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Trivium Courses for 2023

January is just around the corner and we are getting ready for the new year! We have set the calendar for our Trivium Courses in 2023. These courses are treated as foundational at the Lyceum Institute. To be human is to use language. Should we not strive to understand that which makes us human and to master its use? Building habits of thoughtful engagement with and through language enables us to discern the truth more clearly; to see through lies, manipulations, and obfuscations; and to articulate the true good more persuasively.

Each course will meet twice weekly: Mondays at 6:00pm ET (New York) and Thursdays at 12:00pm ET. Discussion sessions are recorded, but live participation is strongly recommended. Schedules are as follows:

Though many are either ignorant of the Trivium or consider it to be an outdated pedagogical approach, we at the Lyceum consider the Trivium to be the cornerstone of a truly “liberal” education. It is not exaggerative to suggest that, without a proper study of these arts, one cannot make a legitimate claim to be able to think and communicate well.

CourseDatesBreak
Grammar9 January – April 6 (M/Th)(break on February 20/23)
Logic8 May – August 3 (M/Th)(break on June 19/22)
Rhetoric28 August – November 20 (M/Th)(break on October 9/12 – no final Th class).

We will begin in 2023 with a course in Grammar—the recommended first course in our series—as the foundation of any successful understanding and use of language. The study of grammar is not simply about learning rules for arbitrary “correctness”, but about learning to think and understand the world in an orderly manner. The grammarian does not master rules for rules’ sake, but discovers the structures of meaning and brings them to intelligent articulation. This approach to grammar is carried out through our textbook as well as through a reading of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Learn more about each course below and enroll today! Participation in the Trivium is included at every level of enrollment. We hope you will join us for the Trivium Courses in 2023.

On the Value of Rhetoric

An excerpt from Edward P.J. Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student on the value of rhetoric as needed in the modern age, accompanied by a brief commentary.

Selection from the Text:

Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are the three arts of language. Skill in the language arts is more important today than it used to be. Technological improvements in communication and transportation have brought us into more frequent and crucial converse with the inhabitants of our own country and with the peoples of other nations. It is important to our welfare that we learn how to ingratiate ourselves with others, how to express our thoughts and desires, how to allay their fears, and how to conciliate our differences. Rhetoric can help here… It behooves us now to withhold [violent means] of settling the tensions that exist in the world and exploit the possibilities of settling those tensions by the use of the powerful weapons of words. Rhetoric is the art that shows us how to hone that weapon and to wield it most effectively…

The road to eloquence is a hard road and a lonely road, and the journey is not for the faint-hearted. But if, as we are told, the ability to use words to communicate thoughts and feelings is man’s most distinctively human accomplishment, there can be few satisfactions in life that can match the pride a man feels when he has attained mastery over words. As Quintilian said, “Therefore let us seek wholeheartedly that true mastery of expression, the fairest gift of God to man, without which all things are struck dumb and robbed both of present glory and the immortal acclaim of posterity; and let us press on to whatever is best, because, if we do this, we shall either reach the summit or at least see many others far beneath us.”

Corbett 1965: Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, 31 and 33.

Commentary

While Corbett handles rhetoric much better than most who have written on it since these words were first published, I nevertheless have a bone or three to pick here. The first, and least consequential, is his use of the term “language arts”, particularly in close conjunction with the word “skill”. My objection, simply stated, is that these words seem to muddy the waters. Is logic a “skill”? Grammar? Rhetoric, perhaps, at least entails practices that we could call skillful: diction, timing, theatricality—but these seem rather incidental to what rhetoric is in itself. Certainly, the three parts of the Trivium are arts—and perhaps it is the cheapened experience of my own public school education—but the phrase “language arts” seems somehow inadequate; especially if the command of those arts is equated to skill.

My second objection concerns his claim that the road to eloquence is lonely. It may be counter-cultural, today. But it is not, and never should be, a lonely endeavor. Eloquence—the virtue of rhetoric—is relational. I cannot be eloquent except to someone else. Moreover, I could never judge my own eloquence without an audience that reacts to my words.

My third objection concerns the manner in which he characterizes the importance of rhetoric. It is true that rhetoric helps us ingratiate ourselves with others, express our thoughts, allay others’ fears, and conciliate our differences. It is also true that it may dissuade violence and war. But all this is rather utilitarian. It says what we may gain from rhetoric as a tool. It says nothing of what we may gain from rhetoric as a habit.

