A Handbook of the Liberal Arts
Benedict M. Ashley, O.P.

with the collaboration of the staffs of the
Dubuque - 1958
© Benedict Ashley, O.P.

Dedication and Acknowledgements
Foreword to Teachers
INTRODUCTION: The Story of the Liberal Arts

PART ONE: Logic as an Art

CHAPTER I: Poetics: The Art of Storytelling
CHAPTER II: Dialectics and Rhetoric: Arts of Discussion and Persuasion
CHAPTER III: Dialectics and Demonstrative Logic: Scientific Method
CHAPTER IV: The Appreciation of Complete Works of Liberal Art

PART TWO: The Fine Arts

CHAPTER I: The Matter of Works of Fine Art
CHAPTER II: The Form of Works of Fine Art
CHAPTER III: The Purpose of Works of Fine Art
CHAPTER IV: The Efficient Cause of Works of Fine Art

PART THREE: Mathematics as a Liberal Art

CHAPTER I: The Science of Numbers
CHAPTER II: The Science of Magnitudes
CHAPTER III: Mathematics Pure and Applied
CHAPTER IV: Wider Vistas in Mathematics

PART FOUR: Examples and Analyses

Section I: Some Standard Examples of the Kinds of Discourse
Section II: The Study of Words
Section III: The Use of the Categories in Grammar and Definition
Section IV: Sample Analyses of Poetic Forms
Section V: Sample Analyses of Rhetorical Forms
Section VI: Examples of Dialectical Forms
Section VII: Examples of Scientific Demonstrations

Sancto Alberto Magno
Omnium Scientiarum et Artium

The author wishes gratefully to acknowledge the very kind encouragement and assistance given him In preparing this book by the Very Reverend John E. Marr, O.P. Provincial of the Province of St. Albert the Great the Very Reverend Sebastian L. Carlson, O.P. Regent of Studies of the Dominican House of Studies, River Forest, Illinois and the Very Reverend William H. Kane, O.P. Director of the Albertus Magnus Lyceum. Very special thanks are due to the Center for Liberal Studies in Education of St. Xavier College. Chicago, conducted by the Religious Sisters of Mercy of the Union In the U.S.A., Chicago Province. This Center through its Curriculum Committee for Secondary Schools and through the Department of English of St. Xavier College, has provided the author with invaluable practical counsel, patient assistance In the preparation of parts of the manuscript. and many opportunities to experiment with this critical analysis program in St. Xavier College, and several of its associated high schools. I wish also to thank Brother Joachim Thiel, O.P. and Mr. Dowayne La Porte for their assistance with the manuscript. Passages from the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine translation of the Sacred Scriptures are quoted with the kind permission of the officials of the Confraternity. Other quoted material is acknowledged in the footnotes.

Foreword to Teachers

A democratic society is based an the conviction that modern culture with its accumulation of knowledge. Its instruments of research, record, and communication. and Its leisure provided by an industrial economy is able to make every normal adult a direct participant in the life of the intellect.

Education for this life of the intellect should continue through the lifetime of every member of a democratic society, since we can always advance in this world. Nevertheless, this lifetime education is divided into two distinct phases, the stage of formal schooling and the later stage of informal adult-education.

At present for the majority of our citizens the dividing line between these two phases of education is drawn at the completion of a high school program. For those who go on to college, the freshman year is commonly devoted to a review and completion of this high school program. It is obvious that the main content of education cannot be mastered in so short a period. Only in a traditional society, where there is a fixed body of information and attitudes, could the substance of education be transmitted briefly and early in life. In a modern democratic society, knowledge cannot have such a fixed form; even its content of permanent truth is subject to constant adaptation and reformulation.

Therefore: those who conceive of the high school program in terms of a body of information to be inculcated and who make high school education into a pocket edition of college education. emphasizing surveys of facts or the acquisition of some particular vocational skill do not understand the needs and opportunities of our times.

The chief task of the high school is, on the contrary, to equip the student with a developed ability to learn on his own. Not every citizen, to be sure, needs to be a discoverer of new truth -- research is the task of special professions; but every citizen must be able, without the formal and immediate direction of a teacher. to make use of the knowledge already acquired by society. Otherwise he will not be able to enlarge the fixed and meager content of his high school education, nor to sift truth from falsehood in the things he hears and reads.

Realizing this, progressive educators have attempted to make our high schools into places in which the acquisition of the ability to learn is emphasized, rather than the absorption of information. Nevertheless, for many reasons their efforts have proved ineffectual and have given ample cause for reactionary criticism. Among the reasons for this failure, the chief, it would seem, has been the notion that we can train people to learn informally by making learning informal. School life becomes as amorphous as the adult life which the student must learn to reduce to order. In what other field would we proceed by such a method? The practice of a doctor is filled with informal learning, but he is able to profit by it precisely because he has been given a rigorously formal advance training.

The rigorous formal training which equips the student to learn informally in later life is obtained through a study of the liberal arts, that is, of those subjects whose very purpose is to enable us to perform the generalized mental operations which enter into all intellectual tasks. One of the great disservices of progressivist educational theory was to sell the idea that there are no generalized operations of thought no "transfer of training." no logic distinguishable from the solution of particular problems. This theory has never been confirmed by the experience of teachers, nor well-planned experiments, nor accurate analysis.*

*See the summary of more recent views on "transfer of training" given by John J. Ryan and others In Educational Psychology (College Outline Series, New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc. 1956), pp. 92-104, and Charles E. Osgood, Method and Theory in Experimental Psychology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953). p. 524.

The first and indispensable task of a high school is to provide its so-called "terminal student" with the liberal arts needed to continue his education informally throughout life. Such training will also make it possible for the student who goes on to college to continue formal education effectively. Without it the terminal student will indeed terminate his education with his high school diploma, and the college student will never really begin higher study.

The present book is a tool for the teaching of the liberal arts in high school, or in the freshman year of college for those students whose high school studies were inadequate. It is intended to be at once a handbook and a textbook.

As a handbook it should be used by the student throughout his four years in high school in every course. Every teacher in the school should insist that in each subject of the curriculum the processes of definition, statement, and argumentation outlined here should be exactly practiced

In the student's reading recitation, discussion, and examination for that subject. In this way the transfer of training can be made explicit and effective.

On the other hand this work is also a textbook to assist in the learning of these logical processes. The most appropriate place for its use is in the customary English courses. Here it will not replace the customary material but it will serve as a guide for teacher and student in using material to develop the liberal arts.

At the beginning of the freshman year of high school the Introduction (page 3) should be used to orient the student to the whole work of the high school A student should have some sense of the order and interrelation of all his courses it is suggested that this chapter be read and discussed in the home-room or the Christian Doctrine class to show the unity of purpose in the life of the whole school.

The English teacher should plan as he is accustomed to do:

1) The pieces of literature to be studied during each year, making use of standard anthologies, or, still better, of separate and complete books.

2) The oral and written compositions to be required, based preferably on the materials studied in the literature.

3) The points of grammar to be practiced and corrected in the written and oral compositions.

The teacher should then present these materials in such a way as to stress definition, judgment, and argumentation in successive years. The manual is a tool to assist in this task. It should never be studied in isolation from immediate application to the materials of literature, composition and grammar.

During the first year, the study of reading and of composition should stress vocabulary, diction. and description (Chapter I). In the second year, stress should be on sentence structure, outlining and organization of compositions and clarity of style (Chapter II). The third year should stress the unity of a composition, its plot, theme or argumentation (Chapter III). The last year should stress the correlation of all these processes in larger compositions and the subordination of means to ends, style to content (Chapter IV).

A special feature of this manual is that it treats of all four types discourse -- the poetic, rhetorical, dialectical and scientific.*

*These four forms of discourse are not to be confused with exposition, argument, description, and narration traditional in rhetoric manuals; these are all parts of a rhetorical discourse. Nor should the three processes of definition, judgment, and argumentation be confused with the "four dimensions of the reading act," perception, understanding, reaction, and integration, made popular by certain educational psychologists. The three logical processes are used in each of the last three "dimensions."
The three great logical processes of definition, judgment, and argument are used in each of these four types of discourse but in contrasting ways. Most courses in English emphasize poetic discourse and greatly neglect the other three. The English course should teach the whole theory of these four types, but it may very properly devote most of its attention to the poetic and rhetorical. In order that dialectical and scientific discourse may be mastered by the student. these should be emphasized especially in the mathematics courses, but also in natural science, social science, and Christian doctrine courses.


The following is suggested as a correlation of the different parts of book with a four-year high school program:

1. Christian Doctrine: "introduction: The Story of the Liberal Arts.
This is an orientation of the student to his entire high school career. The teacher of Christian Doctrine ought to provide this orientation, helping the student to adjust to the school community and to study, and showing the student that all that he learns must be integrated in Christ. The Sacred Liturgy should be considered as a perfect work of the liberal arts (see pages 473 ff.).

2. Liberal Arts:
English and other languages: Part I, Chapter I: "Poetics: The Art of Storytelling."
The problems of word-study, use of the dictionary, and the analysis of simple stories should be carried on not only in the English course, but in whatever other languages are taught.

Fine Arts and Music: Part III. Chapter I: "The Master of the Fine Arts."
The teacher should bring out the parallel between word-study which deals with the matter of literature. and the study of the matter of music and the other fine arts.

Mathematics: Part III, Chapter I: "The Science of Number."
This chapter provides a logical approach to algebra, with emphasis on the correct definition of terms. it makes use of the techniques of definition being studied in English.

3. Nature Studies:
If general science or biology is given this year, then the teacher should relate the discussion in the "Introduction" on the cultural development of man to the problem of human origins and human capacities to speak, to think, to make, to invent. Emphasis should be laid on the development of a scientific vocabulary, on the correct definition of terms, and the use of the dictionary.

4. Social Studies:
The "introduction" should be used to discuss the origin of man and the concept of culture. How did man develop diverse cultures? How did he invent writing, the sciences, educational institutions? What is the role of the liberal arts in human culture? Emphasis should be laid on the development of a scientific vocabulary, on the correct definition of terms, and the use of the dictionary.


1. Christian Doctrine:
The teacher should make use of the material of Part I, Chapter II pages 77-80 on the differences between faith, opinion, and demonstration to show the student the meaning of revelation and of divine faith and its relation to reason. The analysis of rhetoric, poetry, figures of speech, and the technique of outlining should be used to help the student read selections from the Sacred Scriptures (see pages 470 f. and 496 f.).

2. Liberal Arts:
English and other languages: Part I, Chapter II: "Dialectics and Rhetoric: Arts of Discussion and Persuasion."
The emphasis in this year should be on the conducting of intelligent discussion and debate, and on the rhetorical analysis of an audience. The study of sentences, the arrangement of a composition, and its rhetorical tone should also be studied in the other languages.

Fine Arts and Music: Part II Chapter II: "The Form of the Fine Arts."
The student should study structure (form or design) in the fine arts and music. He should both analyze designs and make them himself. The discussion on the mathematics of design in Part III Chapter II. should be used in connection with this. The Greek contribution to the plastic arts should especially he emphasized during this year.

Mathematics. Part III, Chapter II: "The Science of Magnitude."
The emphasis is on geometry and the notion of scientific demonstration. in Part I, Chapter II (pages 73-77) a preliminary treatment of the syllogism is given to be used here, since the full treatment of scientific demonstrations does not come until Chapter III used in Junior English. Special emphasis should be given to the notion of axioms, postulates, definitions, which form the main topic of study in English, Part I, Chapter II (pages 69-72). The mathematical topics should extend to elementary trigonometry and analytic geometry. During this yew emphasis should be placed on the Greek origins of mathematics, and the role of mathematics in the fine arts.

3. Nature Studies:
If general science or biology is taken or continued in this year, then emphasis should be placed on the forms of living things. The notions of form and structure. emphasized in the fine arts and mathematics, should be employed. The rules of classification and outlining, the concept of first principles in a science, and the concept of giving evidence for statements -- all of which are stressed in Part I, Chapter II -- should be used in their scientific application.

4. Social Studies.
Use should be made of the discussion in the fine arts and mathematics section of Greek culture as the basis of all western culture. This should be compared to eastern cultures and the contrasts and similarities discussed. The same points of scientific method listed, above under Nature Studies should be stressed.


1. Christian Doctrine:
The method of establishing technical definitions and classifications should be applied to the study of the virtues and vices. The differences between technical definitions and biblical examples, and the variety and integration of the moral and intellectual virtues should be stressed. The teacher should indicate the ordering of the arts to the liturgy as the supreme act of the virtue of religion.

2. Liberal Arts:
English and other languages: Part I Chapter III: "Dialectic and Demonstrative Logic: Scientific Method."
During this your special stress should be placed on the application of the methods of analysis learned in English to the development of methods of study in all courses. The use of the encyclopaedia and of reference materials both in English and other languages should be emphasized. Textbooks used in other courses should be analyzed in class. A similar analysis should be applied to the "mass media of communication" (pages 90-98). If Cicero is read in the Latin course his orations should be given rhetorical analysis.

Fine Arts and Music. Part II. Chapter III: "The Purpose of the Fine Arts."
The comparison of the fine arts to other studies and activities should be made. The concepts of imitation, catharsis, and the division of the arts should be treated more fully. The use of mathematics in music treated in Part III, Chapter II (page 349 ff.) should be indicated.

Mathematics: Part III, Chapter III: "Applied Mathematics."
The notion of a pure mathematical science as exemplified in algebra should be considered and then the notion of mathematical physics should be discussed, using the more detailed analysis of scientific proof and investigation developed in Part I, Chapter III (page 161 ff.). The mathematics of music should be taken as one of the examples of applied mathematics.

3. Nature Studies:
During this year elementary physics will be taken by many students and the emphasis should he on the use of mathematics and mathematical-physical reasoning in science. Analytic geometry, trigonometry, and the use of vectors should be developed in this course. See Part III, Chapter III.

4. Social Studies:
The student during this year will probably be considering the history of modern civilization. the industrial revolution, and the characteristics of American civilization. The teacher should show how the development of the scientific method and of mathematical physics has boon a fundamental factor in modem civilization. and how this has raised problems about the social role of the fine arts (Part II. Chapter III) and man's sense of moral values and human dignity (Christian Doctrine course above). The teacher will notice that Part III, Chapter III on applied mathematics shows the radical change in scientific thought which initiated modern times.

1. Christian Doctrine:
The student during this year is probably completing his study of the incarnation and its extension in the Mystical Body, the Catholic Church. He is considering the sacraments and the Christian apostolate by which the life of the Church is preserved and extended. it is a your devoted to seeing the many possible vocations in life, the need and requirements of each, and the problems the maturing student must face in college, marriage, or work. The teacher should attempt to synthesize for the student all that he has learned in high school reviewing the diagram on Christian education, and the moral and intellectual virtues (see pages 22, 452-453) to show how each subject he has studied contributes to his personal perfection and his social role.

2. Liberal Arts:
English and other languages: Part I. Chapter IV: "The Appreciation of Complete Works of Liberal Art."
During this year the student's ability to read and write many different types of works should be developed, and the broader vistas of reading should be indicated. The preparation of a documented term-paper should be a task to be carried out systematically. In other languages the same objectives should be aimed at.

Logic: During this year superior students should, if possible, be
given a semester course on logic as a science. The aim should be to see logic as a model science which proves its own rules. The teacher may extend this by introducing symbolic logic (see pages 595 f. for recommended texts).

Fine Arts and Music: Part II, Chapter IV: "The Role of the Artist and Audience."
Stress should be placed on a survey of famous artists, their biography, their social influences, the range of musical literature, and the variety of art styles. The vocation of the artist, and the use of art in one's personal life and the education of children should be discussed.

Mathematics: Part III: Chapter IV: '"Wider Vistas in Mathematics"
The application of mathematics to chemistry should be made in the same way as, in the previous year, it was applied to physics. Superior students should be taking an elective course in mathematics during this year and should use the material of the above chapter to get an idea of the different areas in the field of mathematics and of the philosophical problems connected with mathematics.

Nature Studies:
This your will probably be devoted to chemistry with the application of mathematics noted above. The teacher should stress the way in which the scientific method which the student has boon learning can be applied to the various branches of science, and should give the student a comprehensive view of the different branches of science.

4. Social Studies:
This year will probably be devoted to American government and social problems. it should be brought into close connection with the treatment of the Church, the apostolate, and the student's personal vocation which are being stressed in the Christian Doctrine course. One of the problems should be the influence of the "mass media of communication" (see Part I, Chapter II), and these should be discussed in connection with all that the student has learned about the liberal arts, and the varied literary media which he is concurrently studying in English (Part I, Chapter IV). The teacher should prepare the student for his role as a citizen who must listen, discuss, judge, seek information, and discount propaganda.

If this handbook is used in the Freshman year of college it is suggested that the English course be based on Part I. "Logic as an Art," and that the other parts be assigned for reading to show the student how logical reasoning is applied in other fields. Thus with Part I, Chapter I, should be assigned Part II, Chapter I, and Part III, Chapter I; with Part I, Chapter II should be assigned Part II, Chapter II, Part III, Chapter II, etc.