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The Asahi, Japan’s leading newspaper quoted the following famous closing words of Steve Jobs’ in his last speech at the iPad 2 event in March 2011 in its popular editorial column, “Vox populi, vox Dei” on its April 22 issue. It deplored in the column that today’s Japanese management lacks great vision and big dream as Jobs had:

"It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. That it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing."

In the column, the Asahi translated the phrase, “technology married with liberal arts” as “technology married with kyoyo (教養:culture, refinement, education)” in Japanese.

I’m not sure whether the Asahi’s choice of word, kyoyo- meaning culture and education exactly fits the notion Steve Job meant by “liberal arts” in his speech.

Oxford Dictionary Online defines “liberal arts” as:

  1. chiefly North American arts subjects such as literature and history, as distinct from science and technology.
  2. (historical ) the medieval trivium and quadrivium.

Cambridge Dictionary Online defines it as:

mainly U.S. College or university subjects such as history, languages and literature.

What does “liberal arts” mean in general? And what did Steve Jobs mean by “liberal arts” married with technology in his speech?

Are there difference between general perception of the word, “liberal arts” among public and specific usage of “liberal arts” by Steve Jobs in his speech?

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'教養' is direct translation of 'liberal arts' in Korean. I've read this combination of Chinese character is first developed by Japaness scholars(may be in the Rangaku era). –  9dan Apr 23 '12 at 11:29
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@9dan. Having seen your input, I checked a Chinese-Japanese dictionary at hand. Yes. there was 教养 (jiaoyang) used in the exactly same sense as Japanese 教養, meaning 1. raise and educate people. 2.enriched, sophisticated, and disciplined mind with wide knowledge about and understanding of culture. I didn’t know the word, 教养 was invented by a Japanese scholar. It is a big, pleasant surprise that Korean, Chinese and Japanese are sharing the same word and character (though not in Hangeul) on this specific notion as westerners do with liberal arts. I'm not still sure if 教養 matches liberal arts. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 23 '12 at 19:14
    
I hope we can find many more words like that :-). –  Raku Apr 25 '12 at 8:23
    
yes, I don't think it means 教養, and I don't want to go down to the technical definition of liberal arts, because as Steve Jobs says, that might be too technical and he'd find it better to mix technology with liberal arts. But I can feel that what he means is the arts, the art history, the languages, the dancing, the calligraphy, those that are not numbers, digits, or formulas, things that tie to human in a different way. –  動靜能量 Jun 23 '13 at 23:47

6 Answers 6

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Jobs's usage of "liberal arts" in the quotation is idiomatic, and "culture or refinement" is an apropos translation.

In general, particularly in the United States, many colleges and universities are structured in a way that separates hard sciences and engineering programs from a set of disciplines commonly referred to as "Liberal Arts": while definitions differ depending on the college or university, liberal arts programs generally include fields and departments like:

  • Art, Fine Art, Art History, etc.
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • English, Literature, etc.

They generally are fields that do not follow the scientific method and are not considered business-related, but are nonetheless essential to understanding humanity.

To get what Jobs is talking about here, it's important to understand the comparison Jobs is intending to make and how Apple has contrasted itself to two of its chief historical rivals, Microsoft and later Google.

Microsoft was founded by Bill Gates, who—despite dropping out of University—was by all accounts a technological genius and a person with a very deep, analytical mind. Microsoft, at least perceived by Jobs, was considered to be full of people who were like Gates: analytically-minded without any creativity.

Similarly, Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page: two computer scientists with master's degrees from Stanford University. Consequently, they have attracted a very large pool of talent full of engineers like them.

Conversely, Steve Jobs dropped out of college after a single semester and was not an engineer (he relied on co-founder Steve Wozniak for the technical expertise). In the 2005 Stanford commencement speech, he mentioned that after dropping out, he audited liberal arts classes which formed the basis of the knowledge he brought to running Apple: for example, he mentions his auditing of a calligraphy class is the primary reason why the original Macintosh had excellent typography.

So when Jobs refers to Apple's DNA as being "technology married with liberal arts", he's referring to the sensibility he brought to Apple—and the subsequent corporate culture formed around it—as contrasted to heavily engineer-focused companies like Microsoft and Google. That is, according to Jobs, Apple—unlike its competitors—incorporates knowledge derived from the liberal arts fields (art, philosophy, history, etc.) into its technology, which gives it a competitive edge.