Thus, while we use Corbett’s book in our own Rhetoric course, for he gives an accessible insight to the ideas of classic authors, I believe he misses the spirit of antiquity. Rhetoric, that is, should be seen as part of the integral habituation of a whole human life. Gaining mastery over persuasion changes how I relate to others, to be sure. But more fundamentally, it is—or ought to be—a perfection of my own faculties. Good character antecedes being a good rhetorician, as Quintilian argues extensively. But being a good rhetorician ought also to reinforce one’s character.

Education and Digital Life

The Founding Declaration of the Lyceum Institute, Education and Digital Life, has now been published in paperback, along with a series of related essays written by Faculty and Board Members of the Institute. This slim volume (117 pages) outlines the why for the Lyceum Institute’s existence as well as the manner in which it pursues its goals for education.

Here is an excerpt from the Declaration itself:

“All human beings, by nature, long for knowledge.”[1]  Composing the opening line of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, these are words familiar to many, and have rightfully inspired reflection for millennia: reflections on human nature and operations, as well as the good at which we, commonly human, are aimed.  To long for knowledge: this is not merely to want knowledge for some ulterior motive—making money, gaining power, defeating your enemies—but for its own sake.  We want to know because knowledge fulfills us, because it satisfies a need we experience, a need we suffer in every encounter with our own ignorance.  This longing is what Aristotle meant, and this fulfillment by knowledge, indeed, is what we long for by nature.

Many, both in the present and in decades and ages past, have suffered a diverting and anesthetizing of this longing by the proliferation of easier and lesser pleasures: why read, when you can watch a documentary; and why watch a documentary, when you can watch a comedy?  In the ubiquity of immersive entertainment media—radio giving way to television, to the internet, to streaming shows and movies seeping through every device in our homes—the slide into the ease of unthinking pleasure appears obvious.  But the diversion of our natures from their proper good occurs not only through our entertainments and pleasures, but is further fostered today even by the supposed institutions of learning—even, or perhaps especially, the most vaunted—which have themselves departed the path along which knowledge is sought, and instead flung themselves down the slippery slope of merely conveying standardized sets of information, or, far worse, disguising social activism in the garb of intellectual enrichment (the latter being merely the logical conclusion of abandoning, among other truths, the centrality of classical logic).  Rather than learning to discover what is through their own efforts, therefore, students are taught to receive and retain pre-packaged information about what is (or what is purported to be—no matter how discordant those claims from the cognition-independent reality), so that they might serve as functionaries for how we want ‘what is’ to be: information discovered, interpreted, and arranged by others, to the occlusion of—and thereby depriving us the freedom to ask—that most-human of questions, “What is that?”

Is this knowledge?  Is it learning?  We desire to know; but is that the same as receiving information, pre-determined, pre-packaged for us?  The currently common view of the universe—a reductionist view that posits the most-elemental parts of matter to be the truest reality, such that all other phenomena are merely various configurations thereof—holds that knowledge amounts indeed to nothing more than an organization of information; that our ability to know consists in the right configuration of parts in our minds, or even more reductionistically, our brains; and that what we signify by “information” is only a certain abstract descriptor of this configuration…

Is the mind “what the brain, body, and world around us” collectively do?  Perhaps that is true, in some way; but it is not very helpful for understanding what the mind really is, especially as something distinguished from the brain, body, and world.

No.  No thinking person can accept this flattening, this levelling out of what we know from our own experience to be different.  The mind is manifestly something more than any of its contributory sources or its necessary, integral parts, and—rather than by an enumeration or description of its materially-constitutive parts—we know any object of our inquiry best by discerning its characteristic action.

The action of the mind consists fundamentally in the seeking and understanding of the world in the light of knowledge; and knowledge subsists as a relation to the intelligible truth of objects themselves—the relation whereby is grasped the articulable reality of what is.  This seeking unfolds through observation and a questioning after what is observed: that is, observation and questioning which begets recognition that the things observed have explanations, causes, beyond what the observations themselves entail; and the subsequent attempt to discover those causes to better explain the observed effects.  The phenomena of our experience, in other words, are not self-explanatory, and what we mean by “knowledge” is just such explanation: the grasp of the causes, not merely inchoate, but in a manner that both the causes themselves and the grasp of them can be verbally expressed.  These explanations must be worked out with trial and error, with continued recursion to certain principles—which themselves must be discovered with some difficulty—with experimentation, reflection, and most of all a habit of inquiry; to continue questioning, again and again, seeking always to better understand what we have revealed, always seeking better to grasp the relation between cause and effect.

