Trivium 21c – First Thoughts

I’m reading Martin Robinson’s “Trivium 21c” – apparently propounding adoption of the classical Trivium for the 21st century, so far anyway.

As is my wont, after a scan of contents and a read of introductory chapters I’m posting my early thoughts, so I can more honestly talk about new learning vs existing reinforcement later.

First impression is the parallel to Pirsig’s journey again. A schoolteacher who despite early obvious intellect was a misfit in their own schooling and early career, before becoming a teacher – Drama in Robinson’s case, Rhetoric in Pirsig’s – went on to deploy methods considered radical in their approach to teaching. In both cases they went back to school and wrote an archeology of their journey involving going back to basics with the ancient Greeks.

In fact the subtitle of Trivium 21c is “Preparing young people for the future with lessons from the past”. Very personal lessons.

The second aspect I like is the content-process split in thinking, and the emphasis on the process and action side of the balance. How we think, learn, know and do being more significant than what. What I learned here is the split of the classical “seven liberal arts” constitutes a quadrivium of what and a trivium of how.

  • Liberal Arts 7
  • Quadrivium – 4 kinds of content
    (originally arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy)
  • Trivium – 3 ways of using content
    (originally grammar, dialectic and rhetoric)

Now in terms of definition and understanding these classical liberal arts are already evolved from – not the same as – ancient Greek equivalents, and clearly we need to update what we mean now in the 21st century. Presumably that’s what the rest of the book is about, certainly as far as the process Trivium is concerned. We can take it as read that the content Quadrivium of human knowledge has evolved..

I’m already pushing rehabilitation of the value of rhetoric and dialogue to offset the destructive effect of dialectic and argument. Nothing metaphysical so far in terms of how this ontology of “the arts” relates to fundamentals, but early days. The “rt” in art and in craft is another fundamental aspect of Pirsig. Any way, for now, interesting to scan the references and index:

The bibliography is huge and full of many usual suspects.

Love the fact that Douglas (DNA) Adams features very early on. Despite the Pirsig parallels, no reference to Pirsig but Mortimer Adler, Pirsig’s nemesis, and Matt Crawford, one who picked-up Pirsig’s baton are intriguing. David Deutsch but no Dan Dennett. Dawkins but no Pinker. Toulmin but no McIntyre. McGilchrist, McLuhan, Haidt, (Allan) Bloom, fascinating, though no sense of positive or negative references yet.

I’m looking forward to this.


Also published on Medium.

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