Most people in the US, including college administrators, believe that the arts and the sciences are entirely different–basically opposite–fields of study. Why in the Hades, then, are they always lumped together in the same “college”? Throughout the US, the standard is to have a “college of arts and sciences,” a “college of engineering” and a “college of business.” So what gives? Why don’t they just separte the arts and sciences, since they are so radically different? Many people suspect that the arts people just want to keep them together so that their college doesn’t seem entirely irrelevant, so that it gets phased out altogether.
A step backwards, and a longer term point of view, however, will help us to understand the relations between these fields which tend to remain hidden to people who accept current dogmas on the subject. Once we have understood the relation between these two general fields of study, we can then properly relate engineering and business to the arts and sciences. But to start with the arts and sciences. Most people come to the conclusion that the arts and sciences are entirely different because the sciences are based on math, while the arts are based on language. That is broadly true, and it is a signficant difference (though in reality there are many crosseovers). However, the methodology employed by both disciplines is the same: they both employ systematic logic, that is, the scientific method. They both accumulate knowledge based on the gathering of facts, and subject existing hypotheses to peer review, which then allows them to advance understanding further.
In this way, we can see that the arts and sciences are basically two branches of the same methodology. In the middle ages, scholars understood this, in part because the sum of knowledge was so much less that it was easier to see the forest for the trees. As it explains in the Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, both the arts and the sciences began life during the renaissance, as two branches of philosophy: the arts were what we today call “philosophy” and the sciences were called “natural philosophy.” (more…)