The Mathematics of The Quadrivium

by Brian K. Davis

Arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music are the four subjects that make up the quadrivium. A term first coined in the medieval period, it still carries weight today. Although it would appear that the quadrivium is made of two mathematical subjects and two non-mathematical subjects, astronomy and music are also based in math. Thus the quadrivium was solely based in the art of mathematics. Math has evolved over time and is still evolving today. The first known study of math came from Mesopotamia in 3,000 B.C.E. with the Babylonians and the Egyptians (Kline 3). However this math was basic and relied mostly upon counting. Math would not grow as a subject until the time of the Greeks in about 775 B.C.E. but would be lost to the world until the fifth century when Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c480-524) began translating the Greek works (Kline 201). After Boethius’ translations of Greek math into Latin do we see the rise of math in Europe to help explain the universe. The use of the quadrivium would give scholars the mathematical ability to analyze the physical world around them, the first of these scholars being the Greeks and Plato’s Republic.

Plato’s book the Republic was centered on creating a utopian society for the people of Greece. Plato would also go on to describe a perfect school system to teach those who would eventually lead society. In his definition of education, comes the first inkling of the quadrivium, although not outright stated. When talking about education, Plato believes that the science of arithmetic is wholly concerned with numbers and the quality of numbers leads to truth (Plato 161).

Plato believes that by understanding numbers, people can better understand the truth and gain insight into the world. Plato would also go on to state that numbers are important for generals as well as philosopher, “For a soldier must learn them (arithmetic) in order to marshal his troops, and a philosopher, because he must rise out of the region of generation and lay hold on essence or he can never become a true reckoner, (Plato 161)” Plato believes that understanding arithmetic will better organize the troops in battle. However the nuance of truth keeps cropping up in Plato’s statements as well, “This branch of learning (arithmetic) should be prescribe by our law and that we should induce those who are to share the highest functions of state to enter upon that study of calculation and take hold of it, not amateurs, but to follow it up until they attain to the contemplation of the nature of number, by pure thought, not for the purpose of buying and selling, as if they were preparing to be merchants or hucksters, but for the uses of war and for facilitating the conversion of the soul itself from the world of generation to essence and truth, (Plato 163).” Plato likes the study of arithmetic because it is tangible, meaning it can be easily proven or disproven making people think about their arguments before making one (Plato 165).

After Plato’s discussion on arithmetic comes geometry. Once again he connects geometry to war, “So much of it (geometry),” he said, “as applies to the conduct of war is obviously suitable. For in dealing with encampments and the occupation of strong places and the bringing of troops into column and line and all the other formations of an army in actual battle and on the march, an officer who had studied geometry would be if he had not,” (Plato 167) and also stating, “Its (geometry) uses in war, and also we are aware that for the better reception of all studies there will be an immeasurable difference between the student who has been imbued with geometry and the one who has not,” (Plato 173). Plato also mentions how geometry compels the soul to contemplate essence, and that geometry forces the soul to turn its vision round to the region where dwells the most blessed part of reality (Plato 169), Plato believed that geometry would help people examine the physical shapes around them thus opening their eyes to truth, “For geometry is the knowledge of the eternally existent. Then, my good friend, it would tend to draw the soul to truth, and would be productive of a philosophic attitude of mind, directing upward the faculties that now wrongly are turned earthward,” (Plato 171).

After astronomy would follow geometry in which Plato was quick to point out its uses for telling the seasons, months, and navigation (Plato 171), all of these being important for the study of war. Astronomy also makes the soul look upward and leads it away from things here to those higher (Plato 181). Plato also believed that the study of the stars would lead towards reality, “We must use the blazonry of the Heavens as patterns to aid in the study of those realities, just as one would do who chanced upon diagrams drawn with special care and elaboration by Daedalus or some other craftsman or painter,” (Plato 185). Plato did not have much to say on music other than astronomy was for the eyes and harmonies for the ear (Plato 189). Instead he refers to the Pythagorean’s writings about music, “They (Pythagoreans) transfer it to hearing and measure audible concords and sounds against one another,” (Plato 191). Pythagoras was the first person to examine the physical science of music. Kline would state this about Pythagoreans, “Because the Pythagoreans “reduced” astronomy and music to number, these subjects came to be linked to arithmetic and geometry; these four were regarded as the mathematical subjects,” (Kline 149).

Long before anything was known of pitch numbers, or the means of counting them, Pythagoras had discovered that if a string be divided into two parts by a bridge, in such a way as to give two consonant musical tones when struck, the lengths of these parts must be in the ratio of these whole numbers. If the bridge is so placed that 2/3 of the string lie to the right, and 1/3 on the left, so that the two lengths are in the ratio of 2:1, they produce the interval of an octave, the greater length giving the deeper tone. Placing the bridge so that 3/5 of the string lie on the right and 2/5 on the left, the ratio of the two lengths is 3:2, and the interval is a fifth,” (Helmholtz 14). Pythagoras would later build a tuning scale based on fifths which was used until the creation of just intonation and tempered tuning. Plato would later state astronomy and music as a useless form of numbers; however this section of the Republic did set the stage for later works on the quadrivium.

Boethius was a medieval scholar that served a great purpose in the expansion of the quadrivium. Boethius would translate some of the Greek works on math and would create the term quadrivium in his own treatise on math. Boethius would get his idea for De Arithmetica from the Greek thinker’s liberal arts curriculum (Masi 83). Boethius would re-introduce the Greek works to the western part of Europe. In his book De Arithmetica Boethius would introduce the idea of proportionality, “He begins his discussion of proportionality with an extensive list of the types, drawn directly from the Boethian De Arithmetica. A ratio is a relation between two terms, as 1:2, or as expressed in a fraction, ½ and the relationship is called a rational number in its fractional form. A proportion is a ratio between ratios, as when 1 compared to 2, which is as 2 is to 4. Proportion may be set up in series, as a series of duplex, triple, or quadruple proportions. Bradwardine extracts the idea of proportionality from the Boethian conception of proportion. Bradwardine adapted, also from Boethius, the idea that the most important proportionalities are the arithmetic, geometric, and harmonic,” (Masi 91).

Boethius would also introduce irrational numbers as a way to explain geometry, like the sides of the triangles (Masi 91). Outside of translating the Greek works, Boethius’ works would become popular in the Middle Ages, “We must conclude that the Boethian mathematics enjoyed an extraordinary increase in popularity and influence between 1200 and 1600,” (Masi 81). His book would even become the text book during the middle ages, “Moreover, for the teaching of the first of the quadrivial arts, arithmetic, the Boethian De Institutione Arithmetica appears to have maintained its position as a basic text, and his was the case despite the fact that there were available for the study of arithmetic in the thirteenth century, in its various practical as well as other aspects, a wealth of materials both old and new,” (Kibre 72). Boethius’ works would go on unchallenged until Roger Bacon. However these two both believed that education needed a solid base of mathematics (Masi 92). Bacon would disagree with the order in which the quadrivium be placed, however he did agree with Boethius on the teaching of arithmetic, the species of numbers and the reasons for their operations (Kibre76). Boethius would also write a work on music.

Music was another sub-category of the quadrivium and was another topic Boethius would translate Greek works and write his own treatise on. During the Medieval and Middle Ages, chant was the source of music. Chant was only used by the Catholic Church and was in Latin, the chants were used to help the common people memorize scripture. The irony of this last statement is that most people could not speak Latin thus they did not know what they saying. The first part of Boethius’ book dealt with chant and how it should be organized. Boethius would organize the chants into tonaries, or the classifying of chants according to their tonal and melodic similarities (Bower 164). Boethius would place the chants based off their church modes which were: Lydian, Dorian, Myxolydian, Phrygian, Hypo-Phrygian, Hypo-Dorian, Hypo-Lydian, and Hypo-Myxolydian, church modes are based off which note they start on. After establishing the tonaries, Boethius would move on to compiling works into two categories, practical tonaries, those used by professional singers to check the tone of a chant, and didactic tonaries, those used to teach students the basic qualities of each tone (Bower 164). Boethius would treat music differently compared to his contemporaries. He took a more analytical approach whereas his peers believed in the mysticism of music. To Boethius, the main approach to musical pitch was qualitative rather than quantitative (Bower 165).

Boethius believed that one could mathematically analyze music in order to learn how to better write music; in essence he created the first step towards music theory. Boethius affirms that one holds immutable truths concerning music when one knows the related mathematical quantity in the proportions of consonances (Bower 166), in Boethius’ time this would be the examination of one tone to another. For example when one strikes a string and touches it in the middle the octave is sounded thus the relationship between a note and an octave must be 1:2. Boethius would base his math off of Pythagoras. Boethius also argues that the practicing artist is separated from musical science, and thus is not worthy to be named a musician (Bower 166), in other words if a musician does not understand the theory behind it they do not fully grasp it and in fact are missing an element to music. Boethius’ works would begin the study of music theory, however like his other works, failed to advance the study of math as a whole.

The problem with the quadrivium was that it was translated into Latin but never expanded upon. In the Middle Ages the quadrivium was arithmetic, considered as the science of pure numbers; music, regarded as an application of numbers; geometry, or the study of magnitudes such as length, area and volumes at rest; and astronomy, the study of magnitudes in motion (Kline 202), and did not really evolve past that definition. According to Kline, “the introduction of some of the Greek words retarded the awakening of Europe for a couple of centuries. By 1200 or so the extensive writings of Aristotle became reasonably well known. The European intellectuals were pleased and impressed by his vast store of facts, his acute distinctions, his cogent arguments, and his logical arrangement of knowledge,” (Kline 207).However the quadrivium would have an effect on the Church. Once established, the clergy was expected to defend and explain the theology and rebut arguments by reasoning, and mathematics (Kline 202). Today the quadrivium is still used; however it is not referred to as such.

Math is now taught to every child in the United States. Most kids will start their training in mathematics in elementary school. Arithmetic is still the first subject taught with addition and subtraction, followed by the basics of geometry. What is interesting is that education today combines basic arithmetic and geometry with multiplication. Astronomy is rarely taught and the basic of music, mainly how to play an instrument, is taught. If one is lucky they will receive a little music theory, however most students do not. Education today however, has grown beyond the quadrivium. Today students are taught trigonometry, an upper level math of geometry, and advanced algebra, upper level arithmetic, and calculus. With the advancement of technology, there is less need for the average person to know astronomy, however for those who go on to study astronomy as their profession will rely on calculus. The study of music has advanced beyond comparison of tones.

Scientists have figured out that music is a disturbance of air in a wave like pattern. Hermann Helmholtz would crack many mysteries behind musical sound. Helmholtz was able to prove that musical sounds were actually complex sine waves, “Where two condensations are added we obtain increased condensation, where two rarefactions are added we have increased rarefaction; while a concurrence of condensation and rarefaction mutually, in whole or in part, destroy or neutralize each other,” (Helmholtz 28), in other words, sounds are created by multiple sine waves that are added together. Helmholtz proved there were multiple sine waves with his invention the Helmholtz resonator which is a bottle that will resonate only one sound, one sine wave, which is part of the complex sine wave (Helmholtz 43). However, this is a more advanced analysis of music. Most students will not learn this unless they go into music as a profession, even then they may not receive this knowledge. Professional musicians, however, will get a healthy dose of music theory. Students today no longer learn only the quadrivium; in fact, students now learn more math and its applications than at any other point in history.

The quadrivium was first discussed by Plato in what he believed was necessary to be a philosophical person. Boethius would later translate the Greek works of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and many others into Latin and introduce the quadrivium to the school system of Western Europe. Boethius’ quadrivium would be the platform for which the study of math would stand on for centuries and would later become the first step in expanding the concepts of math. Today the quadrivium is no longer directly taught but its subject matter still is. Students get a great deal of arithmetic and geometry and some will focus their studies on astronomy and music. The quadrivium served an important purpose in the advancement of European education and its affects should not be overlooked.



Adams, Herbert B. Circulars of Information of the Bureau of Education. Washington D.C.: Washington: Government Printing, 1887. Print.

Blackburn, Joyce. George Wythe of Williamsburg. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Print.

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This paper was originally created for Steve Jackson’s History of Higher Education course.


The Higher Education Act of 1965

By Erica Dines

Education is a crucial part of culture that society could not function without. As the leadership of the country it is important for the government to ensure that the education system is as accessible and valuable as possible. One action taken by the American government to fulfill this purpose was the enactment of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA). The HEA was an important piece of legislation which by providing financial assistance to under-privileged individuals increased the opportunity for previously unattainable education, leading to the betterment of society.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) was enacted on the eighth of November, 1965 (Pub. L 89-329), as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s social reform policy known as the “Great Society” (Cooley, 2011). In the preceding years President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (also known as the G.I. Bill) into law which began the involvement of the federal government in education (Swail, 2003). The purpose of this act was “to provide Federal Government aid for the readjustment in civilian life of returning World War II veterans” (Pub. L 346-268). Included in the aid for veterans was the opportunity to receive a higher education, financially provided by the federal government. The motive for this legislation was to counteract the potential of a new depression emerging from the millions of veterans that would face unemployment upon their return from the war (Mosch, 1975). After the success of this legislation President Johnson wanted to continue the rise of higher education and increase the number of educated individuals as a means to improve the conditions of society as a whole. Johnson said, “We need to do more . . . to extend the opportunity for higher education more broadly among lower and middle income families” (Swail, 2003). The HEA did just that.

The purpose of the HEA was (and still is) “to strengthen the resources of [our] colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance to students in postsecondary and higher education” (Pub. L 89-329). To accomplish this, the act established government funds to be used for program assistance for small and less developed colleges, additional and improved library resources at higher education institutions, and utilization of college and university resources to help deal with national problems like poverty and community development (McCants, 2003). In addition to community development and reversing the cycle of poverty, Johnson hoped education would act as a tool for economic growth and development (Cooley, 2011).

Title IV of the HEA is the section of the act which details student assistance by means of federal financial aid. It states:


(a) PURPOSE.—It is the purpose of this part, to assist in making available the benefits of postsecondary education to eligible students (defined in accordance with section 484) in institutions of higher education by—
(1) providing Federal Pell Grants to all eligible students;
(2) providing supplemental educational opportunity grants
to those students who demonstrate financial need;
(3) providing for payments to the States to assist them in
making financial aid available to such students;
(4) providing for special programs and projects designed
(A) to identify and encourage qualified youths with financial or
cultural need with a potential for postsecondary education,
(B) to prepare students from low-income families for postsecondary
education, and
(C) to provide remedial (including remedial language
study) and other services to students; and
(5) providing assistance to institutions of higher education.
(Pub. L 89-329, Sec. 400)

Providing financial aid to students of low-income status is beneficial on many different levels. This allows a greater amount of people to receive an education who otherwise would be unable. When someone is denied an education – due to an extenuating circumstance like money rather than intellectual ability or aspiration – it is not only detrimental to that individual’s life personally, but also to the advancement of knowledge and education as a whole; this disallows any intellectual advance or innovation to be made that could have positively affected society if the opportunity were present. The financial barriers that restricted a large portion of the population from receiving an education, in turn, restricted the potential of new intellectual minds to advance knowledge and improve society. The restriction of education based on monetary value rather than a value of intellectual merit and ambition is a restriction that proves very detrimental by its hindrance to the advancement of knowledge. Taking away this financial barrier is one way the HEA is beneficial to society. 

A study done by RAND (nonprofit institution that performs research and analysis) suggested that the societal benefits of education might even succeed the benefits reaped by the individuals. Upon intensive analysis of national data, the institution reported that “increases in education level resulted in improvements in social cohesion, technological innovations, and tangible intergenerational benefits that affect the entire society. In addition, reductions in crime and recidivism, Medicaid and Medicare costs, and other social costs are tied to education levels” (Swail, 2003). As a means to explain this societal benefit of education, this example was published in the report:

For every native-born Mexican woman who graduates from high school instead of dropping out, the nation would save $2,438 in social programs and would add $1,843 in public revenues in her 30th year. Similar savings and increases in public revenues would accrue annually over her lifetime. In addition, this woman would enjoy $2,588 more in disposable income during her 30th year. If this woman were to attend some college instead of stopping at high school, the result would be $956 more in program savings, $1,398 more in public revenues, and $2,401 more in disposable income at age 30. And graduating from college would add another $411 in program savings, $2,551 in public revenues, and $3,722 in disposable income [Vernez, Krop, and Rydell, 1999, p. 30].

This hypothetical scenario illustrates the many benefits of a single education. Not only would this benefit the person individually in the overall advantage of being educated and the monetary gain that accompanies it (disposable income), but society would benefit as well: thousands of dollars in welfare and social programs would be saved when the individual no longer needed to be supported by the government, and the economy would benefit because that individual would possess more disposable income to spend and put back into the economy. So society would directly benefit financially in money that would be saved and gained, in addition to the simple benefit of having one more educated, intellectual, member of society.

In addition to the many ways that the HEA positively impacts society, the act also provides opportunities which have the potential to drastically improve people’s lives. Education can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life, especially in terms of financial gain and security. Through extensive study and survey it has been determined that education is one of the surest ways to increase one’s social and economic levels and overcome the barriers of poverty and deprived social conditions (Swail, 2000). According the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn about 77 percent more than that of high school graduates, and those with a professional degree earn 50 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree. The difference in the long-run is even more astonishing: the difference in earning power between each level of education equates to about one million dollars over a lifetime.

The pattern can be summed up as such:
“There are no guarantees in life with or without a college
diploma . . . but . . . the odds are increasingly stacked against those with the least education and training. The more education one has, the more—on average—one earns . . . And this relationship has become conventional wisdom. People understand: who goes to college—and often which college—determines more than ever who has entrée to the best jobs and the best life chances” (Gladieux, 1998, p. 101).

It has also been found that “socioeconomic status is closely related to race and ethnicity” (Swail, 2003). On average, African Americans and Latinos earn less than two-thirds of what white households earn (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). So, statistically, a large portion of the group classified as “low-income” is composed of minorities. Similarly, this means that a large number of minorities are unable to obtain a higher education due to financial incapability. With the help of the financial aid and other services made available through the HEA, institutions of higher education can be comprised of a broader allotment of students. This can be beneficial in the sense of increasing the cultural diversity at these institutions as well as simply reversing cycles of poverty, poor education, and underrepresentation among such groups. In addition, parts of the HEA are geared towards specifically helping minorities gain education – Title III of the act provides institutional aid for minority serving institutions (Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal-Serving Institutions) and Title V provides aid for developing institutions (Hispanic serving institutions) (McCarthy, 2008). In these sections of the act the HEA provides support to the individuals in underprivileged minority groups as well as the institutions that most typically facilitate them.

Since its enactment the HEA has been reauthorized numerous times (in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998 and after much extension in 2008 (McCants, 2003)). In the years since its beginning additional programs and funds have been added, language and policy of existing programs have been changed (McCants, 2003), and the legislation overall has been reformulated in a way to better accommodate to the evolving society and educational scene. The HEA has been an extremely influential and beneficial policy and has affected the world of education, the individuals that strive to exist within it, and American society as a whole in a positive way.


Cooley, Aaron. “Higher Education Act (HEA).” Higher Education Law. SAGE Publications, Inc., 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2012. <>.

Davies, G. (2001, Nov. 30). Higher education is a public health issue. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. B16.

Gladieux, L. E., and Swail, W. S. (1998). Postsecondary education: Student success, not just access. In S. Halperin (Ed.), The forgotten half revisited—1998 (pp. 101–114). Washington, DC: American Youth Policy Forum.

Higher Education Act of 1965. Pub. L 89-329. 8 November 1965. Print.

McCants, J. “The Early History of the Higher Education Act of 1965.” National Trio Clearing House and Council for Opportunity in Education, Feb. 2003. Web. 10 Mar. 2012.

McCarthy, Brittny. “The Higher Education Act: A Quick Review.” American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 19 Mar. 2008. Web. 11 Mar. 2012.

Mosch, Theodore. The G.I. Bill: A Breakthrough in Educational and Social Policy in the United States. Hicksville, NY: Exposition Press, 1975. 19, 40.New York Times, 8 April 1946, TINCF, R-95, F-759.

Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Pub. L 346-268. 10 January 1944. Print.

Swail, W. S. (2000). Preparing America’s disadvantaged for college: Programs that increase college opportunity. In A. F. Cabrera and S. M. La Nasa (Eds.), Understanding the college choice of disadvantaged student (pp. 85–101). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Swail, Watson Scott, Kenneth E. Redd, and Laura W. Perna. Retaining Minority Students in Higher Education. Rep. Ed. Adrianna J. Kezar. 2nd ed. Vol. 30. San Francisco: Wiley Subscription, 2003. Print. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report.

Vernez, G., Krop, R. A., and Rydell, C. P. (1999). Closing the education gap: Benefits and costs. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

Authentica Habita and the Protection of Medieval Roman Scholars

by Nichole Slack Saturday

Authentica Habita, also known as “Privilegium scholasticum,” was a law issued by Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Diet of Roncaglia sometime around November, 1158. It was an edict intended to protect traveling scholars. In a time where roads were unsafe and cities were becoming increasingly dangerous, Barbarossa felt that scholars should be shielded from the perils they were faced with. He believed that scholars shed light on the world, and he felt compassion for those “who for love of learning choose exile and poverty, and divest themselves of their patrimony while exposing themselves to every peril and suffering what must be most grievous to endure: bodily injuries without cause from the vilest of men.” Authentica Habita was a huge advancement in the protection of scholars throughout the Roman Empire.

At the Diet of Roncaglia, Barbarossa issued the decree to ensure the safety of “all those pursuing studies in one of the schools.” The first school that this was applied to was the university at Bologna. Today, it is considered by many to be the first university in the western world, and although historians attribute its establishment to somewhere around the year 1088 C.E., it still remains in operation today. Perhaps if a piece of legislature like Authentica Habita had not come into being to protect its students, the University of Bologna may not exist in the present day. (Pacaut, 1970) (University of Bologna, 2012)

Authentica Habita’s main purpose was the protection of scholars as they traveled to universities and during the time they spent at such schools. Authentica Habita included many provisions to ensure the safety of such scholars, and some sections were left vague, as to be interpreted differently for each individual incident that may occur. Some of the major conditions made law via Authentica Habita included imperial protection during their travels, immunity from the jurisdiction of the local civil magistrates in the areas in which they were studying, and the right to summon their foes in specific cases and they could choose the judge who would preside over the matter. Students were also protected from a variety of small legal charges (things that today we would most likely consider misdemeanor crimes). However, it was the law’s open-endedness that truly allowed for students to really take advantage of their newfound security.

Since the emperor demanded that Authentica Habita be included into the Corpus iuris Civilis, it was able to be broadened. Corpus iuris Civilis (also sometimes called the Corpus juris Civilis), translated as “Body of Civil Law,” is a collection of Roman laws that Emperor Justinian I ordered to be compiled. (Halsall, 1998) Because Authentica Habita was included in this anthology, it was then analyzed, annotated, and expanded by jurists occupied with Roman laws. Eventually, the law would come to represent much more than was actually present in the text. For example, oftentimes students were able to avoid paying taxes or tolls on various items related to their studies or their stay in university towns. Access to adequate housing was required for scholars, and under Authentica Habita, students were actually able to commandeer housing and a horse (to provide transportation) during their stay at a university, even if the owner of the lodgings and horse disapproved.

Students did, in fact, reap the benefits bestowed on them by Barbarossa’s new piece of legislature. Authentica Habita wasn’t just words on paper—it was actually enforced. There is one old story of a weaver who sang loudly as he worked in his home near the Collѐge du Vergier at Montpellier. His singing was interfering with student’s learning, so he was told that he had two choices: one was to stop singing, and the other was to leave and work where he would not disrupt the educational process. Unfortunately, the old man was so used to singing while he worked that he had to leave and go about his weaving elsewhere. This was permissible because Authentica Habita had been interpreted in such a way that the ease and comfort of scholars during their studies was protected by act, and since the weaver’s singing was disturbing their studies, scholars had the right to ask him to leave, and since they had the law of the Roman Empire to back them up, citizens were obliged to do as they were asked. (Kibre, 1962)

The Corpus iuris Civilis was serious business when it came to Roman law. When Justinian I came into power, Roman civilization was as messy and unclear as the boundaries of the Roman Empire. The Emperor restored civilization to his domain, and in the process, recognized that the entire aspect of civilization had plummeted into disarray, and he believed that law would pull things back to the way they should be, and would keep them as such. Justinian believed that when there was law, people would follow it, and by following such laws, would be civilized.

The Corpus iuris Civilis was therefore a project very close to Justinian’s heart. Since the former system of law was in ruins, he took it upon himself to have it restored. He went about hiring men to carry out the task, and the employee most closely associated with constructing the Corpus iuris Civilis was a man named Tribunian. It took him two years to compile (with assistance), and was published by Justinian (at his own expenditure) in the year 529 C.E. (Baker, 1931)

When a project such as this is so near and dear to an emperor that it is not only one of his first priorities upon ascending the throne, but he also publishes the completed work at his own expense, it would be foolish not to take it seriously. Since Authentica habita was added to this key body of work 629 years after it was published, it was recognized as a legitimate and important piece of Roman law.

All in all, Authentica Habita became an extremely important piece of legislature. Its seriousness was marked not only in its practical execution, but also because of its presence in Justinian I’s Corpus iuris Civilis. Because it protected scholars in a time where being a traveling student was becoming more and more dangerous as time progressed, it allowed scholars to safely carry out their studies. Because it also allowed for things like tax exemption and adequate housing, scholars were able to carry out their studies in peace and comfort, quite possibly increasing the quality of their work. The work of medieval scholars is still recognized today as being influential in their respective fields, and had scholars not had the protection granted to them through Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in Authentica Habita, that work may have never been completed (or perhaps not even started to begin with, since scholars often encountered obstacles during their travels to universities, and therefore, their studies could have been brought to a close before they even arrived). Authentica Habita protected medieval Roman scholars, and without their work, we may not have the knowledge we have today, making it important not only when it was issued in 1158 C.E., but also today, over 800 years later.



Baker, G.P. Justinian. Binghamton: Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc., 1931. 99-102.

Halsall, Paul. “Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE.” Fordham University: The Jesuit University of New York. Fordham University, Jun 1998. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Kibre, Pearl. Scholarly Privileges in the Middle Ages: The Rights, Privileges, and Immunities, of Scholars and Universities at Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford. William Clowes and Sons, Limited, London and Beccles, 1962. 1-17. Print.

“Our History.” University of Bologna. ALMA MATER STUDIORUM- Universita di Bologna, 2012. Web. 12 Mar 2012.

Pacaut, Marcel. Frederick Barbarossa. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. and Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1970. 85-88. Print.

The Trivium Through The Ages

by Alexander Rumann

Liberal Arts have been the basis for education since ancient Greece and are still used to this day. The Trivium has been long standing as the foundation for education. The trivium makes up the first tier of the liberal arts and consists of Grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic. Learning the first three liberal arts is the starting point for the rest of learning that would consist of the quadrivium and then higher learning in research. The three parts to the trivium all feed off each other and one must learn each subject thoroughly before moving on. The starting point of the trivium is grammar for obvious reasons. Students must learn to read and write their letters and make complete coherent sentences. After grammar students move on to the more difficult subjects of rhetoric and dialectic. The last two that are mentioned are argument, also known as public speaking, and logic respectively. These three subjects are to prepare students for the other half of the liberal arts, the quadrivium. The trivium was an instrumental tool for education in ancient Greece and is still used in the world to this day.

As a young child in Greece you would have three teachers. One teacher would be for physical training, a music teacher and one who would teach you letters. The teacher of letters would teach you the basics of reading and writing (Barrow 62). The belief was that a student could not continue on to other parts of the trivium until they had a solid foundation in grammar. The goal of education was to generate sociable and happy citizenry. Education of the Athenians in the fifth century B.C.E. was a form of training in a very strict sense that was more a system of instruction. It consisted of two main parts: the training of the mind and training of the body (Walden 10). Due to the strict sense of education the Greeks used physical was the only way they knew how to deal with unruly students and a child’s resistance to learning to read which they found incomprehensible. The reason for having such a strict system was for the purpose of trying to create a civic spirit, a pride in belonging to a free city, and having loyalty to a political community (Finley 186, 188).

Education in ancient Greece was heavily influenced by the sophists. The sophists especially were the ones who promoted grammar (Walden 20). In the ancient civilization of Greece the trivium was started around the age of twelve, much older than a child in today’s world would start education. In Greece a child would start grammar school at twelve and typically stay there till the age of fifteen where they would then move on to the next stage of the trivium. According to an ancient writer grammar is an ancient discipline that we are exposed to from a very early age. This is true that in grammar there is a concern with the written word and literate societies were concerned with an education that had a large role in the mastery of words (Clarke 11, 12). Before reaching the age to attend grammar school, boys were to be taught by their father or guardian. Fathers were to provide some sort of training to their children so they could obtain some profession or trade when they are older (Walden 60).

The ultimate goal of teaching grammar was to assist student in becoming proficient and effective language users (Glenn 10). Grammar was taught by a specialist called the grammatikos. The basic function of the grammatikos was most revealed in times of decadence when the program was reduced to the bare essentials. Even to this day our vocabulary bears witness to the irreducible nucleus of grammar. The grammatikos would teach very elementary exercises in composition. He would also do some preparatory work with students in the areas of the other parts of the trivium. He would give the basic instruction of the theory behind the art of oratory and the elementary principles of logic (Marrou 192). This early instruction would lead into the area that would be taught by the rhetorician. Grammarians would have boy citizens from the ages twelve to fifteen and then the children would move to the rhetorician. The grammatikos would provide what would now be considered preparatory school (Clarke 12).

Today we still have what we would consider preparatory and grammar schools. Even though in today’s life children are sent to school at the ages of five to seven depending on the parents. Grammar schools are still the first step in a person’s education that must be mastered before they can move on just like in Greek culture. Without grammar a student would be completely helpless in higher education and would have no hope of obtaining the necessary tools to knowledge. The use of grammar is important throughout a person’s life no matter what profession they enter in to. Without the ability to read and write there is little that one can do in society today and causes a great hindrance on them as a functioning role in society. Grammar is of the upmost importance and is the major stepping stone for education.

The second part of the trivium is known as rhetoric, also known as oratory or argument. Boys would start rhetoric school after completing grammar school at the age of fifteen and remain there until the age of eighteen (Walden 33). Rhetoric or public speaking was considered a way of employing various oratorical tropes or ‘tricks of the trade’. Scholars like Plato and Aristotle didn’t initially agree with the art of rhetoric because it was not based on objective facts that could be backed up, it was all about presenting your side in a fair light. Oratory was mainly used to appeal to a person’s emotions rather than present facts (Fuller 296). The main goal of an orator is to express his appealing personality to his audience. It is of the utmost importance to impress that he is a man of common sense, upstanding moral character, and of good will. The orator must be able to read the various emotions of the audience any play to their sympathies and use their feelings to his advantage, in a sense he must excite them. In rhetoric a man must be an expert in controlling the emotions of his audience. He should be able to cause a rise in anger or quickly turn away the wrath of a crowd; or possibly implant a feeling of friendliness or hatred. He cultivates fears in his listeners or inspires them to make a motion. In the same ways he should make the audience feel shame or shamelessness or he must impress on them how kind he is and the unkindness of his opponent and by doing that appeal to their pity. Needless to say the orator must use various methods to excitants not with any respect to the merits of his cause but only to ensure victory. A great rhetorician is one who has the power to impress his own personality onto the audience. He uses this art to manipulate what he says into something that seems credible so as to win the assent of his spectators. It makes no difference if he uses this power of influence for good or falsehood. Orators’ who skillfully choose or invent maxims that express the beliefs of his listeners gets a reputation of being a man of good reputation. The gist of oratory is to string together maxims properly and apply them to the situation at hand. In order to be a great rhetorician one must be familiar with the subject they are presenting whether it is history, finance, or law. Athenian society was constituted on the fact that every citizen should be both their own congressman and lawyer if they were ever convicted of a crime but also to function in society. Most political arguments largely consist of discrediting the opponent as making the other persons argument seem unjust, unimportant or useless (Fuller 294, 296-7, 301).

Rhetoric has two sides to it. When someone uses the art of oratory for good everyone loves it but when it is used for evil we find rhetoric to be terrible. Modern day rhetoricians that we know are Roosevelt and Churchill and also Hitler (Barrow 25). As in ancient Greece as it is today public speaking is extremely important whether it is used for good or evil. Speaking clearly or marshalling an argument can determine whether anyone will listen to or follow you. In today’s world rhetoric is still in use to the same extent it was in ancient Greece. Lawyers and congressmen today use the art of oratory every day to defend clients or rally people to their cause. Without rhetoric there would be a different world than the one we live in. The United States justice system is based on rhetoric; condemning or clearing accused of charges is the way our courts run.

The third part of the trivium is dialectic or also known as logic. Dialectic is literally translated means ‘discussion by question and answer’. Plato argued that discussion between individuals is a much better way of seeking knowledge. Through this discussion one can develop understanding which Plato saw as the essence of education. Dialectic plays off of rhetoric in the sense that it is a form of conversation that is built from the basics of grammar and also a part of rhetoric. The original purpose of dialectic was to understand mathematics. “The metaphor of the line introduced four modes of perception, the final two of which are thinking focused on mathematical objects and true intellect or knowledge focused on the Forms. Mathematical thinking is inferior to dialectic in two respects: it makes use of models, diagrams and so forth and it takes its own concepts for granted or does not question its own hypothesis”, this was not the case later on (Barrow 87, 96, 105-6). What Plato defined dialectic as was “not thinking applied to this or that field but pure thinking, proceeded by independently by sensuous perception”. Dialectic was and is a very abstract study. One devotes themselves to the analysis and clarification of concepts, leading to their arrangement in the interrelated systems which follow the laws of classification and decision and make technical definition possible (Lodge 97, 106).

Logic is still a topic that is used in education today. There is no set curriculum for logic in today’s school system but it is still used. At a young age children usually learn by question and answer even before they are enrolled in school. Anyone who has been around a four year old can attest to that. This style of learning has been used since ancient Greece. There are classes in the college level that are logic based but this is a subject that has been eradicated from early education.

The trivium has come a long way since ancient Greece but it is still a vital part in our educational system. The use of grammar, rhetoric and dialectic has continually been a part of the education that a young person receives. The main pieces are in place still to this day even if how they are taught is completely different. The quadrivium was abandoned during parts of the Middle Ages but the trivium has been constant. There have been changes to the teaching method and presentation of the trivium but it has ever been there in education. The trivium as the foundation of the liberal arts is still the same today as it was back in ancient Greece.

Clarke, M.L. Higher education in the ancient world. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1971. 11-2, 33. Print.

Marrou, H.-I. The Legacy of Greece. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981. 186-192. Print.

Glenn, Cheryl. The Place of Grammar in Writing Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Boyton/Cook Publishers, 1995. 9-11. Print.

Fuller, B.A.G. History of Greek Philosophy. New York: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1968. 294-301. Print.

Barrow, Robin. Plato. Great Britain: Biddles Ltd, 1988. 5, 25, 62, 87, 96, 105-6. Print.

Walden, John. The Universities of Ancient Greece. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909. 10, 20-21. Print.

Barrow, Robin. Plato, utilitarianism and education. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. 179-180. Print.


This paper was originally created for Steve Jackson’s History of Higher Education course.

Master and Student Run Universities

by LeAnn J. Williams

Two systems were used to run universities in the medieval ages. The master-run university system was adopted by the Northern Schools of Europe (Oxford, Paris, and Cambridge). The student-run university system was adopted in Southern Europe, specifically Bologna. The northern part of Europe was civilized and organized. The government knew that people wanted to learn, and the government could do something about it. They created colleges, where the professors were paid by the government, and the students were under the professors. The masters of these schools set the rules, and the students were meant to follow them, no matter what they were. In the south, things were different. Society was chaotic, and the government was not established universally. Each region was a city-state, each with its own government. The students wanted to learn, but had no way to attend college, because the government was too chaotic to set one up. The students took matters into their own hands, and set up a university system. They paid professionals to teach them. The masters were under the students; this is the opposite of what was happening in the north. The students set the rules, and could fire a master if they broke those rules (Jackson). The master run system and the student run university system both worked, however the master run university has survived through time because of its stability, while the student run system has not.

In the north, the medieval universities were master-run. The University of Paris was founded, organized and funded by the government. The students were under control of the strict regulation of the faculty (Long). The Masters worked within a corporation, and they created the rules; these universities were organized by the professors and teachers. This model is what most universities today use (Jenkins). The North was organized, the government was powerful, and was willing to pay professors to teach their citizens. The governments wanted their people to learn and be educated past the typical grammar school level. With this high education system, citizens would become an active member in society, which increased economy, and lead to the Enlightenment (Jackson). The University of Paris is an example of the master-run university system.

The University of Paris was one of the first universities in Europe, and is based upon a master-run system (Long). The university grew out of the cathedral schools of Notre-Dame, and was founded in 1170 (Universities). This university was run from the top down, and was funded by the government. The students were under strict regulation of the faculty, they controlled everything (Long). The university was divided into four faculties, and each one was headed by a dean, the dean later became the university Rector (Universities). The master run systems were organized and administered by the professors and teachers who worked in a corporation (Jenkins). The systems were run by a Chancellor, who had the power to issue licenses to teach. Once scholars got their licenses, they became a part of the faculty. The professors would offer lectures or courses, and the students would take notes. Once the student felt ready, they could appear before the Chancellor for an examination and attain their diploma if they passed the exam (Nelson). The students would prove their time of study by two examinations, and would become licensed (Halsall). The masters ran the lectures and the examinations, therefore making Paris a master-run university. Though this university system worked, there was another system showing up in the southern part of Europe.

In southern Europe, the universities being formed were student run. The structure was entirely controlled by the student body. They elected representatives, paid the professor’s salaries, and made/enforced rules and regulations for their teachers. These rules would include things like the number of teaching hours, and the content delivered by the instructor. The students who were running the university were not young, they were not eighteen or nineteen like seen in the university systems today, they were much older, and generally had experience in liberal arts.

These universities were run by “post-graduates,” one could say. This institution was not a typical university, or built like one. The power in the university was not enforced by politics or games, it was by the wealth of the students and how well the students thought the professors were. The professors relied on the students for their salaries. If the students did not like the professor, they would withdraw their fees (Jenkins). The professors were scholars in their subjects, and as long as they followed the rules of the students, they could stay (Jackson). The University of Bologna was a student-run university.

The University of Bologna, as the first western university, has contributed to the advancement of education and law (University). The students of Bologna came from all over Europe to study with the prominent scholars. The professors were freelance, and offered courses on their own, and charging whatever the students were willing to pay. Professors had to compete for students. Students would only pay the professors if they thought the professors’ class was worth taking (Long). The students organized into unions called universitas, and they had to bargain with the professors. The professors taught scholastically at first, using scholars like Aristotle and Avicenna. The teachers were hired by the students to give instruction and the lectures were either “ordinary” or “extraordinary.” The ordinary lectures were reserved for the doctors, and the extraordinary ones were given by a student as a part of his preparation for the baccalaureate. The students had power over the professors, even the power to fire a professor if the professors lectures were not to the students liking (Long).

A committee, called the Denounces of Professors, would keep an eye out for misbehaving professors, and had the power to fire masters who did not follow the rules. The professors could be fined if they did not begin or end a lecture on time, or if they failed to present all course material by the end of the course. The professors formed a CBA (collective bargaining association) called the College of Teachers, this “college” gave the professors power. They gained the right to determine examination fees and requirements to earn a degree. A balance of rights was soon determined, where the professors would determine the obligations of the students, and the students determined the obligations of the masters. This was a power-sharing scheme, which seemed to work, though the students still held most of the power because they paid the salaries (Long). The student run system did not last long.

In 1220, the University of Bologna changed. The government began to pay for the salaries of the professors, and the professors guaranteed that they would stay at Bologna, which created continuity and stability in the university (Net). This converted the University of Bologna into a publicly funded university. The professors were now dependent on the city government rather than the students (Long). The students, however, got to make rules in which the masters had to follow. The masters had to swear loyalty to the student rectors and agree to abide by all the rules the student government made. If the professor, or masters, failed to comply with one or more of the rules, they would be fined. The rules included things such as the professor starting class late, or going over allotted class time; falling short of creating syllabus in the allotted time of the course or, leaving the town of Bologna for a day without permission. The rules were established by the city and the student body (de Foix). This was the ultimate power-sharing system. Bologna was later a research university (Pace). The communes tried to favor the students over the teachers at Bologna. The masters were to make an oath that they would not teach outside of the University of Bologna’s walls. Their tenure was secure, only if they limited themselves to the teaching of students at Bologna. The university was run by students and professors until the Napoleonic Era, where the Rector was reintroduced. Thus, the university became more organized. The Rector is elected every four years, and is the head of the university (Monaco).

Student-run universities do not work because the professors can be fired on a dime. If the students do not like the class, or the professor, or the grade they receive, they can pull their tuition. By pulling their tuition, the professor may be forced to leave, because his salary is lowered. Professors would be incoming and outgoing, which is hard on students in a university setting. Student cannot get to know a professor, or work with them long enough to establish a relationship, or even a research team. Master-run schools work because the Masters have to stay. They teach the students all they know, and they do not have to be afraid of being fired suddenly. The only problem with this system is that the students may not like what the professors have to say, and instead of the masters being fired, the students leave. This happened at Oxford in the medieval ages. The students at Oxford were fed up with their professors, so they moved. The students formed another university at Cambridge, and the Oxford professors lost. The best system is the three way one that Bologna now follows. The government, student body, and professors all work together in a balanced system. Each group has to compromise what they want, and what they get. It ends up working out for everyone, and is more functional than the master-run or student-run systems (Jackson).

The medieval period showed an increase in the want and need to learn. Paris was one of the most prestigious schools north of the Alps (de Foix), and the University of Bologna was the first university in the modern world (University). The University of Paris was a master-run school of the North, and Bologna was a student-run university of the South. Each program had great scholars and students, but one university was more stable over the other. The stability of this system led it to be more successful than the student-run universities of its time. The University of Paris’ master run model “is this model of the university which survives to this day” (Jenkins).




De Foix, Isabelle. “A TALE OF TWO MEDIEVAL UNIVERSITIES: BOLOGNA AND PARIS.” Jan. 1996. Web. 10 Feb. 2012.

Halsall, Paul. “Medieval Sourcebook: Courses in Theology [1271] and Medicine [1270-74].” Medieval Sourcebook: University of Paris: Courses in Theology [1271] and Medicine [1270-74]. Feb. 1996. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.

Jackson, Steve N. “The Thin Tweed Line: The Rise of Literacy.” DHC 261: The University. Black Hall 151, Ellensburg, WA. Feb. 2012. Lecture.

Jenkins, Scott. “The Specre of ’68, Student Activism and the ‘student University'” Modern Medieval. 21 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Long, Roderick. “A University Built by the Invisible Hand.” Roderick T. Long’s Home Page. Apr.-May 1994. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Monaco, Fabio. “Nine Centuries of History.” Rector of University of Bologna. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. <>.

Nelson, Lynn. “The Rise of the Universities.” Lectures in Medieval History. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.

Net Industries. “University – The Creation Of The University.” Http:// Net Industries, 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Pace, Edward. “The University of Bologna.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 2 Feb. 2012.

University of Bologna. “Our History.” Universita Di Bologna. ALMA MATER STUDIORUM, 2004. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. <>.

“Universities of Paris I–XIII.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.


This paper was first presented in Steve Jackson’s History of Higher Education course.

Socratic Education

by Danielle Brandli

There are many figures of educational importance throughout history. This essay will focus on the Greek philosopher Felix Socrates and his contributions to dynamic education, which are still prominent in educational systems today. Throughout this analysis Socrates’ background will be recounted and a thesis of his impact on education will be revealed. His concepts and theories will be declared and identified in multiple dialogues and those who furthered his theories will be noted. The reader will find that Socrates was the founder for present methods of philosophy and teaching as well as the founder for the present theory of knowledge. The philosopher Plato studied Socrates’ methods and Plato in-turn, taught Aristotle. All three of these dynamic philosophers play a large role in the knowledge underlying our education system today. To begin grasping Socrates’ impact on education, one must be knowledgeable about the life of Socrates.

It is important to know the background behind Felix Socrates in order to understand his philosophies. The Sophists, Socrates’ pupils, groups created from Socratic theories, the Peloponnesian War, the Democracy of Athens, and the trial and death of Socrates must all be known for any reader to gain a broad enough knowledge of Socrates’ background. Socrates was born in May of the year 468 BCE, as reported by C.C.W. Taylor in Socrates: A Very Short Introduction, published in 2000. It is believed that Socrates’ father was Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and his mother was a midwife named Phainarete who gave birth to Socrates in Athens (Taylor 4). He married Xanthippe who bore him three sons (Taylor 5). It was speculated that Socrates had a second wife named Mytro whom he was possibly wedded to at the same time as Xanthippe (Taylor 5). Little is known about the first part of Socrates’ life, but supposedly Socrates was a pupil of Archelaus who studied natural philosophy and ethics (Taylor 7). Complimentary to this belief, Archelaus’ studies can be noted as the probable foundation for many of Socrates’ analyses on human morale.

To our knowledge today, Socrates wrote no works of his own; therefore historians have only discovered Socrates through other philosophers’ writings as stated in The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy (2003) by D.N. Sedley. In fact, there is no material proof that Socrates was even a living person. However based on other philosophers’ writings, it is very probable that Socrates lived. In this aspect Socrates parallels Jesus, for Jesus had no written works of his own but similarly, multiple people wrote him about. The written works philosophers left behind about Socrates give historians a look into the second half of Socrates’ life (Sedley 89). Plato, one of Socrates’ pupils, wrote numerous dialogues that exhibit conversations between Socrates and another person—who was usually a Sophist—about ethics and morals (Sedley 89). Some of these dialogues, the Laches, the Crito and the Apology, the Charmides, the Protagoras, the Gorgias, and the Hippias Major can be found in Trevor J. Saunders’ 2005 edited version of The Early Socratic Dialogues and will be discussed in latter portions of this paper. Xenophon (another student of Socrates) wrote a series of dialogues, called the Memoirs, which also depicted Socrates conversations with different Sophists (Sedley 89).

The Sophists, defined by W.C.K. Guthrie in the second volume of A History of Greek Philosophy printed in 1962, were a group that focused on customs and laws and started to develop universal moral principles as well as a theory of knowledge. Protagoras, a Sophist who converses with Socrates in one of Plato’s dialogues, developed the idea that every argument has an opposing argument and since each argument already has an opposite, one cannot argue by contradicting an argument but rather by questioning the knowledge behind the argument (Sedley 80). This thinking was adopted by Socrates and was eventually developed into the method of Socratic questioning as seen in education today. Others (some of whom were Sophists) also adopted this thinking and became students of Socrates. There were many followers of Socrates; however his most devoted disciples were Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides, Euclid, Aristippus, Antithenes, Xenophon, and Plato (Guthrie 47-48). Keep Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides in mind for a later point. With his pupils, Socrates developed theories on knowledge, virtue, the psyche, and teaching. His most well known pupil, Plato, further developed Socratic education after Socrates’ death.

Socrates’ philosophies were at the root of multiple groups meaning that his knowledge was a large influence on other philosophers. Antithenes, who built off of Socrates’ theories and Sophist ideas, founded a group called the Cynics who explored the concept of morals (Guthrie 96). Cynics theorized that happiness was the sole goal of a moral life (Guthrie 115). Similarly, Euclid led the Megarics who explored the concepts of possibility, motion, chance, and annihilation while Aristippus led the Cyrenaics (Guthrie 93, 118). The Cynics and the Cyrenaics directly opposed the Platonic theory of reality being composed of Forms, which is intriguing because Platonism and the theories of the Cynics and Cyrenaics all stemmed from Socrates.

Next, information about the Peloponnesian War comes from Henry J. Perkinson’s work Since Socrates: Studies in the History of Western Educational Thought that was published in 1980. The Peloponnesian War occurred from 431 to 404 BCE, during the second half of Socrates’ life (Perkinson 2). The war ended in 404 BCE when a group called the Thirty Tyrants overthrew the democracy of Athens; three of these tyrants were Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides (Perkinson 2). Shortly thereafter—in 401 BCE—the Tyrants fell and the democracy was restored (Sedley 91). Following the democracy’s restoration, three men filed a claim against Socrates in 399 BCE for worshipping unknown gods and for corrupting the youth (Taylor 14). Although the claim was that he had corrupted the youth through his teachings, it has been speculated that part of the reason a case was brought against him was due to his connection to Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides (Perkinson 2). Since these tyrants were taught by Socrates and also involved themselves in the overthrow of the Athenian democracy, the Athenian government concluded that Socrates must have taught them that democracy was a bad form of government and therefore Socrates was responsible for their actions (Perkinson 2).

Plato’s dialogues show that Socrates did in fact dislike democracy. However, the laws of the Athenian democracy, deduced by Richard Kraut in his 1984 novel of Socrates and State, pleased Socrates because they were designed for improvement of the youth and they provided correct standards for behavior. Even still though, Socrates disagreed with the idea of democracy because he believed it gave power to the majority (Kraut 196). He thought that the majority—what he called the many—was corrupt because their morals were false and because the many could not give children an appropriate education (Kraut 196). Socrates concluded that democracy was not the ideal way to govern and he suggested that a board of experts could rule. Yet he questioned who was even qualified to be an expert for this proposal, and thus Socrates eventually recognized that there were no better options than democracy (Kraut 208).

Returning to Socrates’ trial— Socrates was tried in the spring of 399 BCE; the jury convicted him of corrupting the youth and sentenced him to death by hemlock poisoning (Taylor 12). Before his execution in late spring, Socrates spent a period of time in jail and while in jail Socrates had the chance to escape, but he chose not to (Taylor 14). Socrates stayed to be executed due to personal morals and he inevitably became a martyr to prove a key point: it is wrong to silence critics (Perkinson 13). Teaching society through action and sacrificing himself was what he considered to be the greatest act of teaching (Perkinson 13).

Socrates’ pupil Plato wrote two dialogues that accounted Socrates’ trial and personal motivations behind drinking the hemlock poison. The Crito and the Apology dialogues explain Socrates’ justification for his life and his reasoning for the necessary continuation of dynamic education. The Apology explains how Socrates teaches and that his life has been spent philosophizing which is essential to teaching; therefore Socrates concludes that his life is a just cause. The Crito explicates that Socrates must obey the law unless that law requires him to do an injustice. In this dialogue, Crito presents an argument for Socrates to escape from jail after he has been convicted, but Socrates refuses to do so. Socrates argues that he must stay and be executed for the well being of his psyche. Socrates believes that his psyche will no longer be able to philosophize if he commits the injustice of escape. Socrates deems that he may be able to continue to philosophize in heaven so his educational task will not be stopped by his execution (Teloh 98-128). After Socrates’ death, Plato continues to progress Socrates’ dynamic teaching.

Now that Socrates’ background is established, the nature of Ionian science must be explained before beginning to explore the theories Socrates created. As explained in Before and After Socrates written by Francis Cornford in 1958, Ionian science first began in an Ionian colony in the sixth century. Ionian science was the change to a science of impersonal nature from mythology with personal sacrifices to the gods (Cornford 17). Very few had claimed this point of view and most Greeks still carried on with their mythology for thousands of years to come (Cornford 17). This forward view of Ionian science is also called pre-Socratic science; moreover it is the science of “how,” which is asked before the “why” (Cornford 1-2). Socrates also pioneers this concept of asking the “why”.

Socrates had a few concepts that asked “why,” which were publicized in the dialogues of his pupils. His theories and concepts that will be introduced are the psyche, “know thyself,” a theory of knowledge, the concept of virtue, and the Socratic Method. With these concepts, Socrates created a basis for dynamic learning that was further developed by both Plato and Aristotle. Although Socrates had no written works of his own, his theories can be seen in the dialogues of Plato. Yet, was the purpose of these dialogues to educate people about Socrates’ dynamic theories? The immediate use of Plato’s dialogues is unknown but the philosophical purpose was to create something concrete that others could not argue with. Plato claims no original thought and credits the theories in his dialogues to Socrates, thus one can conclude that Plato constructed his dialogues to be a tangible and unarguable assembly of Socratic theories. The dialogues examined in this essay are the Charmides, the Protagoras, the Laches, the Gorgias, and the Hippias Major. Through the investigation of these dialogues, Socrates’ theories and his dynamic teaching style will be discovered and deemed as largely important to philosophy and education today.

First, Socrates’ concept of the psyche will be defined. Judged in Ellen M. Wood’s work Class Ideology and Ancient Political Theory: Socrates, Plato, And Aristotle in Social Context (published in 1978,) the psyche, or the soul, was an important concept to Socrates (Wood 107). He believed that the psyche was more superior to the body, and thusly that the body was simply a tool to be used by the psyche (Wood 107). Socrates observed that most men were too infatuated with the physical aspects of life and that people needed to pay more care to their psyche (Wood 107). Socrates believed that caring for your psyche correctly was the path to goodness and the first step on this path was critical self-examination: one must “know thyself’ (Wood 107). Socrates created a hierarchical system based on the purity of psyches (Wood 108). This system is ordered from the most pure to the least pure psyche:

-Authentic Philosophers

-Warrior Rulers

-Law Abiding Kings

-Physicians, Athletic Trainers, and Athletes

-Prophets and Priests

-Poets and Artists

-Artisans and Farmers

-Sophists and Demagogues


It is ironic that Socrates listed Tyrants as having the most impure psyches considering that three of his pupils later became Tyrant Rulers. If Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides followed Socrates’ teachings truly, then they would have known that their act of tyranny made them impure.

Next, Socrates’ greatest commandment was “know thyself” (Guthrie 65). He believed that if one knew oneself (defined as improving the psyche) then that person’s knowledge would greatly increase (Perkinson 9). In his 1979 work, Socrates: Philosophy in Plato’s Early Dialogues, Gerasimos X. Santas reports that Socrates theorized that virtue is the knowledge of goodness and that the knowledge of good and evil is the foundation for teaching and defining the world around us. If virtue—also known as moral—is the knowledge of goodness, then what is the definition of “goodness?” Socrates likely pondered this question and then defined what was useful and beneficial to mankind as “good” (Guthrie 68). If a man was knowledgeable in what was beneficial to other men, then they were virtuous. This type of thinking led Socrates to conclude that virtue was wisdom and success (Guthrie 70). Socrates also believed that being aware of one’s ignorance made one wise. These concepts are Socrates’ theory of knowledge and virtue, which he stayed firmly fastened to throughout his lifetime as seen during his trial and execution.

Plato’s dialogue the Charmides displays Socrates’ theory of virtue. In the dialogue, Charmides, Critias and Socrates discuss the aspects of temperance: self-control and modesty. Charmides says that temperance is doing one’s own business, which Socrates concludes to be immodest thinking, and therefore wrong. Thus, Socrates seeks to change Charmides thinking. Socrates decides to improve Critias’ thinking who, in-turn will improve Charmides’. Critias defines temperance as self-knowledge, which causes Socrates to deem Critias ignorant. Critias will not admit his ignorance but Charmides did and also asks Socrates to teach him more of virtue and help increase his wisdom. This brings up the earlier topic of Socrates’ accountability for the overthrow of the Athenian democracy by Alcibiades, Charmides, and Critias. Is Socrates to blame for Charmides role in the Thirty Tyrants? The last line of the dialogue, “You [Socrates] must expect me [Charmides] to use force…since he [Critias] gives me the command: take counsel…” clearly shows that Charmides becomes Critias’ pupil and thus, Charmides is made into a tyrant by Critias, not Socrates (Teloh 57-68).

The Protagoras dialogue also explores the teaching of virtue. In the Protagoras, Protagoras and Socrates start their conversation with different views on both teaching and virtue; Socrates thought that it was impossible to teach high demotic virtue while Protagoras believed low demotic virtue could be taught. After discussing Socrates decides that all virtue is the knowledge of good and evil which can be taught, while Protagoras changes his view to deny that any virtue can be taught. This dialogue does not show that Socrates successfully educated Protagoras and yet it does not recommend Protagoras’ teaching methods either. Plato could have written this dialogue while questioning Socrates’ teaching techniques (Teloh 164-175).

Another key concept that Socrates held was that what was “good” or “evil” could not be decided by society (Santas 139). He viewed society as a corrupt mass—as examined earlier—and thought that one should not look for societal approval but rather seek answers from experts on the subject. Socrates suggested consulting experts for help to decide what was “good” or “evil.” Furthermore, he emphasized that one must also learn these things from within (Perkinson 10).

Socrates aimed to change the thoughts of everyone, not just of the upper class and Sophists (Kraut 200). He wanted to spread his theories and educate people using his teaching techniques. These techniques, also known as the Socratic Method, were used to educate others and can be defined as “extorting a common truth from the loose and contradictory statements of different individuals” (Guthrie 47). This method is successful because it is based on the fact that man is fallible and that man does not know all. One must make mistakes when conceiving their morals and Socrates points out these faults through questioning arguments and creating counter-arguments (Perkinson 11). If a person admitted his ignorance during an argument with Socrates, then Socrates believed he would be able to successfully educate them. Socrates taught by not telling his pupils what was good, true, better, or desirable but rather by directing his pupil to see what was evil (Perkinson 11). This kind of teaching—as stated by Henry Teloh in his 1986 work Socratic Education in Plato’s Early Dialogues—was new for the time period and many of the people who would converse with Socrates would in turn become irritated with his techniques (Teloh 46). People were obviously unaccustomed to the Socratic way of thinking. Most Sophists still thought of philosophy as having an external nature while Socrates philosophized about the study of man and human action.

The Socratic Method, which we use today, is defined as the extraction of a common truth of “good” from loose and contradictory statements that are “bad” or “wrong” (Guthrie 47). Socrates theorized that wisdom came from virtue—the knowledge of what was “good” through personal thought—and that the better a person knew themselves, the more pure one’s psyche was, the more knowledgeable one could be. Socrates was a teacher who did not directly teach these theories but rather he educated his pupils by questioning them until they discovered the truth for themselves (Perkinson 11).

In the Laches dialogue, two fathers Lysimachus and Melesias have both been failures and they want their children to turn out better than they did. These fathers ask two generals, Nicias and Laches, if their children will be better off if they fight. The generals give contradictory speeches about fighting which leads to a discussion between Socrates and the generals about psyche and courage. Socrates questions the generals about what makes a man courageous and when the generals start to tire of Socrates’ questions he simply admits his ignorance. Socrates states that the generals have been more courageous than him; therefore they are wiser than him on the topic at hand. Socrates’ humility persuades the generals to answer his questions and the conversation ends with the conclusion that internal psychic is the cause of courageous actions. Two different definitions of courage come from both general; courage is the knowledge of good and evil or courage is endurance. This dialogue shows Socrates’ teaching methods and his success in educating both Nicias and Laches through guiding them to extract their own true meaning of courage (Teloh 41-56).

Now that we have discussed Socrates’ concepts in Plato’s dialogues, we will briefly look at how his pupil Plato further developed his philosophies. Platonism was developed with the Socratic Method as its foundation. Platonism in fact follows the Socratic Method so strongly that the separation of one method from the other is unclear (Cornford 55). However, Plato’s dialogues the Gorgias and the Hippias Major show that the Socratic Method of teaching needed to be expanded.

In Plato’s dialogue the Gorgias, Gorgias, Socrates, Polus, and Calicles discuss the teaching methods of rhetorical and dialectical teaching. Socrates believes that the ultimate goal of dialectic is to gain knowledge. Socrates and Gorgias contrast rhetoric and dialectic until Socrates concludes that dialectic is the ideal way of educating and Gorgias, Polus, and Calicles use the wrong method of rhetoric. Socrates however does not change these men into dialecticians. The dialogue shows Socrates’ failure was due to the fact that these men had already established their values. Also in this dialogue, Plato notes that Socrates’ teaching methods needed to be advanced, which becomes his reasoning for the necessity of pre-dialectic teaching in the Republic dialogue (Teloh 129-150).

The Hippias Major dialogue displays a conversation between Socrates and Hippias about beauty. Socrates rejects Hippias’ definitions and Socrates unsuccessfully attempts to change Hippias’ thinking. Socrates uses all of his usual teaching methods, yet they do not seem to have any impact on Hippias. In this dialogue Plato highlights that Socrates fails his educational mission and proposes his own answer: people need basic education in music and gymnastics (Teloh 176-194).

Plato’s dialogues illustrate how Socrates taught others. Every dialogue discussed shows Socrates using the Socratic Method while trying to guide the student towards finding the truth in Socrates’ theories. However, the Gorgias and the Hippias Major dialogues show Socrates’ failure to educate the other conversers, which Plato spends his life trying to progress. Plato took Socrates’ theories and advanced them into a system of the world. Plato’s system embraced both the nature of man and external Nature, whereas Socrates was only concerned with the nature of man (Cornford 56). Plato created the Republic dialogue as a program (based on the philosophies of Socrates) for the reform of Athens, dedicated to restore a moral life to society (Cornford 58). Plato’s main theory of Forms, or ideas, was that the vision of a Form was knowledge. He expanded on Socrates use of definitions and created a universal definition for Forms called absolute meaning: Forms are fixed within Nature and are unchangeable (Cornford 61). Plato believed that a world of perfect Forms contains the truth of all things, which further developed the Socratic Method of seeking the truth (Cornford 64). Plato’s work led to the establishment of the Pythagorean doctrine as well as the theory of reminiscence (Cornford 70).

Plato’s teachings also led to the establishment of Aristotle as a philosopher, whom migrated to Athens specifically to become a pupil of Plato’s (Cornford 85). For the first part of his life, Aristotle followed Plato’s teachings and created dialogues in imitation of his teacher. During the second part of his life, Aristotle moved away from Plato’s theories. Like a true dynamic learner, he questioned Plato’s idea of Forms and shifted from Platonism towards philosophy of the common sense (Cornford 88). Aristotle’s philosophy that “knowledge lies within Nature as revealed by the senses” was rooted in the Socratic idea of seeking the truth (Cornford 90). With his students, Aristotle began researching the nature of things through observation (Cornford 92). This Aristotelian system led to the development of biological science that broadly included physics and metaphysics (Cornford 106). Through research, Aristotle believed that one could find a universal answer to every question because everything is rational (Cornford 106). This theory of a universal answer completes Socrates’ search for the truth. Aristotle’s expansion of Socratic concepts may not have had an impact on our present educational system today if Aristotle had not taught Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great spread the Socratic knowledge he gained from Aristotle throughout the Roman Empire.

To conclude this analysis of Socrates’ educational influence, we will return to a few key points. Felix Socrates was a highly influential philosopher in the field of education. He was the foundation for philosophy as a study of mankind, teaching methods, and the theory of knowledge that were all continually developed by others and are prominent in our educational system today. Without Socrates’ theories, Plato and Aristotle may have never created their own philosophies. Without Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great, Socrates’ dynamic teaching methods may not have been taught. Without the spread of the Socratic Method, our education system might not be what it is today. There is no doubt that Socrates’ life dedication to the study of the philosophy was very impactful in the education of man.



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This paper was originally presented in Steve Jackson’s History of Higher Education course.