Sayers’ Vision for Logic
In her seminal essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” the author Dorothy Sayers describes her understanding of the medieval scheme of education, specifically the Trivium — the three liberal arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. She argues that students in the Middle Ages were taught the proper use of the tools of learning by means of these arts. Of logic she says,
“Second, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument.”
As I have taught logic in the classroom, written logic texts (and blog posts), and spoken on logic and classical education around the world, I have regularly returned to this quote. It is for me perhaps the most useful sentence (of the 238 sentences) in the essay.
A Proper Pedagogical Progression
In this sentence Sayers explains what logic is for: logic teaches us how to use language. This reminds us that the liberal arts of the Trivium are language arts (whereas the Quadrivium are mathematical arts). Specifically, logic teaches us how to use the language of reasoning, of disputation and proof.
This sentence also describes a proper pedagogical progression of logic:
- We must start with terms: how to define them, relate them, and work with them, including understanding the value of defining terms.
- Terms are related in statements (categorical statements connect subject terms with the predicate terms). Logic teaches us “how to make accurate statements”; that is, how to make statements that are true and applicable, as well as understanding how we know that they are true, and how they relate to each other. It teaches how to do this with many different types of statements: simple and compound, categorical and hypothetical, immediate inferences, and so on. Terms are the building blocks of statements.
- Statements are the building blocks of arguments, as we connect premises together to draw conclusions. So logic teaches us “how to construct an argument”; that is, how to write a valid argument to establish a desired conclusion. It teaches how to do this with many types of arguments: categorical and propositional, conditional and disjunctive, symbolic arguments and arguments in normal English.
- Finally, logic teaches us “how to detect fallacies in argument,” both the formal fallacies from the rules of validity for categorical syllogisms and propositional arguments, and the informal fallacies of ordinary discourse, like circular reasoning and ad hominem. Logic teaches us not only to detect them, but to name them, and to expose them by means of counterexamples to those untrained in logic.
Were I to add one element to Sayers’ list, it would be “to construct a proof in a step-by-step, justified manner.” With this addition, every page, every concept of both Introductory and Intermediate Logic is covered in Sayers’ helpful description of what is encompassed in learning logic.
The following is a slightly edited version of a survey given me by Joshua Butcher – rhetoric instructor at Trinitas Christian School in Pensacola, Florida – regarding the teaching of rhetoric in a classical, Christian setting.
Josh: How long have you taught rhetoric in a classical education setting?
Jim: I taught Classical Rhetoric for 18 years at Logos School to 11th graders. I have also written a rhetoric text – Fitting Words: Classical Rhetoric for the Christian Student – and lectured through it.
Josh: What are the essentials of rhetoric that every classically educated student should have?
Jim: Do you mean, “What are the essential rhetorical skills that every classically educated student should seek to master?” Continue reading Rhetoric Interview
It is said that the key exercise of the Poll-parrot (grammar) stage is Latin Grammar, and of the Pert (dialectic) stage is Formal Logic. What is the key exercise of the Poetic (rhetoric) stage?
Thank you. Continue reading Extrapolating Sayers
The purpose of logic is to help students to be “masters of words in their intellects,” as Dorothy Sayers wrote, rather than “prey to words in their emotions.”
To this end, Introductory Logic teaches and trains students in four key skills: defining terms, making accurate statements, constructing arguments, and detecting fallacies in argument, the central concept being validity.
In anticipation of my soon-to-be-published rhetoric text, Fitting Words, I have decided to post each Monday my favorite commonplaces, scrounged and solicited over the past twenty years of teaching rhetoric. Each post will include two or three quotes on a given topic.
It is fitting that the topic of this first post be commonplaces about commonplaces.
“I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.” – Dorothy Sayers
“If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” – Dianna Booker
“Un bon mot ne prouve rien.” [“A witty saying proves nothing”] – Voltaire
“Two of the most cogent essays are ‘The Lost Tools of Learning’ and ‘The Teaching of Latin’, and it would be too much to hope that they will influence educational practice.”
— C. S. Lewis, review of Dorothy Sayers’ The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement
Sayers mentions film and radio. How much more relevant is her complaint in this day of TV and the Internet?
For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. – Dorothy Sayers