The Lyceum Institute aims to facilitate members in the undertaking of a liberal education, with a particular emphasis on a commitment to good intellectual habits. The foundation of such an education is a mastery of the liberal arts, or the intellectual disciplines which “liberate” our minds and enable us to reason and communicate well. Traditionally, a liberal education in Western civilization has begun with the study of seven liberal arts, which are divided into two groups. The trivium consists of the three arts pertaining to language and reasoning: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The quadrivium consists of the four arts pertaining to measurement and calculation: arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. Studied as an integrated whole, these seven arts enable students to comprehend the fundamentals of learning itself. 

The trivium holds a certain primacy among the liberal arts, and it is the cornerstone of any liberal education. These intellectual disciplines teach us the fundamentals of language, and all teaching is communicated, to some degree, through language. As such, the importance of the trivium cannot be overstated. Without an understanding of the principles of language in general, one cannot claim to have attained a fully liberal education. Moreover, as the human person is essentially a linguistic animal, it is not exaggerative to suggest that a basic competency in the trivium is also necessary for the ability to live a good human life.

Given our concern with good habits of thought and clear communication, the Lyceum Institute offers separate courses introducing the three arts of the trivium. While grammar, logic, and rhetoric are taught in separate seminars, the Lyceum emphasizes the unity of these modes of thought. These arts work together and must be studied as a whole: otherwise, a student will have an inadequate command of each art and, in turn, an inadequate command of language.

Grammar

While languages are conventional in their particular structure—for example, the shapes of letters or sounds which correspond to words, this or that rule (“Don’t split your infinitives! Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put!”), the use of punctuation, and so on—language is an essential property of human nature. In other words, the development and use of some language is natural and necessary for human fulfillment. It is through language that we show ourselves to be fully human; and this is why learning a language or languages and being able to use language in order to communicate is so very important.

It is also what gives the study of grammar its importance. It may seem pedantic to the person who wants to get on to “more interesting” pursuits (whether practical or theoretical), to the person who says, “Do I need to know the difference between a prepositional phrase and a gerundive phrase?” But the distinctions of language serve not only to provide us with rules whereby to distinguish correct and incorrect: they reflect the distinctions of our thinking, and the failure to distinguish carefully in language lets slide into a similar deficiency our thinking as a whole. [Read more]

Logic

Underlying, supporting, and structuring every language is human reasoning. We use language in order to communicate our ideas, and hopefully to communicate the truth. But before language is produced, those ideas have to be formed and developed; this process is called reasoning and understanding how we reason helps us to avoid errors in our thought. The study of this process, in its abstract form, is the subject of logic.

It is the tradition stemming from Aristotle through the scholastics to uphold logic as the most important of the liberal arts. Now, we may study logic in a broad form as well as a narrow: the broad form studying the λόγος in the widest extension of its appearance—which is to say, a study not simply of the workings of the human mind, but the workings of all that is intelligibly discoverable by the human mind. [Read more]

Rhetoric

Understanding both the structure of language and the thought process behind us leads us to the study of how our use of language impacts human beings as a whole—what is persuasive, what is funny, what is emotionally moving, and so on. This belongs to the study of rhetoric, in which we employ not only grammar but also reasoning; in which we write with the intention of not only speaking the truth but communicating it effectively and persuasively to our audience.

Thus, in the study of rhetoric we investigate the various ways of constructing our arguments: appealing through reason, through the emotions, on the basis of our own character–we consider the common topics for finding our arguments, examine the varied tools for effective linguistic structuring, and more. [Read more]


As a point of historical curiosity—by which I mean not simply something to which we say, “Ah, interesting!” and move on, but rather something to which we ought to say, “Ah, fascinating; I would like to know more” and begin to study—the roots of the trivium go back as far as oldest known texts of human writing, and probably further. The three arts are not always cooperative, but often vie with one another for a certain preeminence and thus control over how human beings interpret the world around them (Such was the thesis of Marshall McLuhan’s doctoral dissertation of 1943: The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time). Do we interpret the world through the essential property of human language as a structured means of communication? Or do we look at the cosmos through its illative relations—that is, the necessary and contingent connections between this and that object such that we can assert truth or falsity? Or do we yet understand the world through the movement of human beings to objects, through the attractive-appetitive dynamic?

This threefold tension occurs resides in a truth noted by—but only incipiently explored—a group of 13th century thinkers known as the Modistae, the “Modists”: sometimes also called the “Speculative Grammarians”, who recognized that beneath any concrete, historical, existing language there resides a universality of grammatical possibilities. In other words, some languages are inflected, meaning that they signify case through differentiated endings, while others are not; but cases, through which words are syntactically structured to differentiate the functioning of words in context, seems universal (not the cases themselves, nor even that every language has cases, but that the possibility for case-structuring can be introduced into any linguistic system).

But the universality of grammar follows, it can be argued, from the universality of the λογός—which finds its rigorous understanding in the means of logic. And that we are persuaded by anything requires not only the clarity and precision of its communication, nor the mere rigor of exactitude in the structure of argumentation, but also the means of the argument’s delivery. Having grammar without logic, therefore is like having a sail without a boat; and having grammar and logic without rhetoric is like having a sailboat with no wind.

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