Daily Archives: September 6, 2017

The Genus & Species Tool

The purpose of classical education is to provide students with tools of learning. One of the most useful tools is the genus and species chart. I used this tool in every course I taught, including Logic, Rhetoric, Calculus, Physics, and Doctrine.

For example, when studying judicial rhetoric in Aristotle, I would follow his descriptions to construct the genus and species chart shown below, which shows the relationships between the seven causes of human actions:

Causes of actions chart

Aristotle argues that every human action is the result of one or more of these seven causes: habit, rational craving, anger, appetite (all voluntary actions – used for prosecution); chance, compulsion, nature (all involuntary actions – used for defense). This visual aid is much clearer than the wordy paragraph given in Aristotle’s Rhetoric text.

I used a similar chart in Calculus to show the arrangement between the types of elementary functions, in Physics for the various branches of physics, and in Doctrine for the “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” argument for the deity of Jesus. For example, the chart for the types of elementary functions looked like this:

When teaching this tool in Logic, one should insist on a clear dividing principle between species, to avoid species overlapping or being placed at the wrong level. In the above chart, the top dividing principle is “whether or not the action is due to oneself.” Under involuntary actions, the dividing principle between chance and necessity is “whether or not the cause is fixed and determined”; under necessity, the dividing principle between compulsion and nature is “whether it is external or internal.” Aristotle’s dividing principles between habit and craving or between anger and appetite are less clear, though the dividing principle under craving is obvious.

The Logic teacher not only presents this tool for use in other subjects, but also in teaching Logic itself. Formal Logic is the “master faculty” of the dialectic stage, and as such it not only teaches the tools of logic, but demonstrates how to use them in teaching. For example, I used the tool of genus and species in my Logic class when I taught the difference between supported  and self-supporting statements. The dividing principle is “how the truth value is determined.”

I would encourage logic teachers to use this tool often, both to present the lesson clearly and to train the students in its proper use. Logic teachers should also encourage their colleagues to use this tools for their students at this stage.