For years I have heard the phrase, ”The Seven Liberal Arts,” tossed around in various educational settings. But, until recently, I wasn’t aware of the brilliance and true meaning of this ancient method of learning.. The “Seven Liberal (should be liberating) Arts” actually provide a time tested technique to aid us in seeing through the Fake news meme, the lies, half truths, distortions and propaganda, we are being bombarded with on a daily basis. It reveals the natural “invisible architecture” underlying our critical thinking process and helps to free us from preconceived notions, prejudices, and the undue influence of others.
The Seven Liberating Arts and Sciences are divided into two parts; the Trivium (where 3 roads meet) and the Quadrivium (where four roads meet.). The Trivium is a systematic method of critical thinking used to derive factual certainty from information perceived with the traditional five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. It was conceived by Aristotle and relates to the 3 aspects of language – grammar, logic and rhetoric. The Quadrivium relates to the 4 aspects of number (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy) and was conceived by Pythagoras. Together with the five senses, they form the well known Pythagorean triangle.
1. Grammar or knowledge – answers who, what, where, and when
It teaches the mechanics of language. This is the step where one “comes to terms,” defining the objects and information perceived by the five senses.
2. Logic answers why
It is the “mechanics” of thought and analysis, the process of identifying fallacious arguments and statements in order to systematically remove contradictions, and produce factual knowledge that can be trusted.
3. Rhetoric answers how
It is the application of language in order to instruct and to persuade the listener and the reader. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) and being transmitted outwards as wisdom (rhetoric).
1. Mathematics (which is number in itself – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division etc.)
2. Geometry – number in space
3. Music or harmonic theory – number in time
4. Cosmology – number in space and time.
In the grammar stage of the Trivium, the facts are learned. It is the stage of conceptual thought and analysis; in the logic (dialectic) stage, we begin to understand those facts and take out any fallacies and contradictions, and in the rhetoric stage, we learn to express what we now understand. We can look at the Trivium as the natural process followed when a person of any age learns something new. An adult learning something new does the same thing as a child: learns the vocabulary, the rules, the basics of the subject (grammar), strings the facts together to reach understanding (dialectic), then demonstrates or expresses knowledge of the subject (rhetoric.)
I have found by trying to embody the Trivium (in the correct sequence,) it provides a guide for keeping one grounded in objective reality, while searching for valid knowledge and understanding. it enables one to entertain various ideas without necessarily embracing them and it helps to lift one out of the current “this or that” polarized thinking into “both this and that.” One learns to form a habitual pattern of mind of how to think effectively and not what to think as our current news and political parties would like. It also aids us in recognizing and rejecting logical fallacies – check out “Logically Fallacious” and “Fallacy a day” online! The best thing is that If this method of organic learning has passed you by in your schooling, you can still go back and start practicing it.
Gene Odening is a true master of the process and one can listen to several interviews with him on the “Trivium Education” website and on “the School Sucks” website. He said the following:
“These days, many mainstream talking heads of all stripes, switch the order of the Trivium steps. Sometimes this is intentionally manipulative, often leading with the Why.
Putting your logic before your grammar can easily result in acting on conclusions before establishing your basic definitions, facts, and evidence of those conclusions’ foundational components.
Applied systematically, the trivium method acts like a “virus scan of the brain” to work through useful information and conclusions to plans of action with more predictable results. By using these steps in order, while figuring out anything new, you will more reliably determine how (rhetoric, actions) to achieve your desired results to safely swim through life.” Gene Odening
In the Eclectica section of my website, I have posted a great essay on the subject by Thomas Joseph Brown.
And to end, here is a great quote by Manley P. Hall.
“We have to be able to recognize that the attainment of knowledge is the highest labor of mankind. And that the attainment of knowledge is the basis of all philanthropy, the basis of all unselfishness, the basis of all cooperation, and the strengthening of all the constructive emotions of the human being. Therefore to do this, it must be a discipline. And all ancient people set aside certain disciplines for those who wanted to know the truth more than anything else. These they called the mystery schools. The greatest of all wisdom is the love of truth, the love of reality. We’ve had years of years of corrupted wisdom. We’ve had years and years of pseudo knowledge and we’re now very much in need of the real thing.” – Manly P. Hall