Aristotle, Rhetoric, and Freedom

I’ve been arguing for some time through this blog that we cannot be free people if we don’t master the arts of freedom, which were known historically as the liberal arts (not the modern evasion often called “general studies”). To Aristotle, freedom depended on people’s ability to communicate freely and effectively. So he wrote a handbook on rhetoric, which begins like this:

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others.

The other day I quoted Adler to the effect that everybody is a citizen and a philosopher. I would add that to the extent we deny these roles, we are slaves.

If we do not participate in the governance of ourselves, our families, and our communities, we cannot be free people.

If we do not learn to think with our own minds, making decisions based on sound principles and seeking truth because it is good, we belong to the people who do this thinking for us.

Aristotle underscores this truth by emphasizing that rhetoric (our civic faculty) and dialectic (our philosophical faculty) are universal arts. We are all responsible for our use of them. If we neglect them, we are not free people and frankly don’t deserve to be free people.

It follows that a great way to eliminate freedom is to involve people so deeply in their work, school, or voluntary associations (that just triggered a really disturbing page I read in a book about Bolshevism – I’ll try to find and post it tomorrow) that they have no time to participate in government or philosophy.

If you love freedom, please devote yourself to the study of Greek so you can remind us about what we’ve lost. Odysseus poked out my eye and I’m afraid I’ve gone from no perspective all the way to blind.

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Latin is Practical

At least, it is if you value thinking. Here’s RM Wenley from the University of Michigan, in an essay called The Nature of Culture Studies.

Ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it.

He continues by quoting Mr. Shorey of Chicago (Paul, I believe), who insisted quite strongly on the importance of Latin studies for thinking purposes:

I am cynically skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.

Then Wenley picks up the argument again:

I draw proof from my own experience. The most effective masters of the “positive” sciences known to me personally are invariably the men who have first acquired the mental organziation which the culture studies [i.e. Latin and Greek classics] confer; of this fact they are quite aware themselves. A creed was impressed upon them in these early years; not simply work, and still work, but work in a certain fashion. They gained connective processes; thereafter the rest is, not only easier, but immensely more efficient.

These passages from a speech delivered just prior to 1911 bring to mind Dorothy Sayers fervent defense of Latin in her Lost Tools of Learning essay, where she said,

If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of teh greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.

Or these words from CS Lewis:

Hardly any lawful price would seem to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek.

For myself, I can only say that the best training I have ever received was that time spent with my Greek New Testament in front of me and Young’s Concordance, Vine’s dictionary, Arndt and Gingrich, an analytical lexicon and whatever else I could get my hands on me spread out over my desk, bed, and floor. I wnated to understand the text. Through the intensity of my study, I learned how to think.

But I know only too well, from the taste I received, both how valuable the intellectual training is, and how much I would have benefited from more of it.

There is quite simply no substitute for Latin and Greek studies for people who want trained intellects, mature minds, and practical intellectual skills. Please teach them in your schools, whatever it costs.

 

Kopff Defends Classical Educaton

My good friend Christian Kopf has written another tour de force defending a classical education. Take a look HERE.

The inability of our leaders to think soundly and speak persuasively affects all of us, because their decisions affect all of us. Leaders of a regime based on consensual institutions need the full panoply of verbal ability…

In Real Education, Charles Murray sees the direct connection between “correct understanding of the meaning of individual words,” grammar and syntax, “mastery of the rules of reasoning” and finally “understanding the principles of rhetoric.” This connected and coherent verbal curriculum is the late ancient and medieval trivium—grammar, logic and rhetoric—that survived in the Humanist curriculum that was then developed by the Reformers for Protestant countries and by the Jesuits in Catholic lands. (The quadrivium includes the non-verbal arts of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.)

It is the curriculum that created the modern world. It has been revived and is fundamental for contemporary Classical educators. They know a lesson that was accepted for centuries and is now ignored at enormous academic cost. Grammar is fundamental for other important intellectual activities.

 

Why we teach Latin (one little reason)

This from The Nature of Culture Studies, by RM Wenley, University of Michigan:

Accuracy of mental operation does not come with memorizing linguistic forms and rules. Here our culture study friends frequently fool themselves. Nevertheless, ability to write decent Latin prose, with dictionary at elbow, simply cannot be acquired without at the same time inducing the kind of mental organization which at length enables a man to go anywhere and do anything, as a great general phrased it. My brilliant colleague, Mr. Shorey, of Chicago, lays his finger on the point when he says:

I am cyncially skeptical about students who cannot understand elementary Latin syntax, but distinguish themselves in mathematics, exact science, or political economy. The student who is really baffled by the elementary logical analysis of language may be a keen observer, a deft mathematician, an artistic genius–he will never be an analytic thinker.

You can read this passage in an extraordinary work from 1911 called Latin and Greek in American Education, edited by Francis Kelsey. Look for more quotations from time to time.