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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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.

Latin Courses Start Soon

Beginning 18 January 2022 at 6-7pm ET, the Lyceum Institute will be offering live instruction in Elementary Latin. Materials for the class are already available on the Teams platform, including PDF/PowerPoint class notes (with audio), textbooks, vocabulary aids, homework assignments, and various other aids for study. Students are expected to have read through the text on their own prior to live sessions, which will focus on establishing a reading and translational fluency.

This course introduces the basic elements of Classical Latin, with an emphasis on correct pronunciation, essential vocabulary, and fundamental grammar. In terms of grammar, attention is placed on the mastery of forms, such as: declension of nouns, pronouns, and adjectives; comparison of adjectives and adverbs; and the present indicative system for all verb conjugations. All these elements are presented and reinforce through weekly practice in pronunciation, reading, and translation.

Although this course trains participants in all four language arts – reading, writing, speaking, and listening – an emphasis is placed on the participants’ ability to read and translate Latin.

Elementary Latin Syllabus

More advanced students may sign up for the Intermediate Latin course, beginning 13 January 2022 at 6-7pm ET. Entrance into this course requires either completion of the Elementary course or passing a placement test conducted by the instructor. Read the syllabus below for more details.

Enroll

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

Winter Seminars – Reminder

Our Winter Seminars start tomorrow (first discussion sessions 1/15)! There’s still plenty of time to sign up, but readings are already available and discussion threads will begin on 1/8.

INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHICAL THINKING

As you might surmise, this is a course for those who have had no (or have not had in a long time) formal philosophical education. It is a bit different than the typical introductory course. Here, you will find no histories or surveys, no trite clichés about questioning authority, no attempts at “dumbing down” a complex topic to make it “accessible”. Rather, you will find the essential challenge of philosophy itself: learning the habit of conscious reflection on our own conceptions. We will do this through a series of lectures, curated readings, and discussion sessions—with part of the seminar focused on Plato, as a master of the means to philosophical reflection—and a community of like-minded inquirers.

SEMIOTICS: CULTURAL WORLD OF THE SIGN

This is a much more advanced seminar, presuming the participant already has some familiarity with semiotics and possibly with scholastic realism as well. Here, we are asking the question of culture explicitly from the perspective of semiotics: how is culture constituted, mediated, diminished, and otherwise altered by the action of signs? How does culture, conversely, shape the “grammar” of signs by which we ourselves think? These questions are, I think, important especially today, in which we are experiencing a dramatic shift in the constitution of culture as affected by the digital paradigm of daily experience. If we are to change culture for the better, we must understand how we participate in it—and thus we must understand the signs through which culture affects human life, and, conversely, how human beings may affect culture through the use of signs.

Trivium: Logic

Logic as a Liberal Art – HFS Books
Houser: Logic as a Liberal Art
[Order – Amazon] [Order – CUA Press]

Beginning the week of January 10, all Lyceum Institute members will have access to a 13-week course in traditional Logic. Discussion sessions will be held twice per week: Mondays at 6:00-6:45pm and Thursdays at 11:45am-12:30pm (subject to change). Each week there will be an assigned reading, problem set, and brief lecture. Discussion sessions will cover both the reading and selected problems.

But why study traditional logic? Some will say it has been obsolesced by modern (symbolic) logic. Others will say that it is a frivolous activity used even less commonly in “real life” than algebra or calculus. Both are wrong: for though we do not break down our propositions and arguments into formal, syllogistic formulas, by a deep familiarity with their structure, their rules, and their application in natural language, we are able to recognize illogical arguments from others and to construct more logical arguments ourselves.

To quote our primary textbook, R.E. Houser’s logic as a Liberal Art:

The natural habitat of logic is the verbal and written language of ordinary human discourse, including the high-level verbal discourse that occurs in university courses.  The man who invented this approach to logic was Aristotle, who wrote the first textbooks in logic in the fourth century B.C.  The main reason why this approach is preferable for most people is that it avoids the two problems that have plagued the teaching of symbolic logic during its heyday and up to the present.  First, the verbal approach is clearly preferable for those who have math phobia.  The problems used in the verbal approach are set out in ordinary language, language that often contains clues that help us to understand the logic of verbal discourse.  Such clues, of course, are missing from the mathematical symbols used in symbolic logic.  Second, the verbal study of logic has the advantage of avoiding the problem of needing to translate back and forth between abstract logical symbols and the more concrete verbal symbols we call words.  While mathematical symbols do on occasion help us see logical relations… by using ordinary or “natural” language to study logic we can avoid the large headache of translating from the language of symbols to ordinary language, and then back again.  So we content ourselves with the smaller but real headaches involved in searching out the logic contained within verbal or natural language.

Houser 2020: Logic as a Liberal Art, xxviii.

This characterizes our approach to the Trivium as a whole at the Lyceum: striving to master language as a real and integral part of thinking. In our logic course, we will focus on affecting clarity in thought so as to better express it in words. I hope you will join us!

Learn more about Logic 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.

Study and Motivation

Why study anything? Mostly, we open the books because a possession of the knowledge contained therein is believed to profit us: either because it will gain us coveted credentials or because it will enable us in some practical application. Our motivation seldom comes from the thing-itself-studied, but rather from something extrinsic, something beyond the practice of studying itself.

Thus, absent that promise of something beyond, we seldom if ever find ourselves in possession of the motive to study. Perhaps we will indulge an intellectual curiosity: reading a “smart” book–something concerning economics, or politics, history, literature, even a book of philosophy–or listening to a “smart” debate, watching a “smart” television show or documentary, and so on. But most of this, if we are honest, is entertainment masquerading as some sort of “self-improvement” or “continued learning”. We may gain information from such endeavors, but we do not gain understanding.

Understanding is an act, a recursive process whereby we gain knowledge of a thing–whether presented to us directly or through information about the thing–to the extent that we no longer simply know about it, but know it, through knowing its causes. We may be very familiar with an object–say, a person with whom we live or work for a long time–but that familiarity is not yet understanding, properly speaking; for understanding entails an intellectual grasp which no quantity of familiarity alone can provide.

And yet, understanding is a natural good for the human being. Understanding begets a right ordering of ourselves toward the objects of our experience, and consequently an ability to help rightly order those objects as well. It is a good not easily earned and yet one which rewards without dissipation; a reward that does not pass into disinterest or out of fashion. Why do we not seek it more?

Simply, because the processes of education to which we have all been inured, which ape the right pursuit of understanding but perversely convince us of the worthlessness of understanding in and of itself. Certainly, study is tiring, and does not give us the immediate gratification of a cheap pleasure. But pleasure is always the consequence of an action; and, as doubtless we have all experienced, the pleasure derived from immediate gratifications wanes all-too-quickly.

Perhaps, if we are to gain the motivation which ought in some way be directive of us toward that natural good–indeed, the highest of natural goods–we need to unlearn these lessons.