Faculties are a subset of areas of study, namely the disciplines that are commonly known to be either more difficult or more virtuous to learn than others. Though faculties may be more difficult for one to learn, generally all subjects are fitting for Christian women of average intelligence. Faculties are also more closely aligned with virtuous subjects, which van Schurman identifies later.
Faculties- “By the word letters we understand the knowledge of languages, history, and all disciplines, not only the higher, which they call faculties, but also the lower, which they call philosophic sciences” (25).
Example: I feel fulfilled when I study a new language-- it is a faculty, so it is both challenging and rewarding to me. It brings me closer to knowing true moral virtue!
Philosophic sciences are disciplines of study that fall lower in value than faculties. This could mean that they are either fairly simple or they are lower in value with respect to virtues. However, they are still fit to be studied.
Philosophic Sciences– “By the word letters we understand the knowledge of languages, history, and all disciplines, not only the higher, which they call faculties, but also the lower, which they call philosophic sciences” (25).
Example: Studying natural philosophy sure is interesting, but it is a bit too easy for me and I am riddled with worry that I am straying from God’s light! I will study a faculty discipline next.
The study of letters means to conscientiously devote oneself to learning a specific academic discipline, or simply to educate oneself, presumably independently.
Study of Letters– “Study, I say … is here assumed to be the diligent and eager application of the mind” (25).
Example: I am studying letters about the higher faculties when I read a history book about the Roman Empire and apply my knowledge of this subject to my knowledge of modern day.
For something to be expedient or fitting, that thing or activity is something that arouses joy, excitement, and/or enthusiasm for life in its subject. It is not necessary for the activity to be required for our salvation, but it ought to at least inspire meaning in our lives that fills us with love.
Fitting/Expedient– “not as whether the study of letters is appropriate, requisite, or precisely necessary to eternal salvation, nor indeed as a good that makes for the essence itself of happiness in this life, but as an occupation or means that can contribute to our integrity in this same life and, to a degree, through the contemplation of very beautiful things, move us that much more easily to love of God and to eternal salvation” (27).
Example: It is expedient for me to play with my cats because this activity inspires in me a type of transcendent joy that leads me to a state of love for life and all living creatures.
Honorable disciplines are subjects of study that are considered universally good for humanity, focusing especially on those that were valued in Ancient Greek scholasticism. It is essential for these subjects to be studied by women according to their capabilities and needs so they are not misunderstood.
Honorable Disciplines– “all honorable disciplines, or the whole circle of liberal arts … is entirely fitting to a Christian woman … but it must be in accordance with the dignity and nature of the science or art and also in accordance with the girl’s or woman’s capability and fortune so that what is to be learned may follow in its own order, place, and time and be properly connected” (26).
Example: I study the art of ancient theatre and plays on my days off on Sundays because they are a vital part of human history and the human experience.
Virtuous subjects are those subjects that bring us closer to an understanding of virtue and God.
Virtuous subjects– “[A]ccount should be taken of those sciences or arts that have the closest connection with theology and moral virtue, and which primarily serve them. We consider grammar, logic, and rhetoric to be of this sort” (26).
Example: Logic is an exciting and virtuous subject to study because it teaches some of the workings of God, namely that there exists patterns and laws within our mental processes that can prove the existence of absolute truth.
Secondary subjects are subjects of study that are not as important as virtuous ones, yet still play an important role in bringing people intellectually closer to God and His sacred writings.
Secondary subjects-“Then come physics, metaphysics, history, etc., and also knowledge of languages, especially Hebrew and Greek. All of these things are able to move us to easier and fuller knowledge of Sacred Scripture” (27).
Example: Learning Hebrew so that I can read the Bible in its original language will be helpful in expanding my knowledge of the sacred religious texts and reducing my proximity to God’s will.
Liberal arts are subjects that have little usage in bringing us closer to the word of God, but make for fun and exciting study, and therefore ought to be encouraged if a woman wishes to study them.
Liberal arts– “Other subjects, namely mathematics (to which music is also assigned), poetry, painting, and similar things, may be pursued as liberal arts, as an excellent adornment or pastime” (27).
Example: Playing the cello has given me no information about God, but I am really enjoying it, so it must be worthwhile in some capacity!
Subjects that women ought to avoid are those that encourage traditionally masculine roles, such as being in the military or speaking publicly.
Subjects to Avoid-“Finally, we do not especially urge those studies that pertain to the practice of trial law and the military or to the arts of speaking in church, court, and school” (27).
Example: I ought not study military tactics because I am a woman. It would be absurd for me to go to war, for that is a man’s job and unfitting for a woman, and so my time will be better spent learning Greek!
Barbarism is a state equal to one of ignorance, into which a human can fall if they fail to be raised in such a way that promotes the authentic study of liberal arts. Neglecting the available subjects of study makes one essentially uncivilized, barbarous, and unfit for the modern (at the time) world.
Barbarism– “(to reply concerning barbarism), nothing is more intractable than ignorance … and as the holy Plato said, ‘The man who receives a proper education is wont to become the most divine and civilized of animals; insufficiently or badly raised, however, he is the most savage of any creature on earth.’ Add to this that when one has faithfully learned the liberal arts, one’s character is refined and one cannot remain uncivilized” (33).
Example: Certain civilizations may be considered (by van Schurman and peers) to be barbarous if they do not set aside any time to study the Western arts and history. In the time of the enlightenment, it was uncivilized to ignore these disciplines that were considered essential to humanity’s transcendence above the animal world.