colleges, and nations. Lee’s distinctive analysis, straddling the realms of ‘rhetoric’, ‘dialectic,” and “poetic,” illuminates the neglected interconnections among ‘art,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘invention,’ which shape, he argues, the very nature of the liberal arts. The reader will be informed and inspired by each of the essays in this important volume.”

—Bruce A. Kimball, Emeritus Academy Professor, The Ohio State University

Invention: The Art of Liberal Arts by J. Scott Lee


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For too long the liberal arts have been neglected or diminished for other, seemingly more important, concerns in advocating liberal education. J. Scott Lee’s penetrating book defends and advances liberal arts education through exploring and understanding the art of liberal arts, invention. Artful invention underlies the uniquely human freedom of the joy of learning, the attractive power of liberal education. Philosophically attuned to the possibilities humans can make for themselves, informed by modern empirical and theoretical studies, Lee probes the liberal arts to open up opportunities for students, faculty, and institutions to change higher education and communities for the better. Whether analyzing Pygmalion, the New Organon, the Adoration of the Magi, or the Poetics, or marshaling data to propose new liberal arts programs, Lee convincingly shows how the art of invention can revitalize liberal education in the 21st century.

“This unique volume of speeches and essays deserves reading by anyone seriously interested in thinking about the liberal arts.”

—Patrick Malcolmson, Professor Emeritus
St. Thomas University

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Table of Contents

An Affirmation in a Crisis

Foreword Patrick Malcolmson, St. Thomas University, Fredericton


The key to invention and freedom is art, technē, a power often neglected in humanistic, liberal education. The inventiveness of liberal arts can be connected to a public that needs such arts for life.

Section I: Invention, Possibilities, and Student Capacities

Chapter 1:  Invention: The Art in Liberal Arts

The purported crisis in humanistic, liberal education and what a renewed focus on art can do about it.

Chapter 2:  ACTC, Liberal Arts and Invention. Botticelli’s Adoration (1475)

Changing attitudes towards liberal arts education starts from within it. Leon Battista Alberti’s On Painting, Botticelli’s Uffizi Adoration, and artistic invention lead us to possibility and the future.

Chapter 3:  Rethinking Universities, College, and Hutchins: Faculty and Student Resistance to Core Text Curricula

Through the joints in Hutchins’ arguments, might The Higher Learning in America offer insights useful for today, if it (and other texts like it) were read in core text programs?

Section II: Making Liberal Arts Education

Chapter 4: History and Imagination in the Core: The Achievement of the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts

Augustine’s Confessions, Pygmalion, and some research on general education lead to appreciating a small  liberal arts college’s achievement.

Chapter 5:  The Irreducible Case of Liza Doolittle

From the student’s standpoint, Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion offers a comic view of higher education and independence. Also, it issues a warning—to students and faculty—about programs designed to shape character.

Chapter 6: Globalizing the Core through Core Texts

Visits with faculty in Colombia and Taiwan explore the Torah and the Bible, the Phaedrus, the Analects, and Don Quixote: liberal arts, four educational ideas, and selecting core texts in a global context.

Chapter 7: Enriching Liberal Education’s Defense: Liberal Arts, Invention, and Technē

The defenses of liberal education are ecologically thin. Seeing invention and technē as chief sources of transformation and change might help faculty to open students and their programs to the world of innovation.

Section III: Curricula as Objects of Art

Chapter 8:  What Has Been Wrought and the Effects on Faculty

Research indicates that faculty across the country have been engaged in innovation within institutions in general education and core text curricula. Young faculty might consider the choice of Odysseus in the Republic.

Capter 9: Aeneas’ Shield and Arts of the Future

The inclination to rectify the past with building in the present contests with acting in the present to build an unknown future. Dido and Aeneas share art, experience, but not education which makes a difference to their futures.

Section IV: Poetic Coda

Chapter 10 The Ultimate Argument for the Liberal Arts

Aristotle’s Poetics can lead us to build curricula of core texts that aim at a loving joy in inventive learning for its own sake, shared by a community that takes freedom and invention as its greatest good.


Appendix 1: Turning Ourselves Towards the Public for the Sake of Liberal Arts Education

Appendix 2: The Concept of Core Texts: A Synopsis

Appendix 3: Syllabus for ACTC Summer Seminar, “Rejuvenating and Reinventing the Liberal Arts,” July 8—July 19, 2019 at Carthage College

Appendix 4: NEH/ACTC Workshop“Bridging the Gap Between the Humanities and Sciences,” Seminar Syllabi

Participating Institutions in ACTC Liberal Arts Projects: 2002-2019


About J. Scott Lee

J. Scott Lee, Ph.D. in the History of Culture, is the co-founder and retired Executive Director of the Association for Core Texts and Courses. He directed numerous national and international curriculum initiatives, founded the ACTC Liberal Arts Institute, researched the development of general and liberal education, and taught core text courses at Temple University and Saint Mary’s College of California.  This book represents the fruit of his research, organizing, and productive efforts on behalf of liberal arts education.  His bachelor-of-arts degree is from St. Olaf College, was shaped by three majors, and included a Global Semester in Africa, India, and the Far East.  His graduate degrees were earned at the University of Chicago.

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Here at RespondeoBooks.com, we feature rich supplemental content for Invention: The Art of Liberal Arts. Find all the essays at the additional materials page. Click the link below to get started.