Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Margaret McNay


This thesis advocates for the inclusion of liberal education in discussions of the college and university missions and mandates in North America. It is conceived with the purpose of influencing policy thinking and generating the theory and ideas required for sound education policy decision making. Research into liberal education is a special and atypical kind of inquiry and requires innovative theoretical approaches. Liberal education is foremost a philosophical problem and requires philosophical approaches. The method used is, therefore, conceptual in nature and drawn from analytical philosophy.

My research approaches liberal education conceptually in three ways: historically, philosophically, and politically. Historically, all explanations of liberal education remain partial, debatable, and fragmentary. Philosophically, liberal education brings into focus fundamental questions and problems with a universal significance. Liberal education is perhaps best characterized as an ongoing argument, discussion, and debate. Politically, liberal education is relevant to many of the challenges facing North American society today. Liberal education is civic in nature, aimed at producing responsible citizens able to contribute to democracy and the continuation of democratic institutions.

The contribution to knowledge made by this research is the development of liberal education towards idealism and universality. Universality provides the meta-principle needed to ground the inclusion of liberal education in the missions and mandates of North American colleges and universities. The synthesis of the three conceptual approaches (i.e., historical, philosophical, and political) produces a new justification for liberal education, one based in objectivity and rationality as universal values. My argument is that the values of objectivity and rationality are the best explanation of the universalist understanding of liberal education and its processes and goals.