When (in his dialogue with Protagoras) Socrates gave the first definition of liberal education as learning solely for learning’s sake, he pulled out any possible ground for justification from under this new kind of learning. Liberal philosophy (most significantly, Schiller, Mill, Alexander von Humboldt, Dewey and Hayek) regained such a ground by arguing that liberal learning is only purposeless from a narrow perspective, but fulfills an end after all: the higher end of moral and economic freedom. Their justification of liberal education as the engine of human progress, came to its most developed form in the American educational movement of Massive Open Online Courses. This movement promises both a maximization of financial profit and the maximization of the promotion of freedom and democracy by offering the cheapest, most accessible product in place of the pure luxury of Socratic education. Ironically, however, the elite universities that quickly cornered the market of the MOOCs have returned to the original concept of liberal arts in their intra-mural education: their prestigious degrees can be earned only by face to face Socratic learning. The question is which model European higher education should follow?
Erika Kiss is an Associate Research Scholar of the University Center for Human Values in Princeton University and the Founding Director of its Film Forum. Her research and teaching interests include the connection between the civic and the aesthetic art of rhetoric, poetics, film theory, and the philosophy of education. Kiss has received her PhD at Harvard University, was a member of the Department of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. She is the Founding Dean of Germany's first English-language liberal arts college, the European College of Liberal Arts (ECLA), now renamed as Bard College in Berlin, and also served for a year as its CEO.