Ramus, Peter

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Pierre de la Ramée, educational reformer and logician, author of many widely used works on philosophy and letters; b. Cuts (Oise), France, 1515; d. Paris, Aug. 26, 1572. Despite straitened family circumstances, Ramus went to study at Paris. The common story that for his inaugural performance as master of arts in 1536 or 1537 he defended a spectacularly anti-Aristotelian thesis is now suspect, but in 1543 his two works, Dialecticae partitiones (The Structure of Dialectic) and Aristotelicae animadversiones (Remarks on Aristotle), did violently attack Aristotle and the university curriculum as confused and disorganized. Condemned by Francis I, Ramus was reinstated by Henry II, who in 1551 appointed him professor of eloquence and philosophy in the body of professors later known as the Collège de France. He embraced the Protestant reform around 1562, retiring to Fontainebleau in 156263 and to Rhenish Germany and Switzerland from 1568 to 1570. C. Waddington's often-repeated story that Ramus's murder in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre was engineered by the physician Jacques Charpentier is without solid foundation.

Ramus's much edited works, which sparked volumes of controversy, run to 60-odd titles, supplemented by some 13 additional published works of Omer Talon (Audomarus Talaeus, c. 151062), his literary collaborator. Besides the pivotal dialectic or logic and its complementary rhetoric, these works include also classical editions and commentaries; lectures on physics, metaphysics, and mathematics; textbooks on grammar, arithmetic, algebra, and geometry; miscellaneous orations and open letters; and the posthumously published Commentariorum de religione Christianae libri quatuor (1576), Ramus's only theological work, basically Zwinglian in orientation.

Ramus's most important work was the Dialectica or Logica (1555, 1556, etc.), a work related to the dialectic of R. Agricola, Ciceronian and humanistic in professed aim, but ultrascholastic in manner and in much of its content. Dialectic or logic, the art of discourse (ars disserendi ), made up of inventio and dispositio, was to rule all thought, from mathematics to poetry, to the exclusion of any logics of the probable (such as dialectic and rhetoric had often been made out to be). Ramist rhetoric consisted merely of tropes and figures. Ramus helped set the stage for R. descartes by developing concern about "method," which in 1546 Ramus, almost simultaneously with melanchthon and Johann Sturm, had transplanted into logic from the rhetorical manuals where it earlier appeared. "Method," included under dispositio, meant proceeding from the general to the particular. ("Cryptic method," proceeding from the particular to the general, met special emergencies.) Ramists specialized in dichotomized charts to "analyze" both thought and reality "methodically": a subject was divided into two, the subdivisions again dichotomized, and so on. Ramist method provided the academic tradition of the West a major teachable organization for discursive thought other than that of the classical oration, which from antiquity had been the dominant overall form of discursive organization formally taught, though others were used (the common dialectical organization was not discursive but dependent on attack and rejoinder). Ramist method thus laid the groundwork for the modern encyclopedia article.

Into the late 17th century Ramism had countless proponents, especially in Germany, the British Isles and their American colonies, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia. Ramus's theology as such attracted little notice, beyond the condemnation of his proposal for lay church government at the Protestant synod of Nîmes in 1572. But Ramist systematizing appealed to the nonsacramental, methodical Calvinist mind, in both religious and secular matters. Countless writers, including Francis bacon, attacked Ramism as oversimplified, but its heavy reliance, overt or covert, on spatial models in its account of mental activities and extramental actuality, which has discernible antecedents in medieval scholasticism, was typical of much of the thought even of its opponents.

See Also: dialectics; dialectics in the middle ages.

Bibliography: w. j. ong, Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (Cambridge, Mass. 1958), exhaustive bibliog; Ramus and Talon Inventory (Cambridge, Mass. 1958). r. hooykaas, Humanisme, science et réforme: Pierre de La Ramée 15151572 (Leiden 1959). w. risse, Die Logik der Neuzeit (Stuttgart 1963) v.1.

[w. j. ong]