You are on page 1of 22


The Trivium
The three pillars of human knowledge
Luis Fernando Melgar Arias 5/27/2013

The Trivium is the organon, or instrument of all education at all levels because the arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric are the arts of communication itself in that they govern the means of communication. Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium -


I. II. III. IV. V.

The Tirivium and the 4 The Theory of Space and its applicationpg 7 Logic, Grammar, and 11 Deduction and 16 20


The Tirivium and the Mind

How does a person understand mind? For one thing, this understanding requires the use of it. In other words, to understand mind, presuming one can of course, one requires the use of mind. This is the paradox, the query, and the binding search for truth. The paradox is not only there, it is recursive; to many it is also infinite, to others an illusion, to a few nothing at all, and moreover some consider it a problem. The thing is it is there, stiff and still as any concept, irrefutably existent. Arguably, there might be something more than just mind, something more than just matter, something else, an essence commonly given the name of soul entering the realms of spiritualism. Nonetheless, hypothetically claiming the soul to exist, one cannot deny the mind and its evident limitations even if it being an illusion, the mind then needs be considered an illusion, but considered nonetheless. For all of this, the solution is a must to take this organon or instrument as our medium, only then can one have a claim of knowledge. The search for knowledge, for truth, is inevitable; and the best tool, the only tool, one has is the trivium.

The trivium is not only implicit in all that one does, and claims to know, but also more than that, it is inherent; The trivium is a permanent and inseparable element of all human lives. It is with the trivium that one thinks, creates symbols and combinations of symbols, and communicates. In that order (thinking, symbolizing, and communicating), one finds the three major compositions of the trivium, and of the mind, being them: Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Dating back since the Middle Ages, the liberal arts are constituted in seven branches, three of them already mentioned previously (logic, grammar, and rhetoric) that

composes what is the whole of the Trivium. The other four compose the Quadrivium, the four arts of quantity pertaining to matter. With this, one has then the trivium and quadrivium, mind and matter, characterizing a whole deemed to be called the classical liberal arts.

A rose, as is its nature, blooms. A rose symbolizes in an analogical manner, the liberal arts. The action of an intransitive verb, as Sister Miriam Joseph1 says and on this case being it blooms, begins in the agent and ends in the agent; the rose is perfected by blooming. Were as when a carpenter planes wood, the action of a transitive verb (planes) begins in the agent but goes across and ends in the object (the wood). The latter symbolizes what Joseph calls the utilitarian or servile arts, which only strives to make one earn a living. In a true liberal education, the student has the freedom to grow by his or her own merits, as the rose, it is also within our human nature to bloom (figuratively speaking) and thrive to be perfected.

A man or woman may not know much about the trivium, might not even know the name nor concept, but will still practice the trivium no matter how faltered it being done. In the same way, the mind is intrinsically linked to matter, the trivium to the quadrivium, since without this linkage one, as a human being, may have nothing more than raw consciousness of raw nothingness. Joseph again says, that the function of the trivium is the training of the mind for the study of matter and spirit, which together constitute the whole of reality. It is important to note how the spirit is mentioned as well, introducing even more possibilities.

Sister Miriam Joseph, author of The Trivium.

Taking this reality and what it is constituted of (mind, matter, and spirit) one comes close to the paradox, this irrevocable paradox, one as inherent as those three elements of reality themselves, as if it breathes and lives within it as an additional realm, the realm of limited possibilities, the realm of strange loops. Douglas R. Hofstadter2 claims in his book entitled Gdel, Escher, Bach (It will further on be referred to as G.E.B) that the mind may be defined as a system; to follow this premise it is important to remark the existence of both formal and informal systems. Within these systems there exists this concept of strange loops, though exceptions are applicable, in essence a strange loop may be defined as more a characteristic of a formal system, were it has no capacity to jump out of itself (more on this will follow). In contrast, an informal system has that capacity, but knows not the entirety of its axioms or rules; and informal system to Hofstadter is the mind, and what he calls the soft-ware, the formal system would be then the hard-ware or brains. In this, the trivium may be seen as the tool of our software or informal system, that allows one to explain the complexity within itself, or rather that contained within the deeper leveled formal system or brain.

Douglas R. Hofstadter, author of Godel Escher Bach


The Theory of Space and its application

Were does subjective experience fit in? What is beauty and what is truth? As human beings, these inquiries, illusions, questions, or abstractions (however one wishes to call them) are unavoidable; again one finds there is simply no escape, no denying it, the mind is and so is matter, the relationship between the two (mind and matter) is necessary for the mind to preserve itself; Hofstadter calls this the Isomorphism3.

