Volume 2 of the Syntopicon (Adler)

Mortimer Adler regularly claimed that it was impossible to be educated before the age of 40.  If true, I would also suggest it is difficult to be educated without working through something like his Syntopicon.  The setup is the same as the earlier volume.    There is a ten page essay, topical indexes, and a recommended reading list.  This review will only outline his key topics, the various positions taken, and how the great thinkers interacted with their predecessors, if time permits.

Man

Man is the only subject where the knower and the object known are the same (Adler 1).  Indeed, “the human intellect is able to examine itself.”

The Western tradition is divided on man’s essence.  The standard (and correct) view is that man differs from animals because he is rational.  His use of speech is a consequence of this rationality.  It is not the main difference.  If this is true, then there must be some distinction between reason and sense (5).

Mind

The mind is capable of self-knowledge. This is the difference between sense and intellect.  Senses do not seem to be aware of themselves (172). 

Following Aristotle, we see that if “the soul is the principle of life and all vital activities, so mind is the subordinate principle of knowledge” (173).  And the act of intellect moves as such:

1) conception
2) judgment
3) reasoning.

Monarchy

Adler wisely separates the principle of absolute government from monarchy, since republics and democracies can be as absolutist (205). Monarchy as an idea underwent a transformation in the Middle Ages. It did resemble an absolute system in one sense by giving power to one man, yet it placed supremacy of law in the hands of the people (207).  The only problem with this idea is that given its birth in feudalism, it did not last long in the modern age.

Hegel suggests a robust constitutional monarchy.  In this view the state is more of a corporation. The advantage of this view is that it is quite flexible with modernity and market forces  It doesn’t have any of the disadvantages that plagued medieval models.  On the other hand, it’s not always clear what Hegel is saying.

One and the Many

In line with Aristotle, unity is the first property of being.  All contraries are reducible to things like being/nonbeing, one/many, etc.  Moreover, unity belongs to the individual natural substance.  Man is a substance.  He is not made of other substances.  Machines, though, are.

This is somewhat different from Plato.  Plato’s view had problems.  The idea of the one is also one idea among many.  Plotinus corrected some of these problems.  For him, the one transcends being.  It also transcends intelligence, since knowing requires an object, which would introduce duality into the One.

Opposition

Opposites do not simply distinguish, they exclude.

Plato: Everything has one opposite.  This was his idea in Gorgias and Protagoras on the unity of virtue.  This also illustrates the numerous subdivisions in Western taxonomies.

Aristotle: made the distinction between correlative opposites (double, one-half) and contrary opposites (odd/even).

Hegel: Unites opposites by reconciling their differences.  Every finite phase of reality has its own contrary.  For example, being and nonbeing imply and exclude one another.  They are united in becoming.

Reasoning

The words “if” and “then” indicate that reason is a motion of the mind from one alternative to another.

Plotinus: any form of thinking signifies a weakness.  It introduces duality.  Higher intelligences, by contrast, know by intuition.  Later Christian thinkers didn’t accept this extreme a view, but they did borrow his idea on intuition and applied it to angelic intelligences.

All the praise I gave of volume one also applies to this volume.

Redeeming the Time (Russell Kirk)

Kirk, Russell. Redeeming the Time. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006.

Russell Kirk suggests that Western culture isn’t necessarily doomed. There are ways to slow the decay. Whether or not that is true, and I remain doubtful, we can take much advice from his suggestions on how to order the soul.

Order in the soul and order in the polis parallel each other. Kirk writes, “Order, in the moral realm, is the realizing of a body of transcendent norms–indeed a hierarchy of norms or standards–which give purpose to existence and motive to conduct” (Kirk 33). Society does have a contract, but it isn’t Rousseau’s ghastly experiment. Rather, with Edmund Burke we hold that the “rights of towns, the independence of guilds, the code of chivalry–these arose out of faith in what Burke was to call the contract of eternal society” (31).

There is no point in trying to give an analysis of Kirk’s views of education. The best thing to do is simply quote him. A liberal education is actually conservative because it defends order against disorder (43). True education is meant to develop the individual human being rather than to serve the state.

Continuing Kirk’s thoughts on education we see a defense of reading fiction. It’s probably the best defense ever given. It might be tempting for legalists and hyper-gnostics to disavow the reading of fiction because “it isn’t true” (never mind Jesus’s parables). Rather, good fiction trains the emotions. He defines “moral imagination” as a high power of perception that penetrates the human condition (69). A purified moral imagination will apprehend the connection between the right order in the soul and the right order in the commonwealth. These great books train our moral faculties. This relates to what Kirk calls “sentiment.” A sentiment is somewhere between thought and feeling (131). These are what you will fall back on in a crisis. It won’t be syllogisms that keep you from retreating in battle. It will be because your moral faculties have been purified and exalted.

Kirk has a fun chapter on architecture. In short, dehumanizing and modern architecture (whether in its Soviet or mass man variety) keeps man perpetually discontented (87). Kirk suggests this is so because it creates boredom. That’s no doubt true, but I think it is deeper than that. Modern architecture illustrates an open attack upon an ordered telos. Humane architecture, by contrast, focuses on the person, rather than the expediency (which, for what it’s worth, it never obtains). Humane architecture illustrates that the community remains a community; it nurtures roots (91). I urge the reader to visit Wrath of Gnon’s social media profiles to see exciting examples of urban renewal.

There is some repetition in this book, as many of the essays are also found in The Wise Men Know. There is new material, though. The essays on education, virtue, and architecture are worth the entire book.

The Mind of the Maker (Dorothy Sayers)

Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker.

Sayer argues that the laws of creative imagination are analogues of the Trinity. Or to say it another way, there is a Trinitarian structure in the mind of man. This is also mirrored in the writing of a book:

Book as Thought (Idea).

Book as Written (Energy or Word; she is on better ground when she calls it the “form” of the thought. That at least echoes what St Hilary said).

Book as Read

While she has a fascinating number of insights, this book, rather ironically, suffers from a lack of unity. It is almost as if there were two books. One is a theological and trinitarian reflection on the nature of thought and mind. That book is quite good. The other book is a sub-conscious literary criticism of then-current England.

A word on the analogies. She is not saying that the Trinity is like….x. Rather, she is saying x mirrors (in some limited, analogical way) the Trinity. That is not heretical. Augustine said the same thing.

The Image of God

“The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and ability to make things” (22). Sayers is quick to point out that this is metaphorical and analogical: we can’t make things out of nothing. And then she gives a meditation on what analogical language is.

It is not that both God and man make things that they are similar. The very structure of thought and imagination are not limited by finite material. I have to destroy a tree to make a wooden table. Yet, Shakespeare, in order to create Falstaff, doesn’t have to kill Hamlet (29). Sayers writes, “The components of the material world are fixed; those of the world of the imagination increase by a continuous and irreversible process.”

Idea, Energy, Power

We see Trinitarian patterns in creation. There is a trinity in sight: the form seen, the act of vision, and the mental attention which correlates the two (36). Every thought is a trinity of memory, understanding, and will.

Creative Idea–beholding the whole complete work at once

Creative Energy (activity).

Creative Power

When I form the Idea in my mind, the forming of the idea is itself not the Idea. It is the self-awareness in Energy (38).

Sayers has a fun chapter on Scalene Trinities, in which she points out imbalances in authors.

Criticism:

I think her analogy (Idea/Energy/Power) is wobbly. It is confusing for those of us who have studied the Christological controversies. For example, for Sayers “energy” and “Power” refer to the Son and Spirit, respectively. But in Greek the terms are roughly synonymous. And after Paul in 1 Corinthians, few Christians used them exclusively of the Trinitarian persons, since “power” referred more to capacity than divine person.

A Thomas Jefferson Education

Demille, Oliver. A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century.

Fear not. This book has little of Jefferson in it, in case you are bothered by his Deism, slavery, and defense of Lockean politics. One shouldn’t read this book as a manual on how to do education. I gather that other books in the series do that. The best approach might be counter-intuitive: read it as an inspiration manual.

Demille’s argument is simple: the best way to train leaders is to get them to read the classics in dialogue with a wise mentor. This skirts the debate between classical vs. private vs. public education. Demille offers a tool, not an ideology. Like many texts that lean towards the classical model, the volume is weak on math and science, but it still works quite well on the arts and humanities.

He begins with a distinction some might find artificial but upon further inspection is quite profound: you cannot “fix” education. An education is what the student gets out of the process largely based upon the student’s effort. What you can fix is teaching and externals. “Teachers teach and students educate” (Demille 12). The best education is when the student gets excited about learning and goes from there (with guidance).

He notes the three types of education: conveyor belt, professional, and leadership. It is fashionable to mock the conveyor belt approach (presentation of facts, etc). There is nothing wrong with that approach. It accomplishes precisely what it was designed to: educate poor people so they can get a job. The professional approach is fairly obvious: medicine, business, etc.

Demille’s focus is the leadership approach to education. It’s purpose is to train leaders who perpetuate freedom by knowing how to think. (A textbook teaches you want to think; a classic teaches you how to think.)

I won’t spend too much time on Demille’s method except to note a few good points. One is to “structure time, not content” (45). Is it better to make the student read 50 pages of Thomas Aquinas or spend two hours analyzing what Thomas means by essence and being? Go deeper, not wider.

There is the tough question of “What is a classic?” I’ll keep the list open-ended, but we can say a book that was formative upon the Western mind.

Can I get a Job?

Since we are now at the point where a university education does not guarantee a (good?) job, education is freed to be more formative and soul-forming. Modern America replaced leadership with job prep. While modern education gurus urge teachers to ask higher-order thinking questions, and while textbooks are happily being replaced with “modules,” the system is fundamentally the same.

Employers hire people, not degrees. (That said, don’t do anything stupid like go to Patriot Bible College. I’m also quite skeptical of a certain “Reformed” college in the Pacific Northwest). As Peter Drucker said, “The basic economic resource…is no longer capital…It is and will be knowledge” (115).

The non-uniqueness of classical education

I am not attacking classical education. I just don’t think it is all that special. Let’s do a thought experiment. What is it about reading Ovid that makes classical education superior? And don’t say Latin. You can learn that anywhere.

I am going to take a topic from the Great Books Series. I am then going to follow the references. The point that Mortimer Adler makes is that the Great Books (which are far from perfect) routinely generate questions about the great topics (e.g., justice, education, God, etc). My point is that such an independent education can do just as much or more as a Classical education.

Step one: read the section on education. It’s a summary of the Great Tradition.
Step 2: Read Adler’s Outline.
This is an analytical reference sheet. The sub topic is “The Ideal of an education man.” The following are the passages from the authors Adler mentions. Not all authors are good. These are just the ones I had nearby.
John Stuart Mill: general idea: the educated man reflects upon his own experiences in light of the tradition and customs.
Boswell on Johnson. Key point: the desire of knowledge is the natural feeling of mankind (echoing Aristotle).

To be fair, there isn’t anything profound about these, but if you spend a week working through the references, it starts to add up. And you have a curriculum of sorts ready. This isn’t to attack Classical Greece and Rome. I just don’t see the immediate cash value of reading about incest in Ovid.

Does Doug Wilson make the case for Christian Ed.?

Wilson, Douglas. Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education. Athanasius Press.

Disclaimer: Christian education stands or falls on its own merits. Although I think Wilson failed miserably, I think there are good resources for Christian education. Circe institute and the like.

If your goal is simply to write a basic worldview book, say so. Most of this book is generic worldview stuff, and even though it is by Doug Wilson, it isn’t technically wrong (well, it is but for different reasons). Because of Christian worldview or something, Christian kids need a Christian education. On one level, that’s fine. In terms of making a case for a distinctively Christian education, Wilson is less than persuasive.

I understand that this is a pamphlet and was meant to be read in under an hour. I also realize that Wilson has written larger treatises for a Christian education. Nonetheless, we must still examine whether he makes his case. In a way he does make the case for a Christian education, but he makes himself look silly in the process.

My initial review was openly hostile and I attacked Wilson for failing to prove his case for a classical education. To be fair, that wasn’t his thesis, so I have modified some things.

Of his general definition of education I have no problem with. Education is a passing down from one generation to another. The rest of the first half of the book is worldview talk. Take it or leave it for what it is. I do think he sometimes confuses “neutral” (which is bad) with “common” (which is good).

Around page 39 he starts to torpedo his own project. Wilson is committed to “biblical absolutism,” which sounds great. After mocking old earth Christians, he then walks into a trap he set for himself. The larger context is God’s two books, Bible and Nature. The Bible should interpret nature. That sounds great. Wilson then raises the question (which he fails to answer), “What about geocentrism, since the bible clearly speaks of a stationary earth?” He says the clear should interpret the unclear. That’s great, but it tells me nothing on who gets to determine what is clear and what isn’t.

In fact, the more I reread page 41 I couldn’t see any reason to suppose that Wilson isn’t a geocentrist. It’s rare that you get to watch an author shoot himself in the foot.

The next chapter on covenant nurture could read as a defense of homeschooling, which is odd since Wilson isn’t really a fan of homeschooling. Around page 56 he hints at a defense of classical education: you have to have a classical education because other models are sectarian. That’s rich, coming from Moscow. Classical education, by contrast, offers a robust Trinitarian education. I’m not sure why he thinks classical alone gives that. When we homeschooled my daughter I can assure you it was Trinitarian.

He says Christian education is too important to be relegated to the edge of town (56). I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China. He ends with a great quote from Eric Hoffer that is so rich in irony that I will just leave it as it is: “First you have a movement, then a business, then a racket.” Indeed.

Angels, Barbarians, and Nincompoops (Esolen)

Esolen, Anthony. Angels, Barbarians, and Nincompoops: And other Words You Thought you Knew. Gastonia, NC: Tan Books, 2017.

Interacting with a word’s etymology is always dangerous in determining its meaning.  Though it might appear that is what Anthony Esolen is doing, it is not. He is inviting us to enter the very shape of language.  As he notes at the end of the book, paraphrasing Lewis and Tolkien, the study of words is the study of man.

Interesting notes:

“In English we don’t usually hear the difference between a single consonant and a double consonant.”

He makes a good point that “catholic” doesn’t mean universal.  It means according to the whole.  There is another word for “universal,” and it is “ecumenical.”

“All of our kn- words were cn- words in Anglo-Saxon, and were pronounced as such, as late as Chaucer.”

It’s okay to start a sentence with “because,” and not simply because (sorry) you will follow the subordinate clause with an independent clause.  Rather, you can start a sentence with “because” if you are using that to build towards a climax.

In bible translations, don’t say “produce” when you could say “fruit.”  Produce is an abstraction and robs the passage of linguistic force.  Fruit suggests something fresh from God’s hand.  Produce connotes Gross National Product.

In Milton conscience is “my conscience;” it is not a neutral umpire. It is important, nonetheless.

Say “eternal life” rather than “afterlife,” since the latter connotes aftertaste or afterthought.

The best way to develop style is not by using big words but by arranging ordinary words.

Dactyl: a pterodactyl is a “feather-finger.”  However, in poetry a dactyl, reminiscent of the division of your finger, is long-short-short.

Humor

“Beside the word ‘nescient’ in Dr E’s Imaginary Dictionary stands an illustration of a bureaucrat, smiling at an ordinary citizen.  The cross-reference reads: see ‘expert.’  The word means what you think it means: the property of knowing absolutely nothing.”

Esolen wrote this before the rise of the Branch Covidians.

A note on “boycott:” the word was tried in Italian novels in the 20th century. Small merchants united against their enemy, a man who was ahead of them in technology and thrift.  “They being Italians, it didn’t quite work, but it did help to bring about political confusion, which is often better than political efficiency, because it means that politicians who mean mischief don’t get much done.”

He has an insightful entry on “patriarchy.”  It did not originally mean “Ungus grunt and make woman cook.”  It was father-as-arche, foundation.  As Esolen notes, “A patriarch is not a male boss, nor even a father-boss. He is the father-founder.” Anything else moves quickly to idolatry and blood covenants.

Temperance is not tee-totaling.  It is the virtue of judicious measure.

On hell: the cardinal sins are deadly, not because God simply judges them, but by their very nature they make us people who would rather writhe in agony than worship God.

While its use is somewhat limited due to the etymological angle of the book, this is a delight for those gourmands of language.

Beauty for Truth’s Sake (Caldecott)

Caldecott, Stratford.  On the Re-enchantment of Education. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009.

Argument: We must go back to Plato through Boethius and Augustine.  Our goal, however, is not Plato, but Pythagoras.  That last name separates this book from all others on classical education.  Caldecott’s argument, though, is straightforward.  If the universe is an ordered cosmos (implying, among other things, a harmonic structure), then we have to deal with Pythagoras.

The book borders on sheer genius.  I say that partly because I have no clue on how to classify it.  I’ve seen it promoted among classical school educators, and that certainly makes sense, but even then it isn’t clear how the book would be integrated into a day-to-day classical school classroom.

I wouldn’t even call this “classical education.”  It is simply, as he notes, “liberal arts.” The point of the quadrivium is to enable us to contemplate God and the harmonic nature of the universe.

One of our goals in education is to transmit a culture. If we let education become fragmented into disciplines, we communicate that education is simply bits and pieces that we can choose (Caldecott 17).   By contrast, the keys to meaning are always form, interiority, beauty, relationship, and purpose.

Ancient man as knowing man: The ancient man, presumably following Socrates, understood that it is the nature of man to know. This “knowledge can only be obtained through the systematic ordering of the soul” (21).

Four levels of Platonic knowledge:

Reason — Nous
Understanding
Opinion
Perception of shadows

Point: the instrument of knowledge must be a turning of the whole soul from becoming to being (22). Plato believed that the trivium is the tool to awaken us to the inner vision of the soul.

Caldecott realizes we can’t simply drop the quadrivium on students today.  Even in the middle ages, it struggled to integrate new knowledge.  Further, students would probably be better off studying medieval, rather than ancient, literature (or both). He argues that we must teach these advanced maths and sciences from a history of ideas standpoint (28).

Object of Education

It is difficult to summarize education into one single purpose.  Each angle, though, sheds light on the whole:

Socrates: The purpose of education is to love what is beautiful.  Beauty for Socrates was something objective.

Poetic Education

A child studies music and harmony at a more mature age in order to have his soul geared towards such a proportion.

Education and Number

Following Pythagoras, he suggests number is a facet of the Unity (Father) projected through Duality (mother) to create multiplicity (55).

One: Unity of being, often depicted by a circle.  When it is squared it is still itself.

Two: Duality; separation of male and female, matter and spirit. It is a line between two points.

Three: Unity and diversity are reconciled in harmony.  Depicted by a triangle within a circle.

Four: First solid number.  Represents earth or the material plane. In the four elements, earth and fire (contraction and expansion, respectively) are opposed to each other. Water and air mediate.

Five: As it is the midpoint within the Decad, it symbolizes the human.

Six: Perfect number as it is the sum and product of its divisors. Represented by a regular hexagon.

Seven: Totality. It is the sum of four (the material world) and three (the Trinity).

Golden Ratio

This is the essence of beauty and probably the key to unlocking the universe.

Phi = whole/large part = large part/small part

1.61804/1

He takes these harmonies and applies it to the Trinity.  By itself that isn’t wrong.  However, you are getting on dangerous ground when you have the Son participating in both deity and humanity.  The Son has these natures.  He does not merely participate in them.  

Fun fact: early Platonists anticipated the octave by the shape of the letter lamda.  “The musical scale was a model of the cosmos” (92).
Criticisms:

In the middle of an excellent discussion on beauty, Caldecott says in a footnote that he does not wish to deny the beauty in modern and postmodern works (32 n28).  This beggars belief.  There is no beauty in postmodern works.  It is trash.  Literally.  Some of it is pieces of garbage glued together.

Caldecott follows an amazing section on numbers with the Trinity.  He tries to tie in certain number theories with Trinity and defend, among other things, the Filioque.  I’m not saying his arguments are wrong, but they do seem out of place.

The book is written from a Roman Catholic perspective, so readers should be aware of that.

Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture

Esolen, Anthony.  Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. Regnery, 2016.

Imagine if The Benedict Option were more focused and geared, not for running away, but for running towards the battle.  This is what Anthony Esolen has given us.  To borrow a line from his criticism of universities–the criticism being that there is no overarching truth in the university that unites all the disciplines–this book is united, not in a mere attack on modern education, but in a positive portrayal of the transcendentals: truth, goodness, and beauty.  What happens to society when we sacrifice those transcendentals?

In the ancient Greek world life was united around the polis, a small city-state that ordered society.  Early America had something similar: the township (also see de Tocqueville). 

Speaking Truth: Proper Names

The only way to “live not by lies” is to call things what they are.  This is a metaphysical claim, since it presupposes that things have natures, essences.  There is an older English word, cant, that means something along the lines of meaningless small talk.  By itself, it isn’t evil.  It only becomes evil when it reaches the political arena, where it then becomes sloganeering.  Think of inane drivel such as “equality, democracy, inclusivity, anti-colonialism.”  These are all abstract.  The only way to counter such abstract drivel is by returning to the thing-ness of things.  Things can’t be changed by lies (Esolen 26).

Architecture and Beauty

While America may not be able to boast of Gothic cathedrals, she has the simple beauty of the small township.  The buildings of a small town–the church, the school house, the city hall–reflect the life of a people.  Literally.  The structure of these buildings communicates a certain home-ness about life.  The easiest way to see it is to compare it with any building from a government bureaucracy.  As Esolen notes, “We never sense, when we are in a government office building, that we are the creators and masters of the government. We sense that we are its wards, its clients, and perhaps its victim and its food” (63).

In this same chapter–and largely for the same reason–Esolen proposes a renewal of school life. The form of the school should follow, not function, but essence (56).  Unpacking that is difficult, but worth it.  We must begin with grammar.  No one will do this today.  It is almost forbidden to teach in secondary school, never mind that grammar is literally the architecture of language and mind. Grammar gives you the keys to study–well, everything.

Esolen then attacks foreign language study.  Everyone knows that the conversational method to learning a foreign language is best.  But is it?  True, if you are stuck in Paris you will probably pick up French better than by memorizing a grammar book.  But does this really work in the schools?  Think about it: how many people graduate high school able to read Cervantes in Spanish (or English, for that matter)?  True, they are able to ask for directions to the bathroom in Juarez.

Almost without telling us, Esolen highlights the key reason for studying the humanities.  Aristotle said that young men were not ready to study politics because they had not yet amassed any great experience of human nature (67).  That’s why we study literature, to get such knowledge.

Colleges

Here Esolen comes close to what Dreher advocated in The Benedict Option.  We’ll start by mentioning the main problem with modern universities (aside from not teaching, or even believing in, knowledge).  “You sink yourself in debt to discover that your sons and daughters have been severed from their faith, their morals, and their reason.  Whorehouses and mental wards would be much cheaper. They might well be healthier, too” (75).

So what’s the solution? To answer that question, we need to answer the following: what is the relationship between reading Chaucer and studying the stars in the heavens?  If a university can’t answer that question, then it shouldn’t exist. We’ll try.  Esolen argues that since all knowledge is one, and if we as knowing subjects participate in that knowledge, “then to have the intellectual equivalent of an urban sprawl, wherein the teacher of poetry does not converse about history with the teacher of chemistry,” then we don’t have a college.  Literally, there is no collegium. 

Here we need to acknowledge that we aren’t saying that the hard sciences shouldn’t exist.  They should. That was never in doubt.  This existential crisis is more acutely felt in the humanities, so most of the attention is there. We’ll start with pedagogy.  Forget the fads.  Focus on what Russell Kirk called “permanent things” (81). There is nothing magical about the word “classical” or the “Great Book Series.”  The reason people are drawn to them is that they understand the unity of knowledge and they represent the widest and deepest gamut of human experience.

This book will make you angry (cf., Kipling’s “When the Saxon Learned to Hate”), but it is a call to battle.

Notable Quotables

On love for country: “Unless he is taught otherwise, by some serpent of envy or by a cynical dog sniffling about the back alleys for garbage, the child will naturally love his country, just as he naturally loves his mother and father, not because they are perfect, but because they are his” (64).

Multiculturalism: “Those who talk glibly about the ‘multicultural’ are, in my experience, mainly monolingual Westerners who have lost any strong sense of what culture must be about….[They always remain] stolidly certain that the whole world is moving toward their own supposedly progressive ideals–and if not, there are always armise, dollars, and food to make damned certain it does” (68).

Sexuality: “If you got a girl pregnant, her brothers would show up at your door and congratulate you on your upcoming nuptials” (91).

The Office of Assertion

Crider, Scott. The Office of Assertion. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2005.

It’s risky writing a book on rhetoric.  One (perhaps unfairly) expects it to be a prime example of rhetorical flourish.  If it isn’t, then the book is seen as inadequate.  This volume is somewhere in the middle.  It has a weak beginning but ends quite strongly and covers the necessary points.

It cannot function as a stand-alone text on rhetoric, but in conjunction with other texts, which he does list, it is quite useful.

Rhetoric isn’t just pretty words masking a weak argument.  It includes the very structure of the argument, even its literary shape.  This is perhaps the main strength of the book.  Further, he guides you in how to write a good argument, as we shall see.

Questions to ask as you develop an argument:

(1) Can I define x? What are its general and specific characteristics?
(2) How do X and Y compare?
(3) What is the relationship between x and y?  This is analysis.  Sometimes students will ask, “What do you mean that we should analyze the text?”  Show the relations.

Organization

Classical Oration, the parts.

  1. Introduction

Types of introduction
Inquisitive
Paradoxical
Narrative
Corrective
Preparatory
Statement of circumstance

2. The outline

3. The proof

4. The refutation

5. The conclusion

Style

We want to aim as something like a coordinating style, or what Richard Weaver calls an equilibrium of forces.  This is particularly achieved in the KJV of Ecclesiastes 2:4-11. Richard Weaver suggests a judicious use of the balanced compound sentence.

A subordinate clause introduces a level of complexity in your argument. If you want to see the compound-complex clause in its perfection, read Jane Austen.

In all cases, don’t be afraid to use parallelism, in which Samuel Johnson is the master.  And if you use a string of parallelisms in a paragraph, have the first be self-evident and the following as allusions upon the first (which Johnson does in his preface on Shakespeare).

The book isn’t perfect and towards the end it relies much on Richard Weaver.  That is no fault.  More people should rely on Richard Weaver’s writings on rhetoric.  The book is a quick read that addresses some basic concerns.