"A liberal arts education has at its center four practices that distinguish it from other kinds of learning: critical thinking, examination of life, encounters with difference, and free exchange of ideas. By using critical thinking to identify assumptions, to test logic, to evaluate evidence, to reason correctly, and to take responsibility for the conclusions and actions that result, a student of the liberal arts can grow personally as well as intellectually. A liberally educated person should be capable of principled judgment, seeking to understand the origins, context, and implications of any area of study, rather than looking exclusively at its application. A liberally educated person should also be skilled at solving problems, drawing together multiple perspectives in the creation of new knowledge.
Because knowledge is lost if it is not shared, both students and teachers of the liberal arts strive to engage in precise and graceful communication. This communication takes place verbally, but also in other ways, including the symbolic and expressive systems of mathematics, music, computer languages, the natural sciences, and the visual and performing arts. By learning and exploring these systems, one may attain an understanding of aspects of human expression, which is a crucial part of liberal education.
In Cultivating Humanity (1997), Martha C. Nussbaum speaks of "an education that is 'liberal' in that it liberates the mind from the bondage of habit and custom, producing people who can function with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the whole world." Nussbaum argues that the central task of liberal education is to activate each student's mind, so that choices and actions may emerge from independent thought rather than from acceptance of conventional assumptions or dictates." (quote link leads to 404 page)