Seven Liberal Arts: Trivium & Quadrivium

“To learn six subjects without remembering how they were learnt does nothing to ease the approach to a seventh; to have learnt and remembered the art of learning makes the approach to every subject an open door.” - Dorothy Sayers

The Trivium and Quadrivium are described by Dorothy Sayers in her article of the same title as: The Lost Tools of Learning although the truth is they were never really ‘lost’ in the first place; rather they have been secreted and kept from the common man. You will not hear of this process of learning in the public school systems, where we are not taught how to think but what to think. Public schools; where merit is determined by how much information you can memorise and manage to regurgitate on the day of an exam. We are not taught how to think critically, analytically and creatively, we are not taught formal logic or how to recognise fallacies in logic and reason. We allow the State to educate our youth into nothing more than repeaters, trained into perfect little workers, not thinkers, with the sole purpose of serving some function within the system. These tools are present in elite private schools, prep schools, Ivy League colleges and the like. In these schools people are taught how to think critically, use their reason, rationalise and recognise fallacies in logic. Without the trivium and quadrivium our cognitive capacity and potential is suppressed.

“Literacy is a form of slavery until a systematic form of critical thinking is practiced by the reader.” Jan Irvin

The word liberty has the same root as the Latin word for book i.e. liber, which is where words like: liberal and libertarian, and the word library are all derived. This word in its original context therefore related the concepts of freedom and education very closely together; in fact they went hand in hand. It was believed that a man became free through the process of education, real education.

The word education means: to bring out, to extract, to produce from a state of occultation (Johnson’s Dictionary 1854) and in its true sense refers to the revealing of that which was previously hidden; the process of moving from unknown to known, from unreality to reality. The word libertine originally referred to an emancipated slave or freed man i.e. someone who could now educate themselves, but it is more often used in the sense of a free-thinker.

Intellectual sovereignty is therefore achieved through self-taught liberation and the process of becoming auto-didactic i.e. self-taught. The trivium and quadrivium comprise the seven liberal arts, which are the very building blocks and formulae for effective rationale and critical thinking. These tools can then be applied to the study of any and all information in a systematic and methodical manner, and as such, are essential ones for discovering the truth and the very nature of reality itself.

"A liberal education is the education of a free man" - John Henry Cardinal Newman





"In medieval universities, the trivium comprised the three subjects that were taught first: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The word is a Latin term meaning “the three ways” or “the three roads” forming the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education.

Sister Miriam Joseph described the three parts of the Trivium thus:

"Logic is the art of thinking; grammar, the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; and rhetoric, the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance."

The study of logic, grammar and rhetoric was considered preparatory for the quadrivium, which was made up of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The trivium was the beginning of the liberal arts. At many medieval universities this would have been the principal undergraduate course. However, the contrast between the simpler trivium and more difficult quadrivium gave rise to the word "trivial"." []


Modern researchers have stressed the importance of the subjects being placed and taught in the correct order and point out that many earlier works; either by accident or design, present the trivium and quadrivium in an inaccurate and as such misleading manner. The correct order is as follows:

  1. (General) Grammar
  2. (Formal) Logic
  3. (Classical) Rhetoric
  4. Arithmetic = Numbers
  5. Geometry = Numbers & Space
  6. Music (Harmony) = Numbers & Time
  7. Astronomy = Numbers & Space & Time

This part of the article only deals with the first three subjects known collectively as the trivium.

The best explanation I have come across for the trivium was given in the form of an analogy by Jan: Irvin in one of his podcasts. Explaining the importance of the correct order to a guest Jan stated that: Grammar (or Knowledge) - is like the different parts of an engine un-assembled, Logic (or Understanding)- is those parts assembled correctly to make the engine and Rhetoric (or Wisdom) - is the user manual explaining how the engine operates. He gives another example in the following video: Grammar - is the bricks or parts of a building, Logic - is the building of something using those bricks (or parts of information), and Rhetoric - is an architect or builder explaining how they built what they built. Another way of putting it is that Grammar = reading or the acquiring of information/data, Logic = thinking and reasoning, Rhetoric = speaking or expressing/explaining. This provides us with the basic formula of learning, that is, the very process by which cognitive learning can take place.

> Podcast: The Trivium Method with Gene Odening, Gnostic Media episode #049 (A great place to start!)

> Podcast: How to read a book v1.1 (An Intro to Liberal Learning), [The Next S..., How to read a book v1.2



  • [1] GRAMMAR — (the Who, What, Where, and the When of a subject.) = Knowledge

Discovering and ordering facts of reality comprises basic, systematic Knowledge- not only the rules developed and applied to the ordering of word/concepts for verbal expression and communication, but our first contact with conscious order as such. This is the initial, self-conscious technique used in properly (discursively or sequentially) organizing a body of knowledge from raw, factual data for the purpose of gaining understanding (through logic) and; thus, also organizing the individual human mind. It is the foundation upon which all other "methods of organization and order" are built.

(Special grammar properly relates words to other words within a specified language like English, Russian, or Latin.)

General grammar relates words to objective reality in any language and applies to all subjects as the first set of building blocks to integrated or fully mindful, objective knowledge. A body of knowledge which has been gathered and arranged under the rules of general grammar can now be subjected to logic for full understanding, which, emphatically, is a separate intellectual procedure.