It is this knowledge, which grows into wisdom, that all human beings desire.

[1] i.348-30bc: Μετά τα Φυσικά, 980a21.
[2] Steven Pinker 1997: How the Mind Works, 21.

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Reclaiming Wisdom – Summer Fundraising Campaign

Reclaiming Wisdom – Perennial Truths for the Digital Age

Once the center of Western culture, the University has lost its way.  For centuries, it was a force both stabilizing and civilizing, training young minds to discover the perennial truths by which they were elevated above the merely material concerns of our baser nature.  The University was a center of wisdom, guiding us to the principles by which we ought all to live. 

Today, however, we observe a culture in decay, and the root cause is the University itself… [read more]

The universities have abandoned the pursuit of wisdom for that of skills, for profits, for worldly success, for the latest ideological fashions.  What they have abandoned, we will reclaim.

The past two years have seen the Lyceum Institute continue to grow, develop, and has resulted in excellent work being done by our Faculty Fellows.  As our members and friends alike know, the Lyceum has not only already accomplished a great deal, but has the potential to do much more.  While money makes nothing happen of itself, it does help to remove some impediments for those striving to realize that potential.

And so, this summer, from June through August, we are ambitiously striving to raise $10,000.  We would be enduringly grateful to anyone who helps us reach that goal—or even just to reach towards it.  As a not-for-profit organization, we rely on the generous donations of supporters like yourself.  

Reclaiming Wisdom

Support the Lyceum Institute in providing access to perennial truths for the digital age and fostering a love and pursuit of wisdom through a community dedicated to bettering our philosophical habits.

Trivium: Rhetoric

Beginning the week of June 6, all Lyceum Institute members will have access to a 10-week course in the Art of Rhetoric. Discussion sessions will be held twice per week: Mondays at 6:00–6:45pm and Thursdays at 12:00–12:45pm (subject to change). Each week there will be an assigned reading, relevant practice, and brief lecture. Discussion sessions will cover both the reading and selected issues raised in the lecture.

The study of rhetoric is a study not only of defending ourselves against false accusations, slander, calumny, and other verbal assaults upon our character, but is further a study of making known the truth, so that it may speak for itself. If logic, which cannot be justly divorced from rhetoric, consists in learning the valid structures whereby one discovers truth for himself (by understanding the nature and action of thought), then rhetoric consists in the discovery of righteous means to persuade others to grasp those same truths—and, moreover, the ability to defend ourselves against the manipulative persuasions of others.

This talent resides not principally in the manipulative arrangement of language, but rather the effusion of virtue in that most-human of capacities, the linguistic. In the words of Quintilian:

The orator then, whom I am concerned to form, shall be the orator as defined by Marcus Cato, “a good man, skilled in speaking.” But above all he must possess the quality which Cato places first and which is in the very nature of things the greatest and most important, that is, he must be a good man. This is essential not merely on account of the fact that, if the powers of eloquence serve only to lend arms to crime, there can be nothing more pernicious than eloquence to public and private welfare alike, while I myself, who have laboured to the best of my ability to contribute something of value to oratory, shall have rendered the worst of services to mankind, if I forge these weapons not for a solider, but for a robber… To this must be added the fact that the mind will not find leisure even for the study of the noblest tasks, unless it first be free from vice… vileness and virtue cannot jointly inhabit in the selfsame heart, and… it is as impossible for one and the same mind to harbour good and evil thoughts as it is for one man to be at once both good and evil… Consequently, the bad man and the perfect orator can never be identical.

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, lib.12, c.1

This course is open to all Lyceum Institute members. Download the syllabus or find out more in the links below.

Learn more about Rhetoric at the Lyceum

The Lyceum Institute offers courses in all three arts of the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. Together, they form a core of knowledge necessary to every educated human being.

Learn more about our approach at the links below.


Enroll

Trivium courses are included in every level of membership for the Lyceum Institute. See enrollment options here.