Hillsdale College’s revamped core curriculum now includes a threecredit course in classical logic and rhetoric, disciplines which were a mainstay in higher education until the nineteenth century.
The course has not yet been implemented due to a lack of available faculty, but planning is underway. According to Provost David Whalen, the course is an attempt to restore the ancient tradition of formal logic in education.
“Formal logic concerns reasoning, the arts of denying, the nature of propositions, and the relationship between propositions in reasoning,” Whalen said.
He said a course in classical logic and rhetoric studies pertains more to “statements and propositions and words,” than to mathematical, abstract symbols.
Professor of English Stephen Smith, who cochaired the course design initiative with Professor of Speech Kirstin Kiledal, said that logic and rhetoric, two thirds of the trivium, have been at the heart of liberal education for centuries.
“We hope to bring about a renaissance,” he said.
Whalen clarified the purpose of the class.
“One of the modes of rhetorical argumentation is logos, or logic,” Whalen said. “In asking, ‘How logical is your argument?’ you need to know what constitutes a logical argument.”
For example, the class will teach students to make distinctions between essences and properties. They will discuss modes of causation. Whalen likened the class to a toolbox –– a set of terms that aids students in how to think clearly about things.
“One could argue classical logic and rhetoric fell out of the curriculum the way phrenology [the practice of reading head bumps] fell out of favor. Why throw a mummified discipline onto a cart and roll it into a modern course?” Whalen said. “But it is our belief — a belief in which we have a lot of confidence — that that toolbox is very far from outmoded, irrelevant, or outdated.”
He argued that students’ intellectual education and common public discourse suffer from the lapse of classical logic and rhetoric.
“The inability of people in common discourse to engage in discussion from different viewpoints, using similar sets of tools, is owing in part to the absence of a common toolbox,” Whalen said. “Tools are important. I actually think it is easier to drive a nail with a hammer than with a muffin.” Faculty across the college are interested in the course, but, because the course has fallen out of favor in higher education, almost anyone who takes on the task of teaching it will require some training.
Kiledal and Assistant Professor of Education Jeffrey Lehman, however, have extensive experience in both disciplines. This semester and last, Lehman taught a newlyrequired course in the education department entitled Logic and Rhetoric in Classical Education.
“Although there is no formal connection between our course and the new core course, many faculty are interested in seeing how this existing course goes, given how similar the content and approach will likely be for the new core course,” Lehman said.
Lehman added that a course in logic and rhetoric is a “natural fit” for Hillsdale College.
“The study of the liberal arts is meant to be introductory, foundational, and formative,” he said.
“For a student engaged in liberal education, a course in logic and rhetoric will pave the way for advanced studies in a variety of disciplines and unite these studies through careful attention to the arts of the word.”
Kiledal said the course will involve a large number of written exercises and some short papers. “The course has to integrate logic and rhetoric, two large branches of study, into a single semester,” she said. “In order for that to occur, we have had to create limits, and one of those is with regard to the canon of delivery. This is true at least for the first version of the syllabus, passed by the faculty in the spring. The course may see implementation without new hires — but that will place strain on a number of departments.”
Whalen estimated as many as four new faculty members would be necessary to teach the class or free up people at the college to teach it. One of the goals of the Rebirth of Liberty and Learning Campaign is raising money to launch the program.