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The Problem with Rules

Essays on the Meaning and Value of Liberal Education
John Churchill

BUY Cloth · 182 pp. · 5 × 8 · ISBN 9780813945774 · $26.00 · Feb 2021
BUY Ebook · 182 pp. · ISBN 9780813945781 · $21.50 · Feb 2021

There is a constant drumbeat of commentary claiming that STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—are far more valuable in today’s economy than traditional liberal arts courses such as philosophy or history. Many even claim that the liberal arts are "under siege" by neoliberal politicians and cost-conscious university administrators. In a forceful response, The Problem with Rules establishes the essential value of the liberal arts as the pedagogical pathway to critical thinking and moral character and argues for more not less emphasis in higher education.

John Churchill asserts that the liberal arts are more than decorative frills. Drawing from the philosophy of Wittgenstein to craft a cogent, inspired argument, Churchill insists on the liberal arts’ indispensable role, providing in this book a clarion call to politicians, university administrators, and all Americans to recognize and actively support and nurture the liberal arts.


The field of higher education is currently engaged in a highly contentious debate over the value of a liberal arts education. Churchill wants his readers to consider, to deliberate in his words, the question of the value and the meaning of the liberal arts from a new angle, one which allows for vagueness, uncertainly, and change. His book meets his goal in an elegant and thought-provoking fashion.

Catherine Berheid, Skidmore College, included in Sociology: Learning Climates That Cultivate Racial and Ethnic Diversity

[The book's] subject is of vital importance to us all, and Churchill makes an engaging and accessible case for the meaning of the liberal arts tradition..... Americans’ receptivity to violence and to authoritarianism seems to have us pointed away from the very foundations of deliberative abilities, which Churchill identifies in part as curiosity, knowledge, imagination, and a tolerance of vagueness. It is a gut-wrenching time. And Churchill’s prescription—that we recommit to cultivating this liberal-arts deliberation—is timelier than ever.

Arkansas Times

Churchill’s prescription — that we recommit to cultivating this liberal-arts deliberation — is timelier than ever.

Arkansas Times

Churchill makes a masterful, engaging, and compelling case for the subjects and skills of the liberal arts and their enduring relevance for individuals, society, and democracy.

Fred H. Cate, Indiana University

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