Mathematics algebra, geometry, and the more advanced kinds of arithmetic will now enter into the syllabus and take its place as what it really is: not a separate subject but a sub department of Logic. It is neither more nor less than the rule of the syllogism in its particular application to number and measurement and should be taught as such. Instead of being, for some, a dark mystery, and, for others, a special revelation, neither illuminating nor illuminated by any other part of knowledge. Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning -

Logic is the art of thinking, humans alone have the power to think, and therefore only humans do logic. Thought distinguishes humans apart from the rest of animals, it is the premise of the intellect, and it is with thought that spawns language. The mind requires matter; it is its physical reference for which concepts are later described, concepts that

A term used specifically by Hofstadter in his book Godel, Escher, Bach, to resemble the similar relationship between mind and matter.

include beauty, art, truth, and love. Hofstadter calls them abstractions, again an inevitability of human intellect, furthermore he makes the claim that A.Is4 would have the same struggle as the human, and embark on its own quest for truth and knowledge. Whether truth or beauty follows a logical schema remains to be fully known, as fully everything remains, but there is the consensus of pattern that seems to be an inviolable human attribution.

In regards to A.Is, pattern recognition is necessary for it to be assimilated to human minds. In order for a machine to gain the title of A.I it must attain the capacity to think i.e. the art of logic. Moreover, it is intriguing to recognize the similitudes between beauty and truth; Euclids propositions5 follow a logic, similar to that of a syllogism (Ex: Logic is the art of thinking, humans alone have the power to think, therefore only humans do logic.), and it is also considered a beautiful system. On the other hand, Pollocks paintings 6 seem to not follow any particular set of patterns, and yet it inspires tremendous beauty; then what is more beautiful, that which is simple or that which is complex? Could it be that there is a hidden pattern within Pollocks painting? This may also lead to great philosophical questions that have yet an answer, about whether or not mathematics can be defined as a human discovery, or human creation.

The theory of space belongs to the inquiry within the art of Geometry, were as the application of the theory of space belongs to that inquiry within the art of Astronomy. Joseph says that, The theory of space includes analytic geometry and trigonometry. Applications of the theory of space include principles of architecture, geography, surveying and
4 5

Artificial Intelligences See Euclids Elements 6 Jackson Pollock was an influential American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement.

engineering.Euclid was considered the father, master of Geometry, after he introduced his Elements to humankind, and still is; it followed from him and his work great speculations in regards to the entirety of the universe, more particularly the celestial bodies. Plato 7 for one believed in his theory of forms, a place aside from the material world were everything transcends and is perfect. However, the cosmology that was better sustained throughout many centuries was that of Aristotle and his theory of the two-sphere universe (a widely acclaimed view of the cosmos); a cosmology worked upon by great astronomers, such as Ptolemy8. In brief, the twosphere universe consists of this idea were the earth would be one central sphere and out of it there would be these celestial bodies, which includes the sun, moon, and planets, out of these two spheres there is absolutely nothing. Aristotles9 explanation of motion and the universe is more sophisticated though, in that through a logical process he conceives five elements within the universe, being them: Earth, water, air, fire, and aether.

The specifics of Aristotles theory are not important now; it suffices to say what has been said. The book called The Copernican Revolution written by Thomas Khun, Illustrates or intends to illustrate in utter perfection the paradigm shift that occurred due to the interpretation of the universe (no easy task), by analyzing the process that took place since Aristotle, Plato, and others. For long, Ptolemys system was uplifted as the one great representation of the universe (not solely the solar system). Ptolemy took a mathematical and mechanical approach to explain Aristotles philosophical account for the universe and its apparent movements. Much later on came Copernicus to take Ptolemys system and make the
7 8

Infamous ancient Greek philosopher. Ptolemys system, written in The Almagest, was highly renowned as the one system that explained the movements of the universe. 9 Infamous ancient Greek philosopher, student of Plato.

unprecedented twist, making the universe heliocentric rather than geocentric10. From this follows Kepler and Galileo, Newton, Einstein, and even Stephen Hawkings. However, Kuhns purpose on his book is not solely to demonstrate these cosmological and astronomical changes, but instead the whole paradigm shift which includes sociological repercussions, religious repercussions, and of course scientific repercussions on all areas; even the trivium suffered alterations.

