The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Necessity of Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic

No Masonic lodge would allow an Entered Apprentice to become a Master Mason without passing to the degree of Fellowcraft first. It would be unimaginable to proceed otherwise. One of the Working Tools of an Entered Apprentice is the Common Gavel, which we use to divest our hearts and consciences of the vices and superfluities of life; thereby fitting our minds, as living stones, for that spiritual building, that house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. There is a suitable proficiency in the use of this tool which is required of us before we can be passed, and our conductor vouches for us that we have that suitable proficiency.

In the Fellowcraft degree, we are taught about the seven liberal arts and sciences, that we should engage with in constant study. There is a certain peril in making the transition from Operative Masonry to Speculative Masonry. Stones can be tried objectively by the square, but men cannot always be so tried, even though the candidate lecture of the Fellowcraft invites us to do so. In making the transition from Operative to Speculative Masonry, we still try each living stone, only with the Working Tools of a Fellowcraft in their speculative usages, rather than their operative usages. No mason should be offended at being tried, as he has been ever tried, never denied, and ready to be tried again.

An Operative Freemason works in stone. A Speculative Freemason works on himself. At the Entered Apprentice level, he works on the guttural, pectoral, manual, and pedal levels. At the Fellowcraft level, he works on the verbal and intellectual levels. At the Master Mason level, he works on the spiritual level. If he fails to work on the guttural, pectoral, manual and pedal levels, he cannot be a fit subject for the lessons of the Fellowcraft. Similarly, if he fails to work on the verbal and intellectual levels, he cannot be a fit subject for the lessons of the Master Mason. This science is progressive, and indeed must be so.

The seven liberal arts and sciences are divided into the Trivium and the Quadrivium. The Trivium is a prerequisite for the Quadrivium. A man who fails to master the Trivium cannot be a Fellowcraft, let alone a Master Mason.

Grammar is the study of the structure of language, and the way that language conveys meaning. Without a serious study of grammar, we cannot assume that we are capable of conveying meaning through language. Language is complicated, ambiguous, frustrating, challenging. That is why it takes a lifetime of study. Language is a powerful tool, and as Masons, we insist that our brethren master the use of their tools. Words have meaning, whether we want them to or not. Syntax conveys meaning, whether we want it to or not. Human beings have the option of vomiting out strings of words (or things they wish were words) artlessly without any care as to how they are received and understood. But Masons do not have that option, not if they want to remain fellows of the Craft.

That leads to rhetoric, or the art of fashioning language to convey meaning, of moving the hearts and minds of those who receive our language, and ultimately, persuading them that we have something valid to convey. Men, and especially Masons, have strong opinions because we are intelligent men brought in close proximity with other intelligent men of very diverse backgrounds, faiths, political opinions, and educations. It is natural that, as much as we use the trowel to best agree, we sometimes will not agree. Rhetoric teaches us how to make our cases as Masons, and not as bullies nor as petulant children.

Rhetoric is neutral. It can be used for good, or it can be used for evil, as any propagandist knows. But Masons are committed to truth, and logic is the study of how to test our ideas for their truth value. Rhetorical logic (I would consider mathematical logic to be a different subject, better covered under arithmetic in the scheme of the seven liberal arts and sciences) is the study of how to fail to convey the truth verbally, by studying logical fallacies. Because a Mason values the truth above all else, when confronted with a fallacy, he divests his heart and conscience of it, as the dross he needs to leave behind in order to be a living stone fit for the Master's use.

A Mason who eschews these lessons is as contemptible as one who eschews our other virtues, make no mistake. A bus driver who does not know whether or not he cannot safely operate his bus but drives it anyway is a menace. A Mason who does not know whether or not his words have meaning cannot be responsible for his words, and words have launched wars, shaped nations, saved or damned souls, and have erected new sciences. A Mason who cannot sway the hearts and minds of others through his words will forever be thought a fool, and we should not be at the making of a Mason of a fool. A Mason who does not know whether or not his ideas are true, and declines to test them for their truth value, and yet persists in those ideas is a man who cannot value truth. This puts him in spiritual peril, and demonstrates that he eschews our other virtues—virtues more immediately obviously moral in nature.

To try a Fellowcraft is not to insult him but to honor him. You will not be the first, nor the last, to do so. If he is also a Master Mason, then his brethren have vouched for his proficiency. It makes liars of us all if he claims honors in the Craft that he has not yet earned.

I am adamant about this. A Mason who makes simple grammatical errors shows his contempt towards Freemasonry by doing so. A Mason who does not rise above cliché and uttered banalities he repeats from others shows his contempt towards Freemasonry by doing so. A mason who persists in ideas and sentiments that are logically false shows his contempt towards Freemasonry for doing so. We are all rough ashlars striving to perfect ourselves. But a Mason who does not strive to perfect himself stops being a Mason, and this includes every part of the Masonic curriculum, including the seven liberal arts and sciences. Not every Mason has studied atonal counterpoint or gravitational redshift, even though we strive to learn music and astronomy. But a Mason who defends his ignorance shows his contempt for Masonry by doing so.

We can try a Fellowcraft by his attitude towards what he does not yet know. The necessity of a virtuous education is stressed throughout our ritual. This education did not end when we left our respective schools; it continues as long as we remain conscious.

Some of us were educated men before we ever became Masons. Some of us never received a basic education and are called upon to learn now what we never learned before. Masons meet on the level; but not because we insist on a baseline mediocrity in our members. We meet on the level because we each strive to be worthy of our brothers, with zeal and humility. William Preston was an orphan who taught himself, and yet he became the framer of our Craft Degrees. Benjamin Franklin came from similarly humble circumstances. Freemasonry demands daily improvement, no matter what our starting points are, and the results of daily improvement are notable, whereas the results of inertia discredit our Craft.

Each of us is a walking advertisement for the Craft. A Masonic communication riddled with spelling and grammatical errors embarrasses the Fraternity as a whole, not merely because it reveals us as ignorant men; but because it reveals us as men who profess to value the very arts we demonstrate that we do not value.

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