Critical Thinking

You may wonder why we often mention the Seven Liberal Arts.

To most people they represent a form of ancient learning that only privileged folk were privy to – but that is where you are mistaken.

In the previous article Seven Liberal Arts, we looked at some explanations of three widely asked questions – why ‘seven‘, why ‘liberal‘ and why ‘arts‘?

Three short videos explain these questions simply and concisely.

So, now you know what they are but do you know what can you do with them?

It may look complicated and ‘antiquated‘ at first but as with all things, the explanations and applications can be broken down into bite-size chunks.

Firstly, we have the Trivium which is the first group of arts, unsurprisingly relating to ‘three’ subjects – ‘trivium’ means ‘three paths’.


Grammar is the art of inventing symbols and combining them to express thought; logic is the art of thinking; and rhetoric is the art of communicating thought from one mind to another, the adaptation of language to circumstance. — Sister Miriam Joseph, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric (2002)

The Trivium teaches us: How to think, not what to think


  1. Grammar: the study of words, language and communication – the art of combining letters, sounds and words; defining and establishing the norms of words and language. This all relies on input – data or information gathering without prejudice or bias – ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’.
  1. Logic: the study of reasoning – the art of thinking and sorting information; the analysis and appraisal of arguments; validating the premise and conclusion. It is the processing, analysis and understanding – of having curiosity and sound reasoning – the ‘Why’?
  1. Rhetoric: the study and art of communication/persuasive reasoning – it is the culmination of mastering the previous two arts of Grammar – communication, and Logic – thinking. This allows us to express a logic-based thesis, concept or idea – the ‘How’.


It is a given that the Trivium arts are to be studied before moving onto the Quadrivium – for medieval students of the liberal arts, it was the equivalent of an undergraduate course.

The Quadrivium – ‘four’ arts – it’s all about numbers and the study of pattern recognition in science and nature:


  1. Arithmetic: the study of numbers
  1. Geometry: the study of numbers in space
  1. Music: the study of numbers in time/interval (harmony/ratio)
  1. Astronomy: the study of numbers in space and time

This is a superb video by Suburban Homestead Outfitters, which simply and eruditely sums up how we can use the seven liberal arts in the methodology of critical thinking.

In the video the presenter makes the crucial point that: ‘today instead of a logic-based culture, we have become an emotional-based culture subject to the influence of carefully crafted manipulation designed to target primal desires and emotions over our intellect’.

This is something we are faced with on a daily or even hourly basis when we watch the news, read a paper or magazine, or scroll through social media – every headline, every post, every Twitter feed, is guaranteed to elicit a response.

We spend a vast amount of our lives these days in a heady mix or confusion, frustration, anger, or just plain feeling offended.

Often we don’t even read the article/post or listen to the full report because our primal emotion-based brain has already gone into full flow.

We are not engaging critical thinking, or if we are, we may then be employing confirmation bias, logical fallacies, or cognitive dissonance and we end up having conflicting or biased assumptions (and feelings!) OK, too many confusing words?

Confirmation bias: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.


Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.


Cognitive bias: an umbrella term that refers to the systematic ways in which the context and framing of information influence individuals’ judgment and decision-making.



So, how do we learn to make sound judgements from the information we are given?

Critical Thinking – the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.


  1. Gather your data – without prejudice/bias – whether that is the written word or through speech/language (Grammar)
  1. Analyse and sort the data – eliminate contradiction and cross-reference to identify facts (Logic)
  1. Express effectively what has been gathered, analysed, and validated in a logical-based explanation (Rhetoric)

So, as an example of how to combine the Trivium lessons – if I wanted to give a lecture, I would:


  1. Research my subject, gathering information from books, articles, research papers etc; talking to others or watching/listening to media (Grammar)
  1. Sort through all that information, analyse it to find out which of it is factual or mere conjecture. I would cross-reference and validate my findings, thus ensuring a result free from any biases or fallacies (Logic)
  1. Finally after gathering and analysing my data (combining 1 & 2 above), I can give a factual, logic-based, organised speech, with a sound premise and conclusion (Rhetoric)

