Undertaking An Exploration of the Trivium

I have decided that I am going to undertake an exploration of the trivium.

Unfortunately, it seems that there are relatively few great sources for people looking to self-teach the trivium.

I have acquired a copy of The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (Amazon affiliate link), which should help with pursuing this goal.

What is the Trivium?

The trivium is the foundation of what we call the liberal arts.

Particularly, it is broken into three schools:

  1. Grammar
  2. Logic
  3. Rhetoric

The grammar referred to in the trivium is not mundane grammar as we know it.

It is, in part, related to the use of language. To that degree it recognizes the existence of grammatical conventions within language.

But the trivium’s grammar is essentially a metalinguistic approach. It focuses on the nature of communication. If modern grammar focuses on where to put a comma, the trivium is more concerned about why to put a comma. Note that this is something of a crude approximation and I hope to go into more detail once I understand it better.

Logic and rhetoric function more similarly to what we might expect.

Logic contains two separate schools: inductive and deductive reasoning.

Within each of these there are different ways to arrive at knowledge, including, for instance, the scientific method or prima facie reasoning.

Rhetoric is focused on using language to its most powerful effect.

Sadly, while I have had formal education in grammar, I have not had formal education in logic or rhetoric. This is not to say that I have no familiarity of those subjects, but my understanding is limited the sort of passive gleanings I’ve gotten from my readings and discussions.

For instance, I know about many of the classic fallacies (e.g. ad hominem, the genetic fallacy) but my ability to explain more deeply what the issue with them is can rightly be found lacking.

I could tell you about ethos, pathos, and logos, but probably not as well as someone who really knew what they were talking about. I could point to examples of each, and even construct my own, but only by pattern recognition and not by a deep cognitive analysis of a text or proposition.

What Sources Are There?

Some initial investigations of open source information about the trivium makes it obvious that one of two things are true:

  1. The classical texts that cover the trivium are not known in ways that make them easy to search the internet for.
  2. The classical texts are not translated and publicly available.

One major downside is that it is very easy to find materials for homeschooling the trivium, but this is not what I am looking for. My primary aversion to this is that I would almost certainly be over-paying (either in money or time) for something that might not be at a level I’d like to engage at.

Now, one obvious solution to this would be to search for each of the schools of the trivium separately.

There are certainly excellent resources on grammar, rhetoric, and logic out there.

Many of these would be at a level suitable to challenge me and build a solid understanding of the subject.

With that said, here are a few free books that I’ve found in my initial searches (in addition to the book by Sister Miriam Joseph that I linked to in the introduction, which seems to be highly regarded):

de Stacy: Principles of General Grammar (Google)

General Principles of Grammar (Google)

Jevons: Elementary Lessons in Logic (Mises)

I have been entirely incapable of finding books on rhetoric which I know to apply the classical trivium, though I’m mostly putting them off.

My plan is to start with the Sister Miriam Joseph’s work, move into the other books that I’ve found that I know are good, and then hopefully be in a better position to do more work on the subject.

My Method

I have a background in pedagogy and have self-taught myself in several fields so I know that learning is a fairly complex process we take for granted.

When diving into a complex topic, there are really three things that pose an immediate concern:

  1. Figuring out the precise use of language to align with the jargon of the field
  2. Mastering the concepts to a sufficient degree so generalization and internal distinctions can be performed
  3. Organizing the ideas contained within the topic so that they can be applied (essentially owning the knowledge)

Given my intent to handle the trivium as thoroughly as possible (within my financial limitations), I want to make sure that I am approaching it from multiple different angles.

The first of these will be to find sources that are good for information. Assuming that the reputation of the first book I’ll be reading holds up, it should be a good immersion into the subject.

Then addressing the three concerns becomes important.

The trivium is old enough now that its jargon is going to be easily confused or alien to modern readers. Since I’ve started reading the section on grammar, I can say with relative certainty that my plan to go through and do a significant breakdown of the subject will be a process that requires a second reading.

Really, I’m not sure how to explain the process of internalizing jargon. The first step would obviously be finding a text that’s good at that, and the book I’m using is great for giving very clear definitions. I’m still not sure if I’m confused on some points, but at least by the time I’ve engaged with it a couple times I should be getting clear ideas of what the jargon means.

Now, I’ve had enough exposure to organized summaries detailing the trivium that I am confident in my ability to form something of an organizing schema of it.

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are complex topics, though. The broad-level overview of the trivium and even the quadrivium is easy.

But it’s harder with the details.

For instance, I’m going over something that has to do with predicates and I’m still confused with what’s going on. I have some basics of understanding, especially regarding quantity (which are measurable inherent traits, like height or age) and quality (which are relative inherent traits, like intelligence or wisdom).

In other places I can’t remember terms or their meanings well enough to even hope to reproduce them here.

Other times I remember the meaning (namely that the tenth form of predicate relates to those things which are related to people by their use as tools) but not the term (the term that springs to mind for that is accoutrement, which is not the proper term but is at least something of a working approximation).

This is going to be the reason I’ll be breaking down my findings here, because I’m pretty sure a single read through the topic will not suffice to be useful, even as I go from one general text into more specialized texts on each of the subjects.

I have not yet addressed the third element of the learning process. This will come from use and application. Since I am still a novice, I have not been able to lay out the best means of pursuing this, but I suspect that having the basic understanding and consciously analyzing grammar, logic, and rhetoric as I find it in others’ work and speech will help me with this process.

Wrapping Up

This is, essentially, a project announcement. For the next while, I’ll be focusing my blog primarily on the trivium.

I suspect that I will not keep up daily updates. I may break in occasionally with certain things as they come to me, as I did during my recent series on Beyond Order, but I do not think that I will be able to produce a sufficiently deep approach to the content on such a rigorous schedule.

I may also go back and do some writing about the books I read while waiting to relaunch this site.

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