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Enlightening the Dark Ages once again: Grammar as an Epistemology worthy of the name – You keep using that word 6

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We began this series of posts with Inigo Montoya’sYou keep using that word, I don’t think it means what you think it means‘ being the perfect meme for ‘Epistemology’, whose philosophical system bears little relation to what the word was coined to mean. As it turns out, much the same applies to Grammar. But to avoid the Inigo Montoya treatment, let’s have a look at what that word is now defined to mean, which the Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary has as:

1a: the study of the classes of words, their inflections (see INFLECTION sense 2), and their functions and relations in the sentence
b: a study of what is to be preferred and what avoided in inflection

, inspiring, isn’t it? What most people might not recognize as a definition of Grammar, is one that comes from a source that we’ll get into below, which was a norm before Modernity got a hold of why and what we’re taught today:

“…Grammar [which] is “the science of speaking and writing correctly – the starting point of all liberal studies.” Grammar is the cradle of all philosophy, and in a manner of speaking, the nurse of the whole study of letters…”

, and if the idea of Grammar as the cradle of philosophy isn’t how you were taught it, I’d suggest asking some questions about the ‘education’ you did get, and maybe ask a few more questions about why that might be.

Disclaimer: no, I’m no Grammarian and I still struggle with being grammatical – having only discovered its importance late in life, I’m but a bumbling admirer.

With that in mind, let’s turn to the question asked at the end of the previous post, which was essentially that if having an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics is as important as I’ve argued it to be, and if most people aren’t interested in even philosophy, let alone epistemology, what are we supposed to do about that? And the answer is that we don’t need to teach any new subjects, we only need to teach a subject we’re already teaching, but begin teaching it as we once did and are no longer doing: teach Grammar as a meaningful subject.

From the earliest years of schooling (hello: ‘grammar school’) grammar is the first subject taught, because like philosophy, which everyone has whether they are conscious of it or not, everyone will learn grammar in some form – the words we do or do not learn to refer to our world through, what we do or do not learn of prefixes and suffixes that help us in identifying a word’s nature, and all of the other parts of speech which exist to help us to understand what is being spoken of, and why – and whether crude or polished, a person’s grasp of grammar is what they’ll be using to think with and communicate to others through.

And yet as necessary as grammar is to communication, that was understood as the minimum measure of it, as in its larger sense, grammar was to function as philosophy in miniature, as the ancient grammarian quoted above wrote: “Words admitted into our ears knock on and arouse our understanding“, in pursuit of that clarity of expression that would bring both writer and reader nearer to a wisdom that could improve their ability to live their lives well.

That purpose is not served with ‘grammar lessons’ of “See Spot run. Run Spot; run fast.“. What the *author* of this 1908 primer intended instead, was primarily to make lessons so easy and trouble-free for students being introduced to “…the struggle with word-forms…“(!), as to ensure that “…there must be no steep hills to climb…” in learning.

Well… mission accomplished. God help us.

Such treacherously easy ‘grammar lessons’, pointlessly teaching what isn’t worth learning, has left more than a century of student’s hearts and minds comfortably ignorant of what it takes to engage with beauty, truth, and goodness, and unaware that the dark age we live in today is even worse than the last one, whose people were at least aware that what was worth learning, had seemed to have been lost.

Grammar as the cradle of philosophy

The ability to recognize and put into words what is real and true, and to extract meaning out of what others have written, was once seen as the vital and beating heart of an education in the liberal arts. The alternative definition of Grammar given above, came from one of those now forgotten guides to education that’ve been around since the 1100s, a work called The Metalogicon (which I highly recommend to modern readers – even though it was written by an Englishman before English as we know it existed, it’s the principles of it that matter, not the particulars – it is exceedingly relevant to our world today), which had been prepared for England’s Thomas Beckett by an English monk, John of Salisbury, and it has a well-earned reputation for teaching grammar as a subject that employs metaphysics, logic, and ethical considerations, in the intelligent use of language.

From that form of Grammar School education, students gained a handle on the liberal arts, which:

“…are called “arts’ [either] because they delimit [artant] by rules and precepts; or from virtue, in Greek known as ares, which strengthens minds to apprehend the ways of wisdom; or from reason, called arso by the Greeks, which the arts nourish and cause to grow. They are called “liberal,” either because the ancients took care to have their children instructed in them; or because their object is to effect man’s liberation, so that, freed from cares, he may devote himself to wisdom. More often than not, they liberate us from cares incompatible with wisdom. They often even free us from worry about [material] necessities, so that the mind may have still greater liberty to apply itself to philosophy.

Chapter 13. Whence grammar gets its name.
Among all the liberal arts, the first is logic, and specifically that part of logic which gives initial instruction about words. As has already been explained, the word “logic” has a broad meaning, and is not restricted exclusively to the science of argumentative reasoning. [It includes] Grammar [which] is “the science of speaking and writing correctly – the starting point of all liberal studies.” Grammar is the cradle of all philosophy, and in a manner of speaking, the nurse of the whole study of letters…”

, and in that he makes clear how the essence of what we call ‘epistemology’ (in name only) today, was effectively being practiced centuries before the Modern’s term was ever coined, and it is no coincidence that that understanding, approach, and expectation, began to vanish soon after the Modern’s ‘new’ 4th branch of philosophy became known under that term.

It’s important to point out that the ability to understand and communicate which came out of that Pre-Modern grammatical cradle, was once a normal expectation of a ‘grammar school education’ (as was having some ability to read and write Greek & Latin, up until the 20th Century). It was a normal expectation that when the grammarian taught students how to read, he wasn’t just teaching how to sound out words from the letters on a page, but was teaching how to read, think, question and reason their way through the thoughts those words formed, and their own grasp of them, in an intelligible manner, with the goal of understanding what is real and true and what is not.

Learning the grammar of what words mean and what the parts of speech refer to in the process of thinking, from “the best that has been thought and said” – not textbooks as we know them – was in a very worthwhile sense, ‘doing metaphysics‘; as being able to understand and confirm the statements and conclusions of those works while also assessing how accurate and intelligible their claims are, is ‘doing logic’; just as assuring that an idea is treated honestly and appropriately – neither inflated, minimized, or turned away from – is ‘doing ethics’. And whether engaged in extracting a sound understanding from what you’ve read, or putting your own understanding into words that others could understand your meaning from, conveying both a belief, and identifying whether or not its meaning is justified, is in the most meaningful sense ‘doing epistemology’.

If you’d like to see how utterly different our notions of an education are today – in every way – from that which formed our Founders, read “Education of The Founding Fathers of The Republic” by James J. Walsh (1936). Truly, America was founded at the last possible moment in history… even a decade later, it likely could not have been successfully carried out.

Students who were educated in that way, as were most in our Founders’ era, were not only skillful in the use of language, but were in the habit of sounding thoughts out and following them to their furthest reaches, and so would see implications that were otherwise too easily missed. It’s not too much to say that America would not exist, if its people had not been educated in the habits of mind that gave the deepest consideration to what were

“… the greatest of all reflections on human nature…”

, and yet today it’s too often considered a ‘successful education’ when a student manages to graduate with the ability to ‘decode’ letters into words, as if having the ability to read, is the same thing as having learned how to read. For the student who’s skilled at finding useful facts and picking out gotchas of ‘i before e, except after c‘, but doesn’t comprehend how language conveys meaning (or why it’d matter), what can they meaningfully get out of decoding the words of the ‘great books’? They, as Daniel McCarthy noted in his review of Russel Kirk’s “The Conservative Mind”,

…not infrequently have difficulty with works that must be read the way music is heard.

, and what such students are able to receive from the greatest treasures of our Greco/Roman-Judeo/Christian culture, will, at best, be taken in through a verbal straw, rather than the firehose that a good education would’ve provided, and the frustration of getting so little out of so much effort, too often turns them away from, and even against, the ‘great books’ they hadn’t learned how to treasure.

Of course that realization is what those who desired a more easily controlled populace, figured out long ago.

Modernists on both sides of the Atlantic were fully aware of how essential it was to their ‘new philosophy’ (of old sophistries) and to the ‘new man’ they wanted to create with it, that people’s minds not be furnished with the priceless treasures of the West, as those fostered the ability to spot the snares of ignorance which the unfurnished mind was more easily entrapped with. They quickly realized that in order to have a populace who’d be willing to accept what they were told they needed to know, without habitually questioning what they were told and who told it to them, it wasn’t the publishers and booksellers they needed to gain control of, but the schoolhouse and what and how its students were taught within it. After all, there’s little need to engage in the messy business of banning and burning books and authors, when the same results can be had by simply teaching students that grammar is nothing more than a number of arbitrary rules of where to place commas and apostrophes and to make sure you write ‘i before e except after c… sometimes‘… as teaching ‘grammar’ in that manner, is even more damaging to a student’s ability and interest in reading, than not teaching grammar at all.

Learning the rules of Grammar is of course important and necessary, just as erecting a scaffolding is necessary and useful in constructing a building. But to focus upon the rules, as less a means, than your purpose, is like focusing only on constructing scaffolding, while ignoring the building that it was supposed to help with constructing. Through the use of ever more efficient modern textbooks of ‘Grammar’, which focused upon teaching students to memorize ‘the rules of grammar’, while neglecting the very best uses of language known to man which demonstrate the best use of those rules, in the language that could have helped their students to learn them by heart… without that, students’ familiarity with those works soon began to fade from popular awareness. As people cheered the efficiency and usefulness of innovations like Noah Webster’s exceedingly popular – and very useful -’Blue Back Speller‘s, few noticed what students were no longer learning to read from, and why.

It’s of course easy to see how far ‘See spot run!‘ has fallen away from the language used in Webster’s spellers, but what’s not as easily seen, is how far the efficient lessons of textbooks such as Webster’s, had already fallen away from the language of Cicero & Shakespeare that had been used before them. Analogous to the pull of physical gravity, under which a falling object accelerates at the rate of 32′ per second, per second’, the downward pull of intellectual gravity’s rate of acceleration, is measured through the absence of eloquence and wisdom which is typically only noticed by the parent, not the child, and the great-great-great grandparent’s perspective never enters the picture. And unlike physical gravity, where acceleration is eventually stopped by impact with the ground, the impact of intellectual gravity is felt in an immediate and continuous endarkening of the mind, which is only indirectly noticed by the victim through increasing feelings of anxiety, confusion, and lack of self-control.

Nevertheless, for those who take the trouble to look past the appearances of the moment, it is easy enough to see that stepping off the educational ledge of the best that had been thought and said, into the textbook plunge from the Blue Back Spellers, to the McGuffey Readers (this will shock many, as both seem great from our perspective downstream, but consider that they too are downstream from what came before – a post on this to follow), to ‘Whole Language’, ‘See Spot Run’, Ebonics, ‘whiteness’, and whatever new horror that tomorrow will bring, has been demonstrating intellectual gravity’s ever accelerating rate of conceptual freefall into the language we use today in promoting narratives without regard for the truth, wisdom, or beauty, that they do, or even could, contain.

Those who shake their heads and fists at what’s happening in our schools today, as if it’s a recent result of negligence, error, and/or incompetence, would do better to spend less time looking for errors and incompetence, and give more consideration to how students receiving such an education as that might be of value to those who’re insisting that you and your children receive it. If you start following where questions such as that might lead, they’ll bring to your attention instances such as when Woodrow Wilson’s speech on ‘education’ to the new ‘High School’ teachers, said the quiet part out loud, back in 1909:

“…We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks…”

Never forget: The modernists goals for ‘education’ was not well educated students, it was (and is) a means of implanting the most ‘useful facts’ (what today we’d call a ‘narrative’) into the minds of the students in their care, so as to progressively produce – manufacture - a populace who’re less questioning and more accepting of what authorities tell them, as a means of making a more perfect world (under their power). They felt then and still feel today, that their ends fully justify their means, and in their judgment, what is real and true, plays no part in either (except to interfere in their plans).

In one of the rare bright spots of the modern world, more than at any other time in history, those works are available to anyone today than ever before, and those works that taught how to mine them for meaning, are as well, which can be done either in the privacy of their own home, or through a computer, tablet, or even apps on their phone, wherever else they might be (I’ve had a library in my pocket for a couple decades now. What… you thought I was just glad to see you? ;-) ).

If you ask your child’s ‘English Teacher’ what the purpose of teaching grammar is, their answer should include at the very least, that its purpose is to bring clarity to what they read and write, in order to better understand and communicate those thoughts which they are being brought into contact with in their materials and lessons. If not, if its practice is indifferent to, or even at odds with how to use language to understand and communicate such ideas to others, what possible value can grammar (never mind philosophy and epistemology) have, and why should any student be subjected to wasting years of their life studying and memorizing intentionally meaningless rules?

Education for Life
The sort of education that’s concerned primarily with transmitting ‘useful skills’, isn’t one that can enrich your life and character. Frederick Douglass risked everything as a slave, to study the best of what had been thought and said, by illegally purchasing his treasured ‘Columbian Orator‘, in order to escape the limitation of only being trained in useful skills. He described that kind of training in his essay on the “Blessings of Liberty and Education“, as intending for students:

“… learning only those skills that were useful to their masters…”

, trading as it does the development of understanding and wisdom, for the confused equivocation of shallow cleverness with the skill to manipulate materials, their fellows, and of course themselves as well, in order to gain some measure of the world, at the expense of the wealth which cannot be weighed upon those scales.

Those who give their time and attention to “the best that has been thought and said” in our culture’s stories, arts, letters, and religion, will benefit from the experience of reading from what is well written, engaging, and thought provoking, such as is found in the pages of Homer, the Greek Tragedians, The Bible, Shakespeare… Dostoevsky… J.R.R. Tolkien… even Agatha Christie. In doing so, a person enters into the landscapes and palaces of the West, and to the extent that they pause and ponder upon their surroundings, they’re drinking from its philosophical well. But how deeply they’ll be able to drink from the well of the West, will be limited by how familiar they are with the philosophy with which that well operates.

Of course, most people have little need or interest in studying philosophy, and likely especially not epistemology – but fortunately, they don’t need to.

However wise it would be to familiarize ourselves more explicitly with both, a premodern education that intelligently teaches the grammatical basics through the words, concepts, and ideas of the best that has been thought and said on what actually matters in life, and how to convey your understanding of that, will be implicitly teaching the habit of epistemological thinking to students as they identify what is being referred to and how (metaphysics), learn how to judge the veracity of that (logic), and recognize what that understanding requires of them in thought and action (ethics). That, which at one time was the normal expectation of a ‘Grammar School Education’ through quality literature, would work just as well for us, as it did throughout our Founders’ era, for them. If, that is, we also point out the dangers which we can see from our vantage point in time, that were not yet obvious to them, in their time.

The Modernists not only don’t teach that, they ridicule and undermine that, and even when they are made to teach some part of it, they do so disjointedly and through a materialist, pragmatic, and utilitarian (to say nothing of Marxist) lens, which is more harmful than having learned nothing of such matters at all.

Similarly with philosophy itself, as I’ve been pointing out over the last several posts, instead of teaching the unity of its three branches (metaphysics, logic, and ethics) as you might identify the head, torso, and limbs of a person in order to better understand and appreciate the whole human body, the modernists approach the subject as a vivisectionist would, using their new ’4th branch of philosophy’ as a tool for severing one from the other.

The modernist does what they do because they believe that the world will be improved by remaking it (and you) in their own image… for ‘the greater good’, which necessarily requires abandoning the pursuit of truth and wisdom, in favor of seeking power over you (which is the only means they can experience their ‘reality’ through), and that requires that you think of such things as grammar and philosophy as being little more than arbitrary and meaningless rules. The power which that gives them over you, leaves you with little or no control over yourself – how could it be otherwise? In such a world as that, you don’t get ahead by understanding what is real and true, but by studying meaninglessly useful facts in order to ‘get good grades and get a good job!‘, which those schools had been designed to fit your life into, as a harmlessly useful cog in that world which, in their expert opinion, would best serve ‘the greater good’.

For those inclined to say that ‘We pick up grammar, even philosophy, through day to day experience and so there’s no need to waste time on studying either!’, I’d advise you to keep in mind something about the experience of experience: untutored experience is limited to the good and bad you have experienced so far, which is always one step behind the next hard knock you’ve not yet learned from experience to look out for. To say nothing of the common experience of those who don’t know where to put their ‘i’s and ‘e’s and apostrophes, makes them the easy butt of jokes from those who take pride in their belief that those rules are the height of learning – learning by such painful experience is possible, but it is by no means preferable. In the end, experience shows that one very useful benefit of a good education, is that it enables you to learn from the invaluable – and often fatal – experiences of some of the best who’ve ever lived.

Learning grammar and literature as the premoderns taught it is not in any way opposed to benefits of Science & Technology that we enjoy in the world today, on the contrary, it’s the best way to ensure that both continue to develop (and less likely that we’ll kill ourselves with it). If your initial reaction to the mention of premodern society is to snicker & roll your eyes, you’ve probably internalized the modernists’ deflection of temporal provincialism, which preserves our ignorance of what they understood, with an easily derisive laugh at the ‘foolish’ appearances of those not yet ‘smart enough’ to have our technology.

Escaping from the Dark Ages once again
If you look past the modernist blinders, you’ll find that it was not the modernists that introduced us to the ‘scientific method’ – that began with English monks in the 1100s, who realized that if God said the world was ‘good’, it would be good to investigate how it worked. Neither was it the ‘Age of Enlightenment‘ that introduced the logical method and ‘ReasonTM‘ into our world – as you’ve seen from the Metalogicon, those were already central to the Liberal Arts that the premoderns educated students to know and understand. Despite what popular notions would have you believe, the leading lights of premodern thought, are the ones who carried the West through classical times, revived and rejuvenated them through Christian efforts during the middle ages (see Alcuin of York’s influence under Charlemagne), and kept that wisdom alive and accessible through works like the Metalogicon and ‘The Didascalicon’ of Hugh of St. Victor in the 1100s, and on through St. Aquinas in the 1300s and beyond.

It was the premodern’s focus on reality, logic, and reason, that made the Renaissance possible, and gave rise to that better aspects of thinking which we associate with the Enlightenment, and became the basis for the scientific developments we enjoy today. That same practice can get us through the dark ages we find ourselves in the midst of today – the absence of truth, beauty, and understanding, is the definition of a dark age – as learning well the ordering of and aims of language, will reveal to a reader what sound thinking is and is not, and will expose the follies lurking within what they’d previously assumed to be ‘obviously true’.

As Frederick Douglass put it,

“…Education, on the other hand, means emancipation. It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature. It is to deny them the means of freedom and the rightful pursuit of happiness, and to defeat the very end of their being…”

, and what it teaches is of real, practical, and timeless value, to your life. An education that springs from treating grammar as the ‘cradle of philosophy’, is one that will help develop an epistemology of metaphysics, logic, and ethics in a reader, and situate them in a world that is meaningful. That approach, even when begun upon the thinnest of fare, will incline the student towards concepts that are both higher and deeper, and disclose to them what is of value in living a life worth living, and reveal what is likely to hinder that.

For all of the shortcomings and errors that were present in premodern philosophy and the liberal arts, and there were many, their fundamental approach, including their honest errors in applying it, were and are far superior to the dishonest and malevolent approach that pervades modernist philosophy, the humanities, and wackademia in general. You needn’t read much of modern misosophy to realize that clarity, understanding, and a respect for what is real and true, have been designated as enemy combatants by it. Sadly, those ‘theories of knowledge’ which modernist epistemology dominates our world through today, have attacked grammar and literature from the start, and have a lot to do with why ‘the best that has been thought and said‘, a number of which Frederick Douglass’s treasured ‘Columbian Orator’ enabled him to study, are now nowhere to be found in the materials which students are typically ‘educated’ with today.

Those promoting ‘Ebonics’, or who criticize paying attention to grammar as ‘whiteness’, or promising that students can each have ‘their own truths‘, are not enlightening them, they are ensuring that their thinking will suffer from the absence of beauty, a lack of regard for truth, and little or no understanding of what is right and wrong, which are the hallmarks of our new dark age. The unfortunate ‘good student’ of such lessons as these, are led by them into a linguistic ghetto that’s sure to be well populated both by those trained into their own ‘activist’ mindset, and those limited to comprehending only Woodrow Wilson’s ‘specific difficult manual tasks‘… and of course, it’s sure to keep them at a usefully safe distance from those ‘who know best’, who are those who did not ‘…forego the privileges of a liberal education…‘ (corrupted, though even that may be).

In the name of ‘education reform!‘ especially across the 20th century, those materials that had been understood to be the most worth studying, have been removed from modern school systems. Such reforms have so savaged our students ability to read, that a sizable number of those who ‘graduate’ from school today, are unable to comprehend much beyond empirical step by step instructions, with the result that a horrifically large percentage of those who’re able only to ‘decode’ words, see no purpose or pleasure in doing so – and so are becoming assimilated into the machinery themselves. Perhaps no better example of which, is the enthusiastic support by faculty and students for the murderous terrorists of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran, over that of Israel and its people.

In the end, if grammar, logic, and reasoning, do not lead you to a better understanding of who you are, and what is real and true, and how to understand that yourself and communicate it to others, what possible value can such an ‘education’ have (to you)? Is the key to escaping a dark age more likely to lay in understanding the meaning that flows through the words which you understand your life with, or through the careless disregard of both their meaning and consequences?

Giving due consideration to those words which your mind is racing around in, putting your thoughts in order, verifying their soundness, and ensuring that the direction they’re taking you in is justified and true, is what Grammar (and more formally, Epistemology) is meant to aid your mind in doing. Whatever tends to undermine, muddle, or otherwise degrade your ability to grasp and use such knowledge as you have, will tend to be harmful to your life and your ability to live it, and you should be on your guard against that (especially if it comes wrapped up in a diploma or degree).

And with that in mind, my next series of posts will start digging into how modernity has used its ‘Epistemology’ as the ’4th Branch of Philosophy’, to establish a new ‘Social Epistemology’, which gives the illusion of support to some of the most disastrous ideologies of the 20th and 21st centuries, such as Socialism, Communism, Diversity-Equity-Inclusion, Social and Emotional Learning, etc., etc., etc.,..

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Source: https://blogodidact.blogspot.com/2023/11/enlightening-dark-ages-once-again.html


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