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I like this answer (+1), but can you provide a reference for your assertion that Jobs considered Microsoft "to be full of engineers and people who were like Gates: analytically-minded without any creativity"? It's a strong statement. I found an article which contained something similar, but with a slightly different take: "They [Microsoft] were very good at the business side of things. They were never as ambitious product-wise as they should have been." –  J.R. Apr 23 '12 at 9:43
    
@JR Sure: added a link to an excerpt from an interview he did for Triumph of the Nerds. –  user2512 Apr 23 '12 at 10:16
    
I just gave it a listen, and I'm glad I asked for a link. Getting back to the O.P.'s question, that excerpt contains a good example of how Jobs "married" technology with liberal arts, at least in a small sense. –  J.R. Apr 23 '12 at 10:18
    
@Mark Trapp. I watched the video. It’s a great video, exciting, and obvious. It’s gave me a palpable 'feel' about Steve Jobs’ corporate running philosophy meant by his word, “technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing," as against his rival’s ‘technology for the sake of technology.’ Seeing is believing. The video was really helpful. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 27 '12 at 20:39

Jobs is using "liberal arts" to mean the liberal arts curriculum of higher education--language, arts, and humanities. He's contrasting the broad, cultural fields of study for which one might traditionally receive a Bachelor of Arts degree from fields of study in science, business, engineering, and technology.

Job's guiding philosophy was that making machines beautiful and easy to use is just as important, if not more so, than making them powerful and efficient. In fact, he really didn't think you could truly divorce one (form) from the other (function).

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In British English, these subject matters would more often be referred to as The Humanities, which Google Translate tells me is 人文科学 in Japanese, though not speaking Japanese I am unsure if this is any better.

However, the Wikipedia definition of Humanities may give a slightly fuller understanding of Jobs' meaning.

Wikipedia says the humanities

"are academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences."

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人文科学 seems to be a quite literal translation for me, but it doesn't seem to contain a sense of liberation either. –  Raku Apr 25 '12 at 8:22
    
Like anywhere in the world, well-educated and sophisticated persons are respected by people as 教養人- a person with culture in Japan as against uneducated and crude characters. It’s one of the reason why many people want to go to university though percentage of university students per corresponding age universe is much lower (52.0% in 2008) as compared with Korea (78.9% in 2007) and U.S.(57.1%). In Japan, simply being an expert and academic achiever aren’t regarded as 教養人. To be 教養人, you need to be equipped with human charm and humanistic virtues on top of being well-educated and sophisticated. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 28 '12 at 1:12

On careful reading of the speech, I can say Jobs meant liberal arts as we know it.

For insight, focus on what he says about the user interface as well as the hardware exterior designs for the Apple, esp. about the fonts.

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Jobs meant technology that is inspired by a broad, general knowledge of the arts and sciences that is applied with critical thinking, in contrast with technology based on a purely engineering, technical or marketing viewpoint. In other words, product innovation should be inspired by broad knowledge of the arts and sciences first, and by technical pyrotechnics second.

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The liberal arts, artes liberales, were meant as a method of acquiring qualities that distinguish a free (lat. liber) man from a slave through upbringing and education. They go back to early European history, to ancient Rome and Greece.

Even though I am not a native speaker of Japanese, the 教 in 教養 (kyoyo) seems to stand for education (教える) and 養 (養う) for cultivation. This seems to be quite close to the education and refinement part of the liberal arts, but does 教養 as a whole create a feeling of liberation in Japanese native speakers?

If so, then the translation seems to be pretty accurate. If not, maybe it's the closest translation due to a lack of a cultural equivalent for the "liberal arts".

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広辞苑 as you may know, the most popular Japanese language dictionary defines 教養 as (1) educate and raise (children / people). (2) creative understanding and knowledge acquired by contacting and experiencing a certain cultural idea or vision. The contents of 教養 vary depending on the race and along with time. Today usage of (1) is obsolete. I found no implication of ‘liberation’ from the definition (2). So, concept of 教養lacks the sense of liberation (from slavery status or spiritually confined / oppressed status that you say 'liberal arts' has on its own. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 25 '12 at 0:10
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Oishiさん、thank you for your explanation. It's very interesting for me to learn more about this concept in Japanese culture. ありがとうございました。Is there a certain goal that makes 教養 worth practicing from a Japanese point of view? –  Raku Apr 25 '12 at 7:35
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Like anywhere in the world, well-educated and sophisticated persons are respected by people as 教養人- a person with culture in Japan as against uneducated and crude characters. It’s one of the reason why many people want to go to university though percentage of university students per corresponding age universe is much lower (52.0% in 2008) as compared with Korea (78.9% in 2007) and U.S.(57.1%). In Japan, simply being an expert and academic achiever aren’t regarded as 教養人. To be 教養人, you need to be equipped with human charm and humanistic virtues on top of being well-educated and sophisticated. –  Yoichi Oishi Apr 28 '12 at 1:16
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ありがとうございました。助かりました ^_^ –  Raku May 7 '12 at 11:28

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