What impresses the most are Copernicus aesthetic reasons to make the change, a change that would lead one further to the truth, it was because of this vision of beauty that the revolution took place. Ptolemy created his system, seen on The Almagest, based on reasonable thought, he manage to develop a mathematical functioning system that explained the movements of the planets, leaving the earth stationary; his epicycles modeled this mechanic. What lead Copernicus to place the sun as the center of the universe? What role does beauty have in truth? Some believe beauty to be intrinsically linked to truth, others see it irrelevant because of its subjectivity; Arguments exist on behalf of both sides, but none seems to be strong enough to uphold itself above the other.


The heliocentric theory was actually considered long before Copernicus by ancient philosophers, but those ideas were thrown off because of its absurdity.



Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric

Rhetoric is the master art of the trivium, for it presupposes and makes use of grammar and logic; it is the art of communicating through symbols ideas about reality.

Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium -

Thomas Kuhn11 wrote, Theory transcends the known; does it? If Galileo12 had not known the work of his predecessors, including Copernicus, Ptolemy and Aristotle, would his contributions remain the same? He had the telescope, but the tool itself is useless unless he had known what to do with it, what to look for. It is with theory that one gets closer to truth.

The greatest fallacy that fogs intellectual discovery is that which considers reading to be a passive task, were only the reader is involved; in fact, it is quite different. Mortimer Adler 13 explains this brilliantly. He makes a distinction between the teacher that is present, and the teacher that is absent. He says that a teacher giving a lecture is a teacher that is present, meaning that he or she stands in front of the room speaking to the students. In a book, the teacher is absent, and this leaves the task to the reader. However, the
11 12

Author of The Copernican Revolution Galileo further explained the movements of the planets by using the telescope. He followed Kepler and his theory of the ellipse. 13 Author of How to Read a Book, he inspired Sister Miriam Joseph to write her book The Trivium


reader then has the responsibility to ask the questions and answer them by his or her own; a very active task. Adler goes on saying: In this respect a book is like nature or the world. When you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking and analysis yourself.14 Rhetoric is the art of communication, minds by themselves are isolated and it is with rhetoric i.e. with communication that minds are capable of transmitting thoughts, volitions and ideas between one another. Books communicate ideas as well, and Galileo made his contribution because he had the ability to listen.

Adler also speaks about the importance of understanding text; he calls it coming to terms with an author. Before one can criticize the piece, the book, the essay, or the article, one needs to understand it and come to terms with the words that are used (something you will not find in a dictionary). The same can be applied during a conversation: one intends to come to terms, whether be it two people or fourteen; understanding the words that are being used is fundamental. Plato, in his dialogues, introduces one to these sophists who utilize debate rather than proper dialogue when having a conversation. Joseph talks more about these kinds of sophists, in her book 15, that have no true value for truth, in that they only speak strategically to win in a conversation. On a dialogue, there is no winner or loser, as Joseph states, within a dialogue you only win once you come out of it thinking differently then when you came in, this means getting closer to truth.

14 15

How to Read a book, chapter one. The Trivium, chapter 11.


David Bohm16 would elaborate this idea into what he calls shared meaning. Shared meaning, as Bohm defines it, is the glue or cement that holds people and societies together. If this cement is not strong, but weakened, not many great things can be built with it. Arguing or debating will get one nowhere, if anything it will get one farther away from the truth, it is only by suspending ones assumptions (individual criteria acclaimed by the individual to be the correct one) that innovation and creation can take place.

The observer is what gathers: it selects and gathers the relevant information and organizes it into some meaning and picture. And that is whats done by the assumption in thought. According to what you assume, you will collect and gather certain information as important and put it together in a certain way, in a certain structure. David Bohm, On Dialogue -

In his book, On Dialogue, Bohm gives a very vivid example of what he means by the observer and the observed, and what actions can be taken to coexist with the paradox. He invites us to imagine a woman who is suffering a stroke at night. This woman starts to hit herself at the middle of the night, there is no light so she cannot see, and panicking thinking that an assailant has come in, she hits harder and harder, but the harder she hits the harder she gets hit. This woman was hitting herself in the middle of the night. Similarly, thought and emotion does the same thing, thinking there is a problem that needs


Physicist and author. Wrote the book On Dialogue


solution, solves nothing, hits harder, and is detrimental. Instead, what should be done is to have a keen awareness of such thoughts and emotions, for what they are.

The observer may become the observed, one may think about ones emotions at times, or feel ones thoughts, thus the loop or the cycle is evident and restricting. Suspending is not the same as getting rid of, no such thing can be done anyways, instead by suspending one can interpret adequately what is going on.

