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The 7 Liberal Arts - Trivium, Quadrivium and Logical Fallacies

Thomas Aquinas was a medieval Catholic priest and teacher, representative of the scholastic period of philosophy.

In medieval universities the Trivium combined with the Quadrivium comprised the seven liberal arts. This teaching method is based on a curriculum outlined by Plato. One of the key intentions behind applying the Trivium and the Quadrivium is to distinguish between reality and fiction. By training the mind how to think - instead of what to think - this method provides a teaching of the art and the science of the mind as well as the art of the science of matter.

Tools of Knowing

The Trivium and the Quadrivium are often presented in a Pythagorean triagle which represents the human way of knowing :

Any observation enters our mind through the 5 senses. Then we use our mind and apply the Trivium and the Quadrivium in order to process the observation. This process consists of several steps which enable us to understand how the observation relates to what we already know, how we can explain this new piece of information to others and how we can store it in a methodical way.

The Trivium method of thought

The Trivium is the first half of the 7 Liberal Arts. It consists of 3 elements : General grammar, formal logic and classical rhetoric. Sacred texts often refer to these 3 elements as knowledge, understanding and wisdom. The overarching topic of the Trivium is communication and language.

  • General grammar : The systematic method of gathering raw data and ordering the facts of reality into a consistent body of knowledge.

  • Formal logic : Bringing full and intimate understanding to this body of knowledge by systematically eliminating all contradictions within it.

  • Rhetoric : Communicating this comprehensive knowledge and understanding to others in order to utilize the gained insights in the real world.

Within the process of seeing, conceptualizing and speaking it is important to be aware that the created concept about how we think reality is, does not equate reality as it really is. In other words : The map is not the territory.

Aristotle who is considered to be one of the originators of the ideas behind the Trivium stated that an educated man should be capable of considering and investigating any idea or concept thoroughly without necessarily embracing or dismissing it. If during any discussion it becomes obvious that the other person is emotionally involved regarding a particular subject matter, then it is impossible to have a rational discussion based on the Trivium with them. Any emotional attachment to a particular belief blocks any kind of rational or logical argumentation.

This rather general concept of the Trivium has been removed from the curriculum of public education over the last 100 years. It can be assumed that this happened because people who lack truly critical thinking skills are a lot easier to govern. Especially through mass media it is now possible for the government to spin almost every event, invent false realities and then sell them to their population. But this only works as long as people are not able to think for themselves and see through the manipulation. Especially the principle of the "Hegelian dialectic" where an artificial problem is created in order to cause a reaction within the population so that a prepared solution can be introduced would not work anymore if people were able to see the patterns by which their government is "guiding" them.

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method is a common procedure used in science. It consist of 4 actions :

  • Observe reality : Making any kind of measurements about a particular behavior or effect within reality

  • Generate hypotheses : Coming up with several different theories about why this behavior is observed. For this the scientist looks for similarities between known phenomena and this newly observed effect.

  • Extrapolate : The most likely hypothesis is selected, refined and a blue print for an experiment is designed which can be used to verify predictions on what kind of behavior is to be expected under a particular set of initial conditions

  • Verify theory in a repeatable experiment : In order to verify the hypothesis an experiment is performed in order to check if the expected reaction to certain inputs fits with calculated output of the theory. It is important that these experiments are repeatable.

Logical Fallacies

This is a list of logical fallacies which are commonly used in arguments, this is part of the aspect of logic within the Trivium. You will probably find this to be a really useful part of this article because once you become aware of these tactics, you will be able to see them whenever anybody uses them on yourself.

