Thursday, March 06, 2014


Stratford Caldecott's piece The Question of Purpose reframes the Medieval Trivium and Quadrivium in a way that is truly generative. His insights into grammar are particularly telling, and I would like to particularly expand on those insights.

Caldecott points out that "“Grammar” goes to the very root of our existence, the source of our being." It is not just the underlying structure of language.If we understand what grammar is, we can understand how true Caldecott's statement is.

Let us look at the structure of a sentence -- any sentence in any language:

Subject -- Verb -- Object

Though the order differs in many languages, the fact is that each of these elements are necessarily present, either explicitly or implicitly.

We can see, too, that all actions have the same grammatical structure:

Subject -- Action -- Object

A subject is acting on an object. Verbs of course are action words. Even linking verbs are in fact actions if we understand that objects necessarily are self-acted to maintain existence. There is an internal action of self-maintenance, from atoms to living cells to minds to societies. This is what gives each thing qualities.

From this we can see the grammar underlying logic (logos):

All men are mortal (men/human beings have an internal quality resulting in mortality)
Socrates is a man. (Socrates has an internal quality that makes him a human being)
Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (Socrates shares the qualities of other human beings)

Caldecott also includes stories as being grammatical -- something I discussed at length in my Ph.D. dissertation, Evolutionary Aesthetics.

Thus, grammar helps us to understand language, to understand stories (mythos), to understand human action, and to understand grammar.

But ethicists have also discovered that morals have a grammar, too. Thus, Caldecott's rhetoric-as-ethics is clarified through an understanding of grammar.

But what about the Quadrivium? Well, the first thing one could point out is -- as Caldecott himself observes -- that music has grammatical structure as well.

Since math follows the rules of logic, math, too must therefore be grammatical. The = sign is identical with the word "is".

Geometry is the practical practice of arithmetics, so if math is grammatical, then so, too, must be geometry. And finally, "astronomy" -- of which we ought to take the largest view possible, and call it "physics" which, as physika, includes the study of all of nature -- being the practical practice of music (which is really the study of movement, of change), is therefore also grammatical in nature.

If our very thinking, our very actions, our very communications are all grammatically structured, then it would certainly behoove us to understand grammar quite well. But perhaps this might be a quite different grammar -- a truly deep grammar -- we ought to study and learn about.
Post a Comment