Studying and applying the liberal arts can help you in daily life, be it work, study, finances, and relationships. They can teach you how to:


  • ask good questions
  • formulate good answers
  • conduct research and organize that material effectively
  • write and communicate effectively
  • be creative in thinking and doing
  • problem solve – use pattern recognition and numerical skills
  • engage in critical and reflective reading skills
  • give constructive feedback and criticism
  • analyse information and data without bias
  • make your point clearly and coherently
  • be respectful of others’ viewpoints
  • have independent judgement
  • make ethical decisions
  • manage time, meet goals and deadlines, complete projects
  • be self-confident and independent

Remember –  knowledge (arts) can set you free (libre)!

Article by: Philippa Lee

Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.

Philippa was initiated into the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) in 2014.

Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt.  Selection of Books Online at Amazon



Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology


The quadrivium-the classical curriculum-comprises the four liberal arts of number, geometry, music, and cosmology.

It was studied from antiquity to the Renaissance as a way of glimpsing the nature of reality. Geometry is number in space; music is number in time; and cosmology expresses number in space and time.

Number, music, and geometry are metaphysical truths: life across the universe investigates them; they foreshadow the physical sciences.

Quadrivium is the first volume to bring together these four subjects in many hundreds of years.

Composed of six successful titles in the Wooden Books series-Sacred Geometry, Sacred Number, Harmonograph, The Elements of Music, Platonic & Archimedean Solids, and A Little Book of Coincidence-it makes ancient wisdom and its astonishing interconnectedness accessible to us today.


The Trivium:
The Liberal Arts of
Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric


Who sets language policy today? Who made whom the grammar doctor? Lacking the equivalent of l’Académie française, we English speakers must find our own way looking for guidance or vindication in source after source.

McGuffey’s Readers introduced nineteenth-century students to “correct” English. Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and William Safire’s column, “On Language,” provide help on diction and syntax to contemporary writers and speakers.

Sister Miriam Joseph’s book, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, invites the reader into a deeper understanding—one that includes rules, definitions, and guidelines, but whose ultimate end is to transform the reader into a liberal artist.

A liberal artist seeks the perfection of the human faculties. The liberal artist begins with the language arts, the trivium, which is the basis of all learning because it teaches the tools for reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Thinking underlies all these activities. Many readers will recognize elements of this book: parts of speech, syntax, propositions, syllogisms, enthymemes, logical fallacies, scientific method, figures of speech, rhetorical technique, and poetics.

The Trivium, however, presents these elements within a philosophy of language that connects thought, expression, and reality.


The Elements of Rhetoric —
How to Write and Speak Clearly and Persuasively:
A Guide for Students, Teachers, Politicians & Preachers

The Elements of Rhetoric offers a concise, comprehensive course in the rules for making your point stick.

With copious examples from such masters of language as Cicero, Augustine, Shakespeare, Erasmus, Lincoln, Dickens, Newman, Chesterton, and Lewis, you will discover the 26 rules of persuasion and learn to apply them.

Among the Elements you’ll find:
–The three modes of persuasion
–How to structure an academic essay
–How to spot and avoid logical fallacies
–How to compose with literary figures
–Practical tips for improving speed in composition
–A Study Guide with exercises

This is the essential guide to persuasive writing and speaking, in the tradition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.



The Trivium in College Composition and Reading


Full facsimile of the original edition, not reproduced with Optical Recognition Software.

The “Trivium” is a systematic method of critical thinking for deriving certainty from any information coming into the mind via the five senses.

In medieval universities, the Trivium comprised the three subjects that were taught first, specifically in this order: grammar, logic and rhetoric.

While most textbooks are lucky to enjoy a shelf life of three or four years, “The Trivium” followed a different path.

In 1947, when Columbia University Press published her celebrated dissertation, “Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language,” Sister Miriam Joseph’s previously published textbook gained wider notice.

And since then, The “Trivium” continues to be rediscovered by new generations of writers and teachers.

This dense, authoritative textbook takes all of Aristotle’s teachings on logic, grammar, and rhetoric, and some of his teachings of poetics, adds some of the insights gained in the subsequent centuries, and presents it in a well-organized flow.


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