  • Ad Hominem : Responding to a statement by a personal attack. It is the attempt to discredit the other persons character so you can avoid responding to their arguments in a logical way

  • Appeal to Authority : Sometimes we have to look for answers from an expert. If someone refers to the opinion of an expert it is important to check if a) the person is really an expert and b) if the person is biased e.g. due to financial ties they have regarding the subject. It should always be checked if an appeal to authority can be avoided and if the argument can be resolved on different level of argument

  • Appeal to Belief : Arguing that something is true because the majority of the population believes it to be true

  • Appeal to Common Practice : Arguing that a particular action or behavior is good - e.g. morally correct - just because everybody behaves this way

  • Appeal to Emotion : Attempt to gain support through emotions rather than the objective substance of the argument.

  • Appeal to Fear : By painting a picture of dire consequences a particular decision might have, any logical argument in favor of this decision can thus be seen as irrelevant

  • Appeal to Flattery : Person A is flattered by person B. Person B makes a claim, since person A likes person B he accepts this claim without critical examination

  • Appeal to Novelty : What is newer must be better

  • Appeal to Popularity : Since most people approve something, it must be true

  • Appeal to Ridicule : Since a particular topic is ridiculed and laughed at by other people it must be false or unimportant

  • Appeal to Spite : If a person can not have or achieve a particular goal he simply looks down on this goal as not being worth achieving anyway

  • Appeal to Tradition : Since a particular behavior or conclusion has been correct for a long time and has become a tradition, it must also be correct now as well

  • Bandwagon : A claim is accepted simply because it is considered popular within the addressed group not because it is true

  • Begging the Question : Assuming as true, what in fact needs to be proven first. This is an issue of circular logic. It is commonly used in religion : How can we know, God really exists ? Well because we can read about him in the Bible and the Bible is the unquestionable word of God.

  • Biased Sample : For a poll which presumably covers the entire variety of the population actually only people are considered which have a predisposition about the subject

  • Composition : Since a component consists of A, B and C and A, B and C have a particular trait, also the component must have that same trait

  • Division : Since a component has a particular trait and it consists of A, B and C it can be concluded that A, B and C must have the same trait as the component itself

  • False causal relationship : Arguing that a particular event was caused by previous event just because this previous event happened before the actual event. In reality both events might be totally unrelated and the timing sequence was a pure coincidence.

  • False Dilemma : Presenting only two options as a solution a problem, while not mentioning other possible options

  • Genetic Fallacy : The dubious origin of a claim discredits the claim itself

  • Guilt By Association : By establishing an artificial association between a claim and e.g. a group that is anti-social the claim itself is portrayed as unacceptable

  • Middle Ground : If there are two opposing position on a topic this does not necessarily imply that the "correct" position is in the middle of both extremes

  • Pointing at others : Injecting another party into the argument - another authority higher up in the chain which is outside of your field of influence. By blaming this higher authority it is no longer necessary to reply with a logical argument

  • Repeating statements to make them appear true : By repeating a particular statements multiple times within a short period of time, the listener might accept them as true. This is particularly valid for the mass media and news on television

  • Smoke Screen : When coming up to a difficult argument, people simply start throwing a long list of other issues into the discussion hoping that the difficult argument is forgotten in the process

  • Spotlight : The fact that a particular subject is repeatedly focused upon by many people does not imply that it really is of any importance

  • Straw Man : Taking the position or claim of another person, exaggerating and distorting it and then attacking this distorted claim because it is easier to debunk

The Quadrivium

The Quadrivium is the second half of the 7 Liberal Arts. It consists of 4 elements : Arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The overarching topic of the Quadrivium is the study of number and its relation to space and time.

  • Arithmetic : Number - as such number is a pure abstraction outside of time and space. This aspect of the Quadrivium deals with the different characteristics of each number

  • Geometry : Number in space - specific shapes can have a deeper meaning. This aspect relates symbolism and it is frequently used in architecture.

  • Music : Number in time - covers music in general and particularly the topic of natural harmonics

  • Astronomy : Number in time and space - covers the movement of planets in space and the natural harmonics between the planets when looking at the aspect of time (harmony of the spheres). This is the first time aspects of time and space meet with the abstraction of number thus it builds the foundation for science.

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