In the last post of this series, Contemplating the Liberal Arts: Grammar, we discussed the liberal art of grammar and how the Ancient and Medieval educators approached it. The liberal art of grammar was such a refreshing and enlighting study for me. Through it I came to understand why Nietzsche said “I fear we still have God because we still have grammar.” Grammar is powerful. Grammar is about justifying the moral code God has placed in our hearts. If Nietzche were out to prove that God was not real then of course Nietzsche would see grammar abolished. As long as we are apprehending the logos through myth then there will always be a certainty of the reality of God the Creator and the Ideal type, our Lord Jesus Christ. Reading myth, stories, and the great books normatively are at the heart of grammar and is perfected in logic and rhetoric and so today we turn our attention to the second language art of the trivium, the liberal art of dialectic.
“And when the eye of the soul is really buried in a barbaric bog, dialectic gently draws it forth and leads it up above…” -Plato
When I first read this quote by Plato in Clark & Jain’s book, I rejoiced. I rejoiced because immediately I saw how it could be an answer to so many tensions we as humans face, especially the tensions that surface so profoundly during those transformative middle school years, but how does logic, also know as dialectic, do this?
First, it is important to realize that the liberal art of dialectic flows directly from the liberal art of grammar. In grammar, we are beholding the great books, myths, and stories of Western Civilization in the expectation that those stories would begin to inform our moral imaginations, thus initiating us into the western tradition. Grammar is closely related to ethics in that it “directs the will to do good.” (S.M. Joseph, The Trivium)
Sister Miriam Joseph tells us that dialectic is concerned with thought and that it directs the intellect to the truth. In dialectic, we are still beholding those same books, but now the student begins to apply a thought process, directed towards truth, to the books, ideas, and conversations surrounding the classical curriculum.
“We should note…it becomes clear that dialectic is the art of reasoning through the voluminous material encountered in a thorough musical and grammatical education.” -Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition
To get the feel for the nature of dialectic, consider the following: Dialectic is about opposites and wrestling, about humility and repentance, about harmony and purpose, and about asking questions in community.
Dialectic is about opposites and wrestling. The questions that surfaceduring dialectic discourse reveal tensions present in reality like good and evil, the real and the ideal, principles and particulars, present and future, or death and eternity. The student of dialectic is faced with taking up arms to wrestle through these contradictions and tensions.
Dialectic is about humility and repentance because one can only be successful in this wrestling match if they care more about discovering the truth than they do about being right. This, of course, means repenting when we see our thinking has been faulty and being gracious and loving when we see the faultiness in another’s thinking.
Dialectic is about harmony and purpose because on the other side of the wrestling match is resolution. The whole purpose of the wrestling match is that one would see the harmony between the opposites. This reality is most striking in Christ, who is the harmony between every tension, He, who makes all things new.
Dialectic is about asking questions in community because the dialectical process cannot be done in isolation. David Hicks tells us that classical education is defined and directed by a certain spirit of inquiry. Part of the requirement of that spirit of inquiry are the imaginative hypothesizes the student takes on. Hicks goes on to tell us that “He (the student) seldom chooses them (the imaginative hypothesizes, dogmas, or tensions); they are thrust upon him by his teachers, by the old writers, or by the very nature of life itself.” Clark & Jain have this to say about it.
“…for in the Dialogues (Plato’s Dialogues) we learn that philosophy takes place in conversation, not merely with the acquisition of the tools of formal logic. Reading Plato’s dialogues, we find that the key to success in reasoning is the ability to ask the right questions. Socrates models for us this notion of dialectic as the art of asking good questions in his relentless practice of refining and reframing the question.” -Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition
In completing our vision of what dialectic was to the Ancients and Medievals, it is important to know that the questions and conversations always adhered to a governing form. Initially, the form rested in Aristotle’s writings, where he named several tools, which were the beginnings of formal logic. The Medievals systematized and developed formal and material logic even further. It will be from these wells that the student will draw from to guide his dialectic conversations.
“This (dialectic) will certainly involve learning the rules of formal and material logic, but it will transcend them. Dialectic will engage the students in a discipline much like that of Plato’s Dialogues and Aquinas’s Summa: they will begin to participate, as it were, as an active and thoughtful listener in the conversation they have overheard throughout the course of their earlier education. The hope is that the student of dialectic will know which questions are worth asking, and which are worth answering.” -Clark & Jain, The Liberal Arts Tradition
So, what does this look like in the day to day curriculum? I believe the dialectic course of study includes three parts: great books, formal and material logic, and formal questions. While all three parts are dependent upon each other they can be listed individually.
1. The Great Books
This is the part that is a direct extension of the liberal art of grammar. Continue approaching the great books in the same way you did when the student’s education consisted mostly of grammar. Read them closely, continue learning the inflected languages, and continue growing in knowledge and understanding of the historical and cultural backdrops for the various books you read.
2. Formal and Material Logic
There are several modern logic curriculums you could choose from. Currently, we use The Fallacy Detective for our seventh grader and will move into Memoria Press‘ line of logic materials when we get to high school. I have also heard great things about Classical Academic Press and Logos Press. The hope here is that whatever you learn here would inform your discourse about the great books, history, and life. Students can begin judging the truthfulness of ideas and statements by applying their knowledge of the fallacies and syllogisms. They can also give greater form to their own reasoning about ideas as they wrestle through whatever tension or contradiction they face. Logic will become an invaluable tool in this way.
3. Formal Questions
This part is also an extension of the liberal art of grammar, but at this level the questions become more formal and intentional. The should question come to the forefront of the discourse and the five topics of invention should be a standard part of any discussion. It is the should question and the five topics of invention that allow the student to most easily challenge the “emerging wisdom of the myth” (Hicks, N&N) and support the inquiry into what questions are worth asking and what questions are worth answering (Clark & Jain). For a purely dialectical study, we use a lite version of the Lost Tools of Writing. Our focus is on invention and arrangement. Invention is modeled while together and the students continue on their own, through a variety of assignments. Arrangement is handled in a similar way.
It is vital that we make provision for the proper study of dialectic, for if we don’t we risk cutting the student off from transformative apprehension and the virtue that follows.
“Man’s knowledge is without value to him unless he reaches it dialectically – unless it animates his body, indwells his mind, and possesses his soul.”
Expanding Wisdom, extending grace,
What have you learned through the study of logic? How do you envision a dialectic course of study, as described above, orchestrated in your homeschool. Join the Conversation here.
Resources used in Research
The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education by Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric by Sister Miriam Joseph
Norms & Nobility: A Treatise on Education by David Hicks