Saturday, February 18, 2006

Renaissance Rhetoric of Ramus Part 3: Ramism

The following post is a continuation of my comprised notes written on Walter Ong's book "Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"


Dialectic, Method, and Rhetoric

Ong begins with a summary of the influences upon Ramus and Ramism of the Renaissance period (171):

1) Peter of Spain and his highly quantified logic
2) Agricola's place logic
3) Arts Scholasticism
4) Didacticism of the university atmosphere
5) Pedagogical machinery of Humanism
6) Habituation of mental activity (creating mental habits)


Ramism's standard of quality discourse was essentially that which represented an example of dialectic or logic (175-176). Dialectic is the ability to discourse as well as the power of discoursing, which is laid out in Ramus' Teaching in Dialectic. For Ramus, dialectic could lead to conclusions of absolute certainty (176-178). Thus, discourse is subjected to the understanding of dialectic. Ong notes that discourse is a primary term within intellectual history:

Disserendi [discourse] is a critical term which controls the whole field of mental activity from classical times through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. (178)

For Ramus, natural dialectic contrasted with the art of dialectic, the former being functional whereas the latter was superb by means of its nature as a habituation or acquired skill. Ramus' teleological goal is action and knowledge in the pedagogical vein. Ramus reduced the arts to visual tables and charts of things, including dialectic. Veritas [truth] was the content of an art (or thing) held by nature or its container--no real metaphysical import was attached to the term itself. It was as if in the process of mapping out the field of the mind or any other subject the objects which were placed in the containers did not fill them (i.e. with understanding) but provided "useful" labels in the ongoing process of producing a consistent and copious pedagogical program (178-190).

Ramus' Dialectic was divided into two parts (a pattern of division that runs throughout Ramus' works): Invention and Judgment. Invention, for Ramus, is concerned with resolving explicitly formulated questions, is syllogistic in structure (as opposed to predicative), and is primarily concerned with seeking out the middle term of the syllogism through examination of topics (places, loci) as arguments in themselves (rather than as starting point or "seats" of arguments). Judgment, for Ramus, is concerned with the arrangement of inventional conclusions and is conflated with memory. The shift from the term "judgment" to the term "arrangement" (dispositio) further emphasized the prima facie style and understanding of judgment (including in these are the visual analogies of comparison that get employed). Judgment was divided into three steps, the last of which dropped out of Ramus' later work entirely:

1) Syllogism (with induction, example, and enthymeme)
2) Collections of Arguments (method)
3) Religion

Syllogisms included simple (categorical) and composite (all others), the latter of which arose from the former. Simple syllogisms were of two types: minor premise, argument (middle term), major premise; and dichotomized brackets. The three types of syllogistic reasoning (induction, example, and enthymeme) were all viewed by Ramus as truncated forms that suppressed one of the terms in the syllogism (be it minor premise, major premise, or middle term). The Aristotelian understanding, according to Ong, was far different:

1) Induction involved arguing a principle without examining all actual cases.
2) Enthymeme invovled arguing from a probable premise to reach a probable conclusion.
3) Example invovled arguing from a universal probable truth

The second part of judgment, arrangement of arguments, involved the collection and refinement of the conclusions through definition and division--a process which purported to arrive at the proper linkage (arrangement) of arguments. Axioms are relatively absent from this method, but rather the two activities of definition and division represented the "glue" to "hold" arguments together. Dialectic in this stage becomes a mapping of knowledge that sets out (lays bare) the "field" whereby one has "room" to "see" the things of the mind. In the third step of judgment, the religious, the method goes so far as to arrive at the mapped field of God's mind (178-190).

The understanding of dialectic as use or exercise was divided into three activities:

1) Interpretation (interpretatio)
2) Writing (scriptio)
3) Speaking (dictic)

Reading the poets, orators, philosophers, and all arts and writing was conditioned for the purpose of and in service to dialectic. The approach to any textual interpretation was twofold: "What is the question?" and "What is the argument?" Within this hermeneutic, ambiguity is a bane, a vice, because the question and argument are mapped out syllogistically as per Ramist dialectic method. Within Ramist interpretation, there are three steps of judgment:

1) With arguments in place, one examines the position of the middle term for weakness in structure
2) Defining the collection of arguments' end and causes (division)
3) Mystification that will also later drop from Ramism.

The steps of interpretation are very like the steps of judgment in dialectic itself. The ubiquitous nature of dialectic method for all subjects and objects is remarkable. The end goal of such interpretation for the student is memorization (facilitated through the simple structure and arrangement) which was the only real understanding that occurs. Such mapping of the mind and of knowledge is the end goal of Ramist dialectic method (190-195).

One of Ramus' critiques of Aristotle was that Aristotle did not provide a classification of the arts that make up all of philosophy -- a classification that Ramus estimates as the starting point of all philosophy. Out of this critique, Ramus turns to Cicero and technology -- what was originally a systematic treatment of grammar becomes the art of arranging the contents of the curriculum in proper fashion under Ramus' deviations (197-198).

Ramus' meticulous dichotomizing, unlike Plato and the majority of Neo-Platonist divisions, does not engage in any attempts to theoretically examine or support his two-fold divisions; nor were they derived from theoretical exploration. Ramus' work was born out of pedagogical exigence and appeal, evidenced by subsequent editions of Ramus' work spreading his dichotomization by subject, art, and ultimately all reality (199-202).

The corpuscular mental model arranged knowledge in clusters of spatial relation (genera), which were also clustered together in larger groupings (clusters of clusters) that represented all intellectual operations. For Ramus, the genus/species dyad was always understood equivalently to the whole/part dyad (i.e. never common/proper) (203-204). All teaching proceeded from genus to species so that definition became the starting point followed b division into "specific" parts, though no principle of division appears to guide the method save perhaps the principle of division itself (204-205).

Ramus also had several misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Plato. There appears to be an ignorance of the noumenal realm; a reduction of Platonic ideas to the most simple species of a thing; and an adoption of a transcendent knowledge, but one further separated from Plato than even Aristotle was (whom Ramus accuses of just such a misrepresentation) (205-207). In truth, Ramus' divisions are more Aristotelian than they are Platonic and his method is only adequate for distinguishing elements without concluding on any final resolution of how those elements are to be understood (207-208). Nominalist/Realist issues were passed over in favor of topics more "suitable" for teaching youth (208-209). Ramus's work ignores propositional and judgmental modes of argument and takes terms themselves as fixed validities. Thus, "man" is a true term and "non-man" is a false term, though when placed in a propositional statement they cannot always maintain a fixed validity because terms are neutral. Consider the example:
"Ass is a man" is invalid and "man" constitutes a false predicate of "ass is", though for Ramus the term "man" is supposed to always be a true term (209-210).

Another consequence of Ramist dialectic is the subsumption and dismissal of the four parts of oration: exordium, narratio, confirmatio, and peroratio. The four parts are included in the 2nd step of judgment, where they become examples of the method of definition and division. Further, rhetorical commonplaces are changed into dialectic arguments (210-212). Decorum and the three styles of rhetorