The seven liberal arts to liberate us from ignorance

The trivium and quadrivium

  1. Grammar
  2. logic
  3. Rhetoric
  4. arithmetic
  5. geometry
  6. music
  7. astronomy

The Seven Liberal Arts And Sciences,

Which are Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy, are here illustrated. Grammar is the science which teaches us to express our ideas in appropriate words, which we may afterward beautify and adorn by means of Rhetoric; while Logic instructs us how to think and reason with propriety, and to make language subordinate to thought. Arithmetic, which is the science of computing by numbers, is absolutely essential, not only to a thorough knowledge of all mathematical science, but also to a proper pursuit of our daily avocations. Geometry, or the application of Arithmetic to sensible quantities, is of all sciences the most important, since by it we are enabled to measure and survey the globe that we inhabit. Its principles extend to other spheres; and, occupied in the contemplation and measurement of the sun, moon, and heavenly bodies, constitute the science of Astronomy; and, lastly, when our minds are filled, and our thoughts enlarged, by the contemplation of all the wonders which these sciences open to our view, Music comes forward, to soften our hearts and cultivate our affections by its soothing influences.


Is the key by which alone the door can be opened to the understanding of speech. It is Grammar which reveals the admirable art of language, and unfolds its various constituent parts—its names, definitions, and respective offices; it unravels, as it were, the thread of which the web of speech is composed. These reflections seldom occur toany one before their acquaintance with the art; yet it is most certain that, without a knowledge of Grammar, it is very difficult to speak with propriety, precision, and purity.


Is that science which directs us how to form clear and distinct ideas of things, and thereby prevents us from being misled by their similitude or resemblance. Of all the human sciences, that concerning man is certainly most worthy of the human mind, and the proper manner of conducting its several powers in the attainment of truth and knowledge. This science ought to be cultivated as the foundation or ground-work of our inquiries; particularly in the pursuit of those sublime principles which claim our attention as Masons.


It is by Rhetoric that the art of speaking eloquently is acquired. To be an eloquent speaker, in the proper sense of the word, is far from being either a common or an easy attainment: it is the art of being persuasive and commanding; the art, not only of pleasing the fancy, but of speaking both to the understanding and to the heart.



Is the art of numbering, or that part of the mathematics which considers the properties of numbers in general. We have but a very imperfect idea of things without quantity, and as imperfect of quantity itself, without the help of Arithmetic. All the works of the Almighty are made in number, weight, and measure; therefore, to understand them rightly, we ought to understand arithmetical calculations; and the greater advancement we make in the mathematical sciences, the more capable we shall be of considering such things as are the ordinary objects of our conceptions, and be thereby led to a more comprehensive knowledge of our great Creator and the works of the creation.


Treats of the powers and properties of magnitudes in general, where length, breadth, and thickness are considered—from a point to a line, from a line to a superfices, and from a superfices to a solid.

A point is the beginning of all geometrical matter.

A line is a continuation of the same.

A superfices is length and breadth, without a given thickness.

A solid is length and breadth, with a given thickness, which forms a cube, and comprehends the whole.


By this science, the architect is enabled to construct his plans and execute his designs; the general, to arrange his soldiers; the engineer, to mark out grounds for encampments; the geographer, to give us the dimensions of the world, and all things therein contained; to delineate the extent of seas, and specify the divisions of empires, kingdoms, and provinces. By it, also, the astronomer is enabled to make his observations, and to fix the duration of times and seasons, years and cycles. In fine, Geometry is the foundation of architecture, and the root of the mathematics.

The contemplation of this science, in a moral and comprehensive view, fills the mind with rapture. To the true geometrician, the regions of matter with which he is surrounded afford ample scope for his admiration, while they open a sublime field for his inquiry and disquisition.

Every particle of matter on which he treads, every blade of grass which covers the field, every flower which blows, and every infect which wings its way in this expanded space, proves the existence of a First Cause, and yields pleasure to the intelligent mind.

The symmetry, beauty, and order displayed in the various parts of the animate and inanimate creation, is a pleasing and delightful theme, and naturally leads to the source whence the whole is derived. When we bring within the focus of the eye the variegated carpet of the terrestrial theater, and survey the progress of the vegetative system, our admiration is justly excited. Every plant which grows, every flowering shrub which breathes its sweets, affords instruction and delight. When we extend our views to the animal creation, and contemplate the varied clothing of every species, we are equally struck with astonishment. And when we trace the lines of geometry drawn by the Divine pencil in the beautiful plumage of the feathered tribe, how exalted is our conception of the heavenly work! The admirable structure of plants and animals, and the infinite number of fibers and vessels which run through the whole, with the apt disposition of one part to another, is a perpetual subject of study to the geometrician, who, while he adverts to the changes which all undergo in their progress to maturity, is lost in rapture and veneration of the Great Cause which governs the system.

When he descends into the bowels of the earth, and explores the kingdom of ores, minerals, and fossils, he finds the same instances of Divine Wisdom and Goodness displayed in their formation and structure: every gem and pebble proclaims the handiwork of an Almighty Creator.

When he surveys the watery elements, and directs his attention to the wonders of the deep, with all the inhabitants of the mighty ocean, he perceives emblems of the same supreme intelligence. The scales of the largest fish, as well as the penciled shell of the minutest bivalve, equally yield a theme for his contemplation, on which he fondly dwells, while the symmetry of their formation, and the delicacy of their tints, evince the wisdom of the Divine Artist.

When he exalts his view to the more noble and elevated parts of Nature, and surveys the celestial orbs, how much greater is his astonishment! If, on the principles of geometry and true philosophy, he contemplate the sun, the moon, the stars, and the whole concave of heaven, his pride will be humbled, while he is lost in awful admiration of the Maker. The immense magnitude of those bodies, the regularity and velocity of their motions, and the inconceivable extent of space through which they move, are equally wonderful and incomprehensible, so as to baffle his most daring conceptions, while he labors in considering the immensity of the theme!


Is that elevated science which affects the passions by sound. There are few who have not felt its charms, and acknowledged its expression to be intelligible to the heart. It is a language of delightful sensations, far more eloquent than words; it breathes to the ear the clearest intimations; it touches and gently agitates the agreeable and sublime passions; it wraps us in melancholy, and elevates us in joy; it dissolves and inflames; it melts us in tenderness, and excites us to war. This science is truly congenial to the nature of man; for by its powerful charms the most discordant passions may be harmonized, and brought into perfect unison; but it never sounds with such seraphic harmony as when employed in singing hymns of gratitude to the Creator of the universe.


Is that sublime science which inspires the contemplative mind to soar aloft, and read the wisdom, strength, and beauty of the great Creator in the heavens. How nobly eloquent of the Deity is the celestial hemisphere!—spangled with the most magnificent heralds of his infinite glory! They spear-to the whole universe; for there is no speech so barbarous, but their language is understood; nor nation so distant, but their voices are heard among them.

The heavens proclaim the glory of GOD;
The firmament declareth the works of his hands.

Assisted by Astronomy, we ascertain the laws which govern the heavenly bodies, and by which their motions are directed; investigate the power by which they circulate in their orbs, discover their size, determine their distance, explain their various phenomena, and correct the fallacy of the senses by the light of truth.

A Gentleman’s Introduction To The Seven Liberal Arts Universal Wisdom From Plato through the 20th Century


The ancient Greek and Roman civilizations were periods of rapid cultural growth and advancement. Over two thousand years ago, these cultures developed an education system that persisted until the 20th century. Known as the liberal arts, they were the essential tools a free person (from the Latin liberalis: “worthy of a free person”) must know to become a functioning member of society.

The importance of a liberal arts education was known from before the time of Christ until the turn of the 20th century. While modern democracy is a failed institution, especially in contrast with benevolent monarchy, it is possible that with a well educated populace, democracy could work. The liberal arts represented this basic level of education, and comprised seven different fields, which will be briefly examined here.


The Seven Liberal Arts, Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi (1406-1486)

The liberal arts can be traced to Plato, who thoroughly prescribed them in perhaps his most famous work, The Republic. Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, stated that an educated man should be capable of considering and investigating any idea or concept thoroughly without necessarily embracing or dismissing it. Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher who lived from 4 BC to 65 AD, and advisor to Emperor Nero, was a strong advocate of the liberal arts.

The Stoics, founded in the 3rd century BC in Athens, believed in a rational outlook on life, that harmful emotions stem from errors in judgment and reasoning, and stressed the importance of maintaining a will in accord with nature, and that one’s actions should be judged more importantly than one’s speech. Logic was an important component of a successful man, and “virtue consists in a will that is in agreement with nature.”  In the realm of interpersonal relationships, one is stressed to “be free from anger, envy, and jealousy.”

The liberal arts also were emphasized heavily in Hellenistic Greece, described as the “enkuklios paideia” or “education in a circle.” They were divided into four scientific arts—music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy, and three humanities—grammar, logic, and rhetoric. These were divided into two main groups: The Trivium, representing the three humanities, was taught first as a framework for observing and understanding what the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell were perceiving.

The Quadrivium was the upper division and included the four scientific arts. Together, the seven liberal arts represent the thinking skills, and served as a basis for the education of all. Those who wished to specialize would first obtain an education in the liberal arts before proceeding to the practical arts (medicine, architecture) or other fields such as philosophy or theology.


The purpose of learning the arts is to train the mind how to think (as opposed to what to think).  By combining the seven liberal arts with the five senses, one can distinguish between reality and fiction. This can be visually represented with a Pythagorean triangle.

The Humanities (The Trivium)


The Trivium (literally, the place where three roads meet), known as the elementary three, represent the basic tools needed and was taught before the Quadrivium. The word trivia (tri=3 via=road) comes directly from the trivium. The trivium includes General Grammar, Formal Logic, and Rhetoric. While technically simpler than the more advanced subjects in the Quadrivium, many flaws in logic and reasoning can be traced back to failure to adequately learn the basics found in the Trivium.

Grammar is the systematic method of gathering raw data and ordering the facts of reality into a consistent body of knowledge. Grammar includes the mechanics of language, properly identifying and describing information perceived by the five senses.

Logic or Dialectic is the mechanics of thought and analysis, the process of identifying fallacies or errors in reasoning, and removing contradictions.

Rhetoric or Wisdom is the application of language in order to persuade.

[1] General Grammar [2] Formal Logic [3] Classical Rhetoric
Answers the question of the Who, What, Where, and the When of a subject. Answers the Why of a subject. Provides the How of a subject.
Discovering and ordering facts of reality comprises basic, systematic knowledge. Developing the faculty of reason in establishing valid [i.e., non-contradictory] relationships among facts is systematic understanding. Applying knowledge and understanding expressively comprises wisdom or, in other words, it is systematically useable knowledge and understanding.

The Scientific Arts (The Quadrivium)

The scientific arts include music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. After learning the basic skills of the Trivium, which are applicable to all other studies, the scientific arts known as the Quadrivium would be studied. The Quadrivium “place where four roads meet” include arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.


Arithmetic is the study of the number, a pure abstraction outside of space and time.  It is the study of quantities.

Geometry is a number in space, the study of magnitude at rest.

Music is a number in time; the application of the theory of numbers. It is the study of the relations between quantities.

Astronomy is a number in space and time. It is the study of magnitude inherently moving.

The Seven Combined

Grammar   =  Knowledge        = What?

Logic         =   Reason             = Why?

Rhetoric    =   Communication = How?

Arithmetic =   Formal               = Do

Geometry =   Visual                 = See

Music       =   Artistic                = Feel

Astronomy= Exploration          = Seek

By developing these basic skills, men would have the basic tools they needed to live a fulfilling and satisfying life, and to explore their emotions, dreams, ambitions, and desires.

Two Thousand Years Of Liberal Arts

In ancient Greece, all free men were expected to obtain a basic liberal arts education. Women received a limited public education which focused on physical fitness, how to sing, dance, and play instruments. These were not seen as “childish endeavors” but indeed a strict and formal education system was established that provided a complementary, but important role in society, a foil to the men who were trained in logic and reason.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the entirety of human knowledge was consolidated into a series of volumes known as the “encyclopedia” which translates as “complete instruction or complete knowledge.” Almost every major culture over the past 2,000 years has adopted the seven liberal arts. The Fellowcraft Degree commands all Freemasons to study them, and indeed much of Freemasonry is based upon principles found in the seven.