7 liberal arts

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Seven Liberal Arts

We all hear during our passing ceremony about the famous seven liberal arts and sciences and most of us remain with what the Senior Warden told them (at least in my present jurisdiction) during the second degree lecture. Despite the fact that the degree is conferred – allegedly – to mark your progress in science, no such progress is really required.

Sadly, I have never seen less progress than what we achieve in these “sciences”.

In the late medieval times when this concept of education was put together, it was meant to be for “free” (liber – Latin) young men and it was supposed to provide a useful corpus of knowledge that would encompass everything that was considered ‘human knowledge’ in 11th -12th century Europe. It was regarded as something useful and complex, preparing the young men for life, unlike today’s humanities, the late descendant of the medieval ‘liberal arts’ education.

In the lodge, we go quickly through the list (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, Astronomy), recite it more or less correctly, and after that, it is forgotten for good.

The question that every Mason should ask himself could be: what can I use today, in the 21st century out of these “ancient” disciplines; whether is there anything for us, speculative Masons, to be learned and applied in our everyday life and actions.

With this post, I am starting a series that will take a closer look at each of the seven liberal arts and sciences from a contemporary perspective – from a modern Freemason’s perspective, if you wish.

Before we dwell into the details of each of them… there is one issue we need to discuss, namely the order in the list. Some people think this order is arbitrary, without any importance, however, most scholars think there is a particular order how they are (or should be) listed: evolving from the simpler toward the more complicated or more encompassing ones, both in the Trivium and Quadrivium.

(Reminder: as we all learned at a time, the seven liberal arts and sciences are divided into two groups – the Trivium, the first three; and the Quadrivium, the next four.)

Trivium – it starts with the simple Grammar, the basic rules of human speech, then evolves to Rhetoric, the way how to use the speech to convince you audience; and the final discipline is the “logic” (also known as ‘dialectics’) a method to find the truth by presenting arguments [using rhetoric, which didn’t have any negative connotation at that time!], expressed by an impeccable usage of the language; i.e. knowing grammar.

Quadrivium – similarly, from the simple operations with numbers [Arithmetic] as we progress in sciences (anybody recalling the SW lecture?) we arrive at Geometry, a more advanced form or field of mathematics: learning the numbers of the spatial shapes. And then comes the Music, which is like numbers and proportions in time. Finally, the whole universe is being studied in Astronomy, which at the time was more like what we’d call ‘cosmology” today.

Regarding the last two, Music and Astronomy, there are some arguments to have them in the opposite order, based on the consideration that Music is the most abstract discipline dealing with numbers(?) above the concrete world found in the space, numbers in time.
7 liberal arts
I have two reasons to use this particular order: a more philosophical one and a practical one. The first one would argue that the universe, the ‘cosmos’ contains both space and time – as it was intended by its Great Architect, so Astronomy should be the all-encompassing last one. On a more practical note: that’s how they are listed in the official documents of my present jurisdiction.

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