Moreover, Bohm talks about this collective mind surging within a dialogue. He also defines a dialogue as a thought process itself; therefore, a dialogue must have its own logic. It is tempting to imagine a recursive sequence of levels within the universe, starting from individual minds and individual thought processes and leveling-up to higher degrees of thought processes, into a group, a society, a world, a galaxy, a universe. In G.E.B17, again, we see these levels within a mind, the top-levels being the informal system and the lower-levels being the formal system. What seems to be certain is the connection between it all, there must be then a role of an individual mind and a role of a group, a role of a species, and the role of the universe.


Godel, Escher, Bach


A more practical perspective towards dialogue can be absorbed out of the book Difficult Conversation18. One of the points made on such book is the value of acknowledging and understanding. This can be applied towards emotions, feelings, assumptions, and thoughts. It is true that the book takes on situations that are more trivial, rather than philosophical, but in essence it possesses the same grounds. After managing to understand one another, with the proper use of rhetoric, one can construct upon ideas and thoughts, building and constructing with sustainable cement (shared meaning).

If people are to co-operate (i.e., literally to work together) they have to be able to create something in common, something that takes shape in their mutual discussions and actions, rather than something that is conveyed from one person who acts as an authority to the others, who act as passive instruments of this authority. David Bohm, On dialogue -


written by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen



Deduction and Induction

Logic is the normative science which directs the operations of the intellect so as to attain truth. Just as metaphysics, or ontology, deals with all things as they are, in their most abstract, their most general, and, therefore their one common aspect being so logic deals with all that is thought in its most general aspect truth. The requirements of truth are: 1.) What is thought must represent what is. (this is the norm of conception and of induction) 2.) Thoughts must be consistent amongst themselves. (this is the norm of deduction)

Sisterm Miriam Joseph, The Trivium -

How reliable is science when it comes to truth? Can there be something more than mind and matter? What verification does human knowledge have? Why does mind and matter even exist? Kitty Ferguson deals with all these questions and more on her book Fire in the Equations, were she compares science with religious dogma and spiritualism, taking into account the biblical God, and the modern theories of science. On one of her chapters, she speaks about the scientific method, and how such a tool consists of two things: One, things must be tested against external reality, and two, the testing, the experience, has to be public, repeatable in the public domain. The nave view of science, she says, is believing that science has no bias, only pure objectivity, and that it proves conclusively what is true and is not. By now, it should be obvious why this is not the case; Copernicus saw beauty in his new system, therefore


it was indeed biased. When it comes to creating a theory, it seems there is an inevitability of subjectivity.

Kitty Ferguson does add up to the importance of theory as well. She gives several examples of people who have worked on top of other peoples theories, to create their own. Kemeny19 pays homage to those great minds, he calls geniuses, with the ability of induction, because according to him they possess an immense creative capacity to develop theories that may represent reality. Later those theories are followed up by a deductive approach in which they are explained and proven correct or incorrect, consistent or inconsistent. Stephen Hawkings 20 could be described as modern times Aristotle, in-that they are both cosmologists striving to find a thorough explanation, inductively, for the entirety of the universe. In a sense, people like Hawkings, Einstein, and Neil Bohr, provide references on what to look for; the rest strive to prove them either wrong or right.

There exists a belief that all truth is relative and personal. Edward O. Wilson 21 makes this clear. He singles these believers as a kind of poison that infests the unification of knowledge, which makes sense considering they think all knowledge is no true knowledge at all. However, that postmodernist view is rather tempting, and not entirely implausible, except for that one such a thing as objective truth. If there were no objective truth, and all may be relative, there is still however a common consensus on certain things, which does not make much sense. For instance, a pencil is red, a dyslexic person may see it in another color and that is explainable (though the dyslexic person is wrong when stating it is another color), but
19 20

Author of A philosopher looks at science were he claims the genius molds new theories. British Theoretical Physicist, cosmologist, and author. 21 Biologist, researcher, theorist, and author. Wrote the book Consilience.


common consensus is that the pencil is indeed red, and it is explicable with experiment. If it is all relative, how can this common consensus be explained? One persons truth is that the pencil is red, another says it is green, but most people say it is red, then the conclusion is the majority has the same truth; but isnt all truth relative? Why have majorities, minorities, and all these varieties of truth? Overall, it seems quite ridiculous to side by that postmodernist notion, especially when there is hard evidence tested against external realities, repeatable by the public22.

Nonetheless, what if the human race and the universe it inhabits is nothing more than a program. Meaning that all is an illusion and people are hooked up and wired into machines that make their minds perceive worlds that are not there. A lot of sciencefiction novels and films have worked on these speculations; perhaps it is for a reason. Still, even if such theories are true and all knowledge is a delusion, there is still this common consensus, this conceptual knowledge if you will. It follows from that then, that science is an explanation within this delusional world that brings humankind together further to a truth that is not really there, but postmodernists would be further away from it, denying conceptual knowledge and being farther even from the truth than scientists. In essence it would only be a matter of levels, on above the other, and the postmodernist would always be one step behind.

There is a distinction between objective truth and ultimate or absolute truth, or preferably a distinction between objective truth and truth. Objective truth is that which was spoken of earlier (the red pencil), were as truth is the ability to stare at God in the face, ask him all the questions, and get all the answers. The latter seems far away from ever


The Scientific Method


happening, but perhaps it can. No matter how one defines God, even if defined as just a concept to refer to as an elusive entity, one still needs the definition. One needs the concept of God because there is simply no other concept to replace it. Science has not, and perhaps cannot, give an ultimate answer (staring God in the face), and religion usually keeps matters mystical, were the individual must look for God in prayer, and experience him through revelation. There is no entity that can single one of them out as bearers of truth, no meta-God23, and because of this people will always refer to this concept of God as the absolute. The man-made God is the God of science, who strives to be concluded with something similar to an equation, today many call this the theory of everything, but it is still no more than a matter of faith. The spiritual God represents that which cannot be explained with the human tools of science, and is intrinsically separate from the realms of the universe. No matter which case, there must be this reference to God, and there will remain one until one can verify the existence and possession of truth.


God of God? A comic concept taken out of Godel, Escher, Bach.




SOCRATES: I think so too, Meno. I do not insist that my argument is right in all other respects, but I would contend at all costs in both word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it. Meno, by Plato -

The inevitability of the search for truth is embedded to life itself. Learning is tethered to failure, and failure to success. The trivium is inherent in all that we think, say, and do, for it is the essence of a mind. What Bohm, Socrates, Kitty Ferguson, and all human beings struggle with is not a problem, it is a paradox. A paradox that is contained within the living, and perhaps even within the dead. This paradox leads some people to disregard knowledge all together as something that cannot be obtained; and it is understandable. Bohm suggests awareness, but perhaps more than that one needs acceptance. This acceptance comes with a belief, a keenness for truth. Whether, one chooses to accept things as they are, and search for things as they are not, or chooses to play the victim of an unreachable supremacy, as long as one lives, life will be one with the mind and it will ask of it to inquire. As long as one lives, one will search, whether conscious of it or not, for truth. It is the written code of our minds, a thirst as inherent as its own fear that motivates the living to live. Even one who claims there to be no truth, and therefore no quest, is claiming no truth to be the truth, and therefore must search for it.


With thought humanity developed logic, and with logic humanity developed a representation of reality. With grammar humanity developed symbols that represented thought, and with rhetoric humanity developed a form of expression that helped represent symbols. From thought to expression, humanity became what it is now, mastering these three pillars of knowledge seems, logically, to be the thing to do. It is with what one develops meaning, and dreams of a purpose. A purpose must be discovered at first, and then there is the case of it being named, and lastly communicated.

Don Quijote24 became much more than a character in a book. It now resembles an ideal. In addition, an idea lies behind Don Quijote; the idea of liberty, honesty, and responsibility morphed together into one. A person can have no greater qualities, than that which Don Quijote has. The greatest thing about it all is that there is no sole description of Don Quijote, although many would claim there is. He is not merely a result of insanity, nor merely a character that its author randomly created. He is not just the man that stepped out of his house to take on a journey of knights, castles, and damsels. Don Quijote is the standards that its readers possess, and if one, as a reader, manages to acquire those profound honorable qualities of Don Quijote, the rest is a realization of ones own dreams. Furthermore, a true Don Quijote, is a master of the trivium, for he or she understands the value of the mind, and knows how and why to use it.

As Dorothy25 says; the trivium taught correctly is a sufficient education for life

24 25

Don Quijote de la Mancha, written by Miguel de Cervantes. Dorothy L. Sayers. Author of The Lost Tools of Learning.


The things once learned by rote will be seen in new contexts; the things once coldly analyzed can be brought together to form a new synthesis; here and there a sudden insight will bring about that most exciting of all discoveries: the realization that truism is true. Dorothy L. Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning -