I certainly know some things, and I certainly do not know some other things. Everytime I google something I am surprised how much I do not know. My knowledge about the world is similar to one of these olds maps, where half of the world is discovered but the edges are grey, the unknown areas are just black. Some parts, closer to my heart are very precise, but the further out I reach the more blurry my map becomes. Even though imprecise these maps helped people for centuries to navigate through the world, and so does my own inner map.
But what if I wander of into the grey or blurry regions of my map? How do I draw new, precise lines, expanding the accuracy of my perception of the world?
The ancient Greeks developed a tool for such circumstances and it still forms the bases of scienctific thinking today. This tool is called the trivium method, a method of conscious awareness.
It is composed out of Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. Together they form a triangle, called the Trivium.
Grammar answers to the question Who, Where, When and What. It is the stage where facts are discovered, the working mechanics of language clarified (Special Grammar) and the meanings of words defined (General Grammar). The goal is to produce a systematic body of knowledge with a clear language around it.
Logic answers the question Why. Through logic you establish non-contradictory connections between facts, thus enabling you to synthesize a new understanding of your body of knowledge. It does so through synchronizing the subjective thoughts, experiences, actions with the objective world in a non-contradicting way.
Rhetoric refers to the question How. It is the act of transmitting your knowledge and understanding to another human through writing or oral expression.
We use these tools all the time. We gather information about the world around us, then filter and interpret this information so that it helps us navigate and reference the world.
Often we are not even aware of this process and just experience the end product as a thought. But that would mean we were to clarify our map without looking while we paint new landmarks and shores. Our map becomes richer as we draw in more mountains, forests, seas and landmasses but it does not inevitably becomes a better instrument to navigate.
Therefore we need a conscious awareness of our perception of reality, so that we can draw a map as precise as possible. A true instrument of navigation with clear connected lines, rich in colour and detail.
When you confront one of these grey areas on your map the dark unknown can be overwhelming but you might feel a little excitement as well. Good, that gives you the motivation to tackle the unknown.
Grey areas are a new skills, like speaking another language or learning how to play basketball, subjects you do not know much about yet but want to gain more expertise in. Either way starting to bring colour in these areas of your map can be a little bit difficult because there is so much information out there, which makes is difficult to know where you should start.
The power of grammar in the world
For most of the time humans believed in magic. They attributed magic power to certain rituals and words and it influenced their entire behaviour. In medieval times red hair was related to having magical power and many women were burnt or drowned because of the connection that was made between the reality of having red hair and the destructive power of magic.
You take in information from reality in an inductive and intuitive manner. Induction is a logical process where you try to abstract general patterns from information and form a hypothesis based on the observed patterns. You simply go from the specific to the general. Inductive conclusions are not simply true, because they are not necessarily logic. Rather, they are cogent, meaning that the evidence for the conclusion seems complete, relevant, convincing and is therefore probably true. Even though inductive conclusions may not be true they can increase our knowledge and understanding of the world, as they help us make predictions about future events or not-yet-observed circumstances.
All of that raw information obtained through our senses from the objective reality would be without meaning if we weren’t to use language and other symbols to make meaning out of it. Without attributing meaning to the raw information it would be impossible to draw an inner map of the world. Through definition we establish a relationship between a symbol and a piece of information, which helps us not to just create recognisable patterns but also to communicate our understanding of reality to others, as long as they have the same definition of the information.
This process is intuitive, as the brain automatically tries to define the new information by building on and comparing with the already existing information, also known as knowledge. The new information can change, enhance or develop old definitions or create new ones. It is a symbiotic process since every existing definition will be tested by new induced information. The result is a more and more general definition. Because general definitions bare the danger of misunderstandings, the use of a secondary structure, such as grammar in language, is necessary. We can give words with a general definition a specific meaning by using grammar and other words to specify our observation of reality.
Objective reality is way more complicated than we can understand and attributing meaning to a piece of information does not by any means make that definition true in the light of objective reality. Definitions are just a container to help us transfer information, but these containers are not an exact representation of reality. Defining information is an act of reducing complexity to an understandable, more universally applicable, state. Hence, the reality we build through symbols is therefore always a simpler, less complex and more subjective one, than the actual objective reality we live in.
Therefore you should always be aware of the fact, that what you say or think is not necessarily true in the objective reality just because you believe that the definition of the symbols you use is true.
We cannot understand the reality without symbols, they are our representation of reality, and if one were to manipulate the definition of words for example (semantic manipulation), or even restrict their use, one could simply control not just the understanding, but even the communication between human beings. You were able to alter their behaviour, the way they think and react to the objective reality. Just think about how Hitler used propaganda to influence the general german population.
As you can see grammar is powerful, but mostly unconscious, which is why we should pay more attention to it, if we want to make out flaws in our thinking, that can be based on a bad definition.
In order to draw a precise map that helps you navigate the world, you need become clear of your definitions of the symbols you use, because upon them your entire understanding of world rests.
Logic as active thinking
Logic is the second part of the Trivium and forms the conscious reasoning part opposed to the intuitive induction part of information intake. It tries to deconstruct the information formed in the grammar step in order to achieve valid, non-contradictory assumptions about reality.
The basic principle of logic is rooted in the assumption that nothing can be two things at a time. It can either be this or that, there is no room for contradiction.
The most important tool in the trivium logic is therefore the deductive, or deduction, method.
Deduction begins with a general statement about reality, a hypothesis from where the possibilities to reach a specific and logical conclusion are examined. You go from general (the theory) to the specific (the observation). Often this process is based on a first, major premise, followed by a second, minor one and a final interference, that comes to a logical conclusion. Syllogism are often used for this type of deductive reasoning
For example, you could say:
All men are mortal (major premise)
Aristotle is a man (minor premise)
Therefore, Aristotle is mortal (logical conclusion)
This logical conclusion is either sound (true) or unsound (false) depending on a true major and minor premise (which both can also be false). Independent of the truth or falsehood of the premises, the inference (connecting one premise with the other in order to form a conclusion) can be either valid or invalid. Therefore the conclusion can be valid and sound in the logical reasoning of the Syllabism but it is unsound in reality.
Deduction implies that if something is true for a general class of things, it must also be true for each unit of the class.
What do these concepts mean in real life?
In real life Grammar (Inductive reasoning) and Logic (deductive reasoning) cannot be separated. Together they form a circle of ever repeating interchange. Through inductive reasoning you form general hypothesis about the world (bottom-up) and then test your hypothesis through the process of deduction (top-down). If you come to a valid conclusion you then compare it with reality in order to see if the conclusion is sound and if it fits into your observation of reality. Going through this process over and over again you remove step by step any contradictions between your subjective knowledge and understanding of the world with the objective reality.
Ideally this process and your conclusions should be open to be confirmed or not agreed with by others who can deduce your inductive hypothesis for its validity and/or oppose your deductive conclusions to contradictory evidence.
Your own fallacies and flaws in thinking may be revealed and it can be scary to confront these. The Trivium is not the easy way.
Bringing meaning into Grammar and Logic
This leads me to the last point on the Trivium method. Rhetoric.
According to Aristotle rhetoric is the art of persuading others through the means of logos, pathos, and ethos. This means that it is not only necessary what to say but also how to say it effectively and in a well structured way.
Logos requires you to prove to your audience that what you say is true. Therefore using the general structure of an argument, 1. Introduction, 2. Statement and proof, and 3. Conclusion is very important.
Pathos is the ability to address your audience’s emotions with the goal to put them into a favourable mindset to your purpose.
Ethos seeks to convince the audience of your competence, your moral character and good will through the means of courtesy and other qualities.
A good presentation is characterized not only by Logos, Pathos, and Ethos but also by a good Style, meaning that you have a clear and appropriate language, a good grammatical structure, that you uses effective metaphors, a pleasing rhythm (when presenting orally), and a sound diction (when presenting in a written form), etc.
Communication is a very important step in the trivium method because we cannot uncover all grey areas on our internal map. Like the roman empire who kept expanding in order to secure its borders, you will face an ever increasing number of new borders with grey zones behind them. It is impossible to be at all frontiers, uncovering all areas. We only have a certain amount of time on earth, therefore we need to access and contribute to the good of collective knowledge of humanity. And the way we do this is through communication, oral, written, etc. Communication is our way to face the unknown, to build structure in life and to update our state of being.
Being able to communicate clearly is therefore vital to the progress of mapping and not only your own map.
The Trivium is not just a method of logic and reasoning but an attempt to train your awareness. Awareness of the way you take in information, awareness of the way you process it, and awareness of the way you communicate your insights.
Through the heightened awareness of these processes you are able to draw a more precise navigation map, that will help you to navigate better, hence understanding the world more thoroughly.
I hope you enjoyed this article as much I enjoyed writing it.
I would love to know:
- What are some definitions you used that you found to be inappropriate at a later stage?
2. What do you think are some wrong definitions most people use?
3. What are some grey areas you want to explore and how could the logic part of the Trivium method help you?
4. What are some areas of the rhetoric part you have already mastered? Which parts need more work?
I am excited to hear your thoughts.
If you are interested in deeping your knowledge about the Trivium I would recommend you reading this book ‘The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar and Rhetoric‘