> Podcast: General grammar with Dr. Michael Labossiere, Gnostic Media Podcast ...

> YouTube: SVClarkson - Grammar Exercises

> Article: Sister Miriam Joseph's Brief Guide to Composition


  • [2] LOGIC — (the Why of a subject.) = Understanding

Developing the faculty of reason in establishing valid [i.e., non-contradictory] relationships among facts yields basic, systematic Understanding- it is a guide for thinking correctly; thinking without contradiction. More concisely, it is the art of non-contradictory identification. The work of logic is proof. Proof consists of establishing the truth and validity of a concept or proposition in correspondence with objective, factual reality by following a self-consistent chain of higher-level thought back down to foundational, primary concepts or axioms (i.e., Existence, Consciousness, and Causality). It is a means of keeping us in touch and grounded to objective reality in our search for valid knowledge and understanding. Logic brings the rhythm of the subjective thoughts of the mind, and the subsequent actions of the body, into harmony with the rhythm of the objective universe. The intention is to amicably synchronize individual mental processes, and their attendant actions, with the processes of our surrounding natural, factual existence over the period of a lifetime.

An important area of logic regards the ability to recognise invalid and unsound arguments known as fallacies i.e. an error in reason. Fallacious reasoning prevents us from utilising critical thought and hinders us from determining the truth of a situation. Whatsmore, people become more vulnerable to deceit and manipulation by those who are aware of them, and in a position to utilise that knowledge, and our ignorance to an advantage. The culprits include politicians, the mainstream media, sales and marketing that appeals to your emotion and so on...

This short video gives a great example of how fallacies are used to manipulate the truth:


> For a more in depth explanation of logical fallacies see: (right hand column contains a list of different fallacies explained).

> Another list from Dr. Michael Labossiere can be found here:

> Podcast: Informal Fallacies with Dr. Michael Labossiere, Gnostic Media Podca...

> Website:


  • [3] RHETORIC — (the How of a subject.) = Wisdom

Applying knowledge and understanding expressively comprises Wisdom or, in other words, it is systematically useable knowledge and understanding- to explore and find the proper choice of methods for cogently expressing the conclusions of grammar and logic on a subject in writing and/or oral argumentation (oratory). The annunciation of those conclusions is called a statement of rationale, the set of instructions deduced from the rationale for the purpose of application (of those conclusions) in the real world is called a statement of protocols.

[Text source:]


Part 2: The Three Claims


> PDF: How to do a rhetorical analysis, by: Trish Roberts Miller. (Read online).

[Extract:] "I.A. Richards once said that rhetoric is the study of misunderstanding, and I would only slightly modify that:rhetoric is the study of potential misunderstanding. Being able to do a rhetorical analysis has several benefits,not the least of which is that, when you are in the midst of a conflict, you can figure out what the conflict isreally about (the "stasis"), what the various arguments are, and how those arguments are put together. Inaddition, should you decide to jump into the conflict, being skilled in rhetorical analysis can help you presentyour arguments more effectively, and even more ethically."

Rhetorical Triangle

"Traditionally, people talking about rhetorical analysis draw a diagram (see figure 1.1). This diagram is a triangle, sometimes in a circle, which is itself sometimes against a background. The triangle has lines with arrows going in various directions. The point of this diagram is that you have (more or less) five things to consider when looking at a text: the author(s), audience(s), textual strategies, immediate context, and larger context (sometimes called "background")."


> Website: The Forest of Rhetoric


  • Trivium and Classical Learning:

At each of the stages of the Trivium, the student's natural inclination to pursue knowledge is celebrated and guided in appropriate and highly effective ways.

In the Grammar stage (elementary), students' abounding curiosity equips them to absorb and be able to recall astounding amounts of information. Through chants, songs, stories, recitations, oral presentations, and hands-on inquiry, they discover the truths about the world around them. Grammar students learn the rules of phonics, spelling, English and Latin grammar; how to compose a paragraph; the stories and events of the Bible, history, and classic literature; math facts and reasoning; descriptions of plants, animals, human beings, and the earth.

In the Logic stage (middle school), students' natural inclination to argue is directed toward productive and good ends. Through such things as the Socratic method, debate, and the study of logic, students are taught to discern truth. Logic students continue their study of Latin and begin Greek. They learn how to write essays; construct and evaluate arguments; compare and contrast events in the Bible and history or works of literature; employ mathematical reasoning; recognize the relations of cause and effect; and think scientifically.

Finally, in the Rhetoric stage (high school), students' natural desire for self-expression is directed in an even deeper way toward those things which are noble, right, pure, and lovely. Ample opportunities for essay writing and oratory help students learn not just to express themselves, but to express themselves well. Interaction with the finest and most beautiful of thought leads them not only to discern but also to desire truth. Rhetoric students continue Latin and Greek; read many of the great books often reserved for college-level students; discuss theology, politics, and ethics; write and defend theses; develop higher level mathematical reasoning; and design and report the findings of some of their own scientific experiments.

[From the website for Trinitas Classical School]


  • Resources


Trivium Education

Gnostic Media Network (Trivium)

Trivium Binder

Trivium Pursuit

Catholic Liberal Education (Resources).


Articles & Study Materials:

Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning -

Philosophy of Liberal Education (Online Archive) -


Gnostic Media Podcast - ,

The Next Step Podcast -

Peace Revolution -



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Article by: Kev

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