Good Day My Fellow Travelers,
Here's an article published in February 2014 based upon my upcoming book, "Building Free Men - Uncommonly Freeing Masonic Education - Volume 8", due out in about 2 months that might be of interest to you.
Fraternally and Sincerely,
Fraternally and Sincerely,
Bro. John S. Nagy
Building Better Builders Series Author
When I Entered the ranks of the Fraternal Order, I was led to believe that I was now part of “Speculative” Masonry only, not Operative Masonry in any way and my Brothers reinforced this division. I was further told the distinction between the two had to do with their focuses and activities. I was moreover informed that Operative Masons were those individuals who plied their trade upon physical stones only. Speculative Masons, on the other hand, erect a spiritual temple, a house not made by hand, eternal in the heavens. It was implied that the division between the two had to do with physical versus mental work.
The Coaches Coach: Drawing Distinctions – Operative and Speculative
When you rely solely upon what others tell you, you risk knowing only what little you are told. – Dr. John S. Nagy
I’ve come across enough instances where the use of words was so twisted off course that the meaning behind their original intent was no longer recognizable. Such instances occur regularly in life and, not surprisingly, within the Freemasonic Organization. These instances can often appear overwhelming and certainly disconcerting, especially to those who enter into Freemasonry’s knowledge game with the preconceived notion that what is shared within its hallowed halls is complete, factual and unwavering. Such is the case with the words associated with Operation and Speculation as used within the Fraternity. Should you accept without waver what is offered by your Brothers, further scrutiny of these words shall neither occur, nor bring fresh Light to shuttered eyes.
Soon thereafter I earned the right to Travel, I quickly became aware that there were some very different definitions used outside of the Fraternity associated with the words used within the phrases that differentiated modern day Freemasons and Masons who existed as members prior to Grand Lodge Era. These differences were startling.
As time unfolded, I noticed a continuous decline in member participation within the craft over the relatively short time that I was part of the organization. I began asking myself and others if we were missing something in our instructions that might provide a clue to this decline. Was there something in our training that was not being conveyed that should be? Did we somehow miss an important aspect of the Craft that brought upon us the very decline that we wanted to avoid? I was sure that there was something, but I was not clear as to what it was.
My search for answers to these questions led me to look into the very words put before me and many other Brothers during Instruction. One of many words I started examining was the word, “speculative”. At first, my search led me to definitions and I didn’t like what I found. As the word, “speculative[i]” is defined today, it means, “engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge.” This definition had me scratching my head. I didn’t like the phrase “rather than knowledge”, especially since it was Light that attracted me to the Organization. I also took the time to look up the word, “conjecture[ii]”, since I was now questioning a lot of things including what I thought I knew.
The definition for the word, “conjecture”, provided me with very little comfort. In fact, it was quite disquieting! It said that a conjecture was “an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information” and it was the opposite of “fact”. Surely this was not what was behind the meaning of “speculative”! Surely this disturbing definition was not behind why so many Brothers knew so little about the role that speculation was supposed to play in their own lives! Rattled, I dug deeper.
Going into the etymology of the word, “speculative[iii]”, provided some much needed comfort and relief. It said that it originally meant, “purely scientific [iv], in theory only”. I could easily embrace that. The etymology also said to look at “speculation[v]”, and so I did. I found it meant, “intelligent contemplation, consideration; act of looking”. I liked that phrase, “intelligent contemplation”. I knew what being contemplative[vi] meant, or at least, what it meant to me.
Stepping back from the quarry dig, I realized the word, “speculative”, had undergone a tremendous shift in meaning over the years. Much like the words, “Mason” and “Freemason[vii]”, its general use today reveals it had gone through a semantic shift and doesn’t mean what it did many years ago. Its originally meaning denoted, “prolonged theoretical thought”, and connoted, “the liberal arts as opposed to the ‘mechanic’ arts (i.e., arts requiring manual skill)”. It is clear that the intent of the word, “speculative”, was not to engage in unfounded thinking but to use it as a bridging metaphor for building toward the application of techniques used to “build builders of men” by way of the liberal arts study rather than the manual arts. In essence, Speculative Masons are supposed to be “Well-Founded Cultivated Thinkers”. Such Cultivation doesn’t occur without Operative elements. This means it requires Work!
Eventually, I operated consciously and deliberately away from speculativism[viii], I turned my attention to the word, “operative[ix], [x]”. The word appeared to be straightforward in its definition: functioning, having effect; a worker. Further investigation revealed that not much had changed in its overall meaning over time, other than wider applications. What were more telling to me though were the archaic meanings and roots: done by labor; creative; formative. Its antonym was “invalid”, affirming the lack of results that non-operation would bring forth should one not engage oneself actively in one’s endeavors. These pieces all dove-tailed very nicely with the slogan that I heard years before I joined the Organization of Free and Accepted Masons: Masonry Makes Good Men Better. Or, as I have said many times before: No Work, No Transformation!
Further speculation into the label that Speculative members put forth to differentiate themselves from their stone carving Brothers brought forth an interesting question. If Operative members of the Organization did all the labor, and Speculative members did all the thinking, wouldn’t the Organization need both functioning together to accomplish anything of significance?
The response to this question is that it is not as clean cut and divided a Craft as many members might want to conclude. Although the labels originally put forth by our Speculative progenitors were done so with the best of intentions, it doesn’t take any deep speculation to quickly realize they do not do justice to the Craft if one assumes and acts as if a separation actually exists: to accomplish anything of great importance, one must both Speculate and Operate[xi]. Even Rituals today in many different jurisdiction state quite succinctly that “our ancient brethren worked at (wrought in) both Operative and Speculative Masonry[xii]”. This makes sense too for anything that Masons diligently Operated upon would have to be backed by well-founded Speculation toward what was to be Built if such activities were to have any lasting value.
And, as in ancient times, the same goes for our modern day Brothers. Rituals say that “…as the Operative Workman Erects his temporal Building…, so should we (“Free and Accepted Masons”), both Operative and Speculative, Endeavor to Erect our Spiritual Building… [xiii]” connoting that both functions must occur, along with the assignment of the labels “Operative and Speculative”, even when the erections that current modern day members strive to bring forth are that of Spiritual Temples.
Unfortunately, creating a division, due to any unfounded Speculative belief that Spiritual Temples require no Operative involvement to bring it forth only confuses the Builders of such temples. Severing them in twain mistakenly divides one from the other in our current Craft efforts. This either 1) prevents Building altogether due to lack of Operation, or 2) when such Building goes unguided for lack of well-founded Speculation, only Rubbish ensues.
What’s more, neither of these outcomes are the desired results that any man intent upon Betterment should accept! As much as Freemasonic Training offers to its members opportunities to think; little to no Work is required. Masonic Training however requires you to Operate as a Well-Founded Cultivated Thinker; this requires Work! To obtain Better, Operative and Speculative Functions must unite within you and Work together.
Points to Perpend
1. Do you believe speculation is the only activity required to improve yourself?
2. If you were to take upon yourself activities that actually “have effect” upon your personal improvement, what would those transformative activities be?
3. Should you look upon your role in your life as a responsible proactive Speculator and Operator, what do you believe your future activities would include?
[i] speculative (adjective) 1.engaged in, expressing, or based on conjecture rather than knowledge. [synonyms: conjectural, suppositional, theoretical, hypothetical, putative, academic, notional, abstract; tentative, unproven, unfounded, groundless, unsubstantiated]; 2. (of an investment) involving a high risk of loss. [synonyms: risky, hazardous, unsafe, uncertain, unpredictable; informal, chancy, dicey, iffy]
[ii] conjecture (noun) 1. an opinion or conclusion formed on the basis of incomplete information. [synonyms: speculation, guesswork, surmise, fancy, presumption, assumption, theory, postulation, supposition; inference, (an) extrapolation; an estimate; informal, a guesstimate, a shot in the dark, a ballpark figure]; [antonyms: fact]; 2. an unproven mathematical or scientific theorem. 3. (in textual criticism) the suggestion or reconstruction of a reading of a text not present in the original source.
(verb) 1. form an opinion or supposition about (something or someone) on the basis of incomplete information. [synonyms: guess, speculate, surmise, infer, fancy, imagine, believe, think, suspect, presume, assume, hypothesize, suppose];[antonyms: know]; 2. •(in textual criticism) propose (a reading).
Origin: late Middle English (in the senses ‘to divine’ and ‘divination’): from Old French, or from Latin conjectura, from conicere ‘put together in thought,’ from con- ‘together’ + jacere ‘throw.’
[iii] speculative (adjective) late 14c., “contemplative,” also “purely scientific, in theory only” (opposed to practical), from Old French speculatif “worth great attention; theoretical,” or directly from Late Latin speculativus, from past participle stem of speculari (see speculation). Meaning “given to (financial) speculation” is from 1763. Related: Speculatively.
[iv] scientific (adjective)1. based on or characterized by the methods and principles of science. [synonyms: technological, technical; research-based, knowledge-based, empirical]; 2. relating to or used in science. 3. informal: systematic; methodical. [synonyms: systematic, methodical, organized, well-organized, ordered, orderly, meticulous, rigorous; exact, precise, accurate, mathematical; analytical, rational]
Origin: late 16th cent.: from French scientifique or late Latin scientificus ‘producing knowledge,’ from scientia. Early use described the liberal arts as opposed to the “mechanic” arts (i.e., arts requiring manual skill).
[v] speculation: (noun) late 14c., “intelligent contemplation, consideration; act of looking,” from Old French speculacion “close observation, rapt attention,” and directly from Late Latin speculationem (nominative speculatio) “contemplation, observation,” noun of action from Latin speculatus, past participle of speculari “observe,” from specere “to look at, view”. Meaning “pursuit of the truth by means of thinking” is from mid-15c. Disparaging sense of “mere conjecture” is recorded from 1570s. Meaning “buying and selling in search of profit from rise and fall of market value” is recorded from 1774; short form spec is attested from 1794.
[vi] contemplative: ( adjective) 1. expressing or involving prolonged thought. [synonyms: thoughtful, pensive, reflective, meditative, musing, ruminative, introspective, brooding, deep/lost in thought, in a brown study]; 2.involving or given to deep silent prayer or religious meditation. 3. a person whose life is devoted primarily to prayer, esp. in a monastery or convent.
[vii] The Coaches Coach: Drawing Distinctions – Freemasonry and Masonry; Dr. John S. Nagy (2014)
[viii] speculativism: the excessive use of speculation.
[ix] operative: (adjective) 1. functioning; having effect. [synonyms: in force, in operation, in effect, valid]; [antonyms: invalid]; 2.(of a word) having the most relevance or significance in a phrase or sentence. [synonyms: key, significant, relevant, applicable, pertinent, apposite, germane, crucial, critical, pivotal, central, essential]; [antonyms: irrelevant]; 3. of or relating to surgery.; (noun) 1. a worker, esp. a skilled one in a manufacturing industry.; [synonyms: machinist, (machine) operator, mechanic, engineer, worker, workman, blue-collar worker]; 2. a private detective or secret agent; [synonyms: agent, secret agent, undercover agent, spy, mole, plant, double agent; (archaic) intelligencer]; 3. detective, private detective, investigator, private investigator, sleuth;
Origin: late Middle English: from late Latin operativus, from Latin operat- ‘done by labor,’ from the verb operari
[x] operative (noun) “worker, operator,” 1809, from operative (adj.); sense of “secret agent, spy” is first attested 1930, probably from its use by the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a title for their private detectives (1905).
(adjective) “producing the intended effect,” early 15c., from Old French operatif (14c.) or directly from Late Latin operativus “creative, formative,” from operat-, past participle stem of operari. Weakened sense of “significant, important” is from 1955.
[xi] operate (verb) c.1600, "to be in effect," back-formation from operation, or else from Latin operatus, past participle of operari "to work, labor, toil, take pains" (in Late Latin "to have effect, be active, cause"). Surgical sense is first attested 1799. Meaning "to work machinery" is from 1864 in American English.
[xii]Which is preceded by “We work as Speculative Masons only…” with few Brothers realizing that the words “work” and “operate” are synonyms, inferring that they must be Operative in their Speculative Practice.
[xiii] And as the operative workman erects his temporal building in accordance with the designs laid down upon the trestle board, by the master workman, so should we, both operative and speculative, endeavor to erect our spiritual building in accordance with the designs laid down by the Supreme Architect of the universe, in his great book of nature and revelation, which is our spiritual, moral and masonic trestle board.