From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Trivium (education))
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the educational syllabus. For the band, see Trivium (band). For other uses, see Trivium (disambiguation).

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. If the three steps are arranged any other way, the Trivium will not work as a method for deriving certainty. The word is a Latin term meaning "the three ways" or "the three roads" which lead to Truth. This forms the foundation of a medieval liberal arts education. This study was preparatory for the quadrivium, which consists of Arithmetic (number), Geometry (number in space), Music (number in time) and Astronomy (number in space and time). Combining the trivium and quadrivium results in the seven liberal arts of classical study. The trivium is implicit in the De nuptiis of Martianus Capella, although the term was not used until the Carolingian era when it was coined in imitation of the earlier quadrivium.[1] It was later systematized in part by Petrus Ramus as an essential part of Ramism. Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric were very important for a classical education, as clearly explained in Plato's dialogues. The three together were defined into one word during the Middle Ages but the tradition of learning these three first was well established in ancient Greece. Modern iterations have taken various forms, such as those found in certain British and American universities (see Classical education movement) and at the independent Oundle School, in the United Kingdom.


Grammar is the mechanics of a language. This is the step where one "comes to terms" by defining the objects and information around him that are coming in via the five senses. It is also where two people can "get on the same page". This is done by defining and then agreeing on the terms used to identify data received from the objective, outside world. (The Law of Identity: a tree is a tree and not a cat). This step can also be described as the "input stage" or "knowledge stage". Logic (or dialectic) is the "mechanics" of thought and analysis. This is the process of identifying fallacious arguments and statements and systematically removing the contradictions. This leaves a body of knowledge that is now able to be trusted. This is how the trivium leads to certainty. This step is also known as the "Processing" or, "Understanding stage". Rhetoric is the use of language to instruct and persuade. It is the knowledge (grammar) now understood (logic) being transmitted outward as wisdom (rhetoric). Sister Miriam Joseph described the three parts of the Trivium thus:

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

Another description is:

Grammar is concerned with the thing as-it-is-symbolized,
Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known, and
Rhetoric is concerned with the thing as-it-is-communicated.[2]

The study of grammar, logic 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".[3]

Just as the trivium is designed to precede the quadrivium, the three sectors that make up trivium are listed in a specifically indicated order. The transition from grammar to logic to rhetoric reflects the development of students as their education progresses. Hence, grammar comes first, indicating the fundamental studies of many different basic disciplines. Grammar provides the simplistic symbols necessary to communicate. Logic pertains to the more detailed stage when analytic questions begin to be pondered. Logic pieces together the symbols learned in the grammar stage. Lastly, rhetoric addresses the final culminating stage where the previous knowledge is brought to fruition. Rhetoric takes the comprehensive knowledge attained in the logic stage and manipulates it as a means to an end. The stages interact as they progress, but form a basic timeline of education. [4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henri-Irénée Marrou, "Les arts libéraux dans l'Antiquité classique", pp. 6–27 in Arts libéraux et philosophie au Moyen Âge, (Paris: Vrin / Montréal: Institut d'études médiévales), 1969, pp. 18–19.
  2. ^ Joseph, Sister Miriam (2002). The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Paul Dry Books, Inc. 
  3. ^ Ayto, John (1990). Dictionary of Word Origins. University of Texas Press. p. 542. ISBN 1-55970-214-1. 
  4. ^ Joseph, Sister Miriam (2002). The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. Paul Dry Books, Inc. 

Further reading[edit]

  • McLuhan, Marshall (2006) The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time (first publication of McLuhan's 1942 doctoral dissertation); Gingko Press ISBN 1-58423-067-3.
  • Robinson, Martin. "Trivium 21c: Preparing Young People for the Future with Lessons From the Past." London: Independent Thinking Press, 2013. ISBN 978-178135054-6
  • Sayers, Dorothy L., essay, "The Lost Tools of Learning", presented at Oxford, 1947.
  • Winterer, Caroline. "The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780–1910." Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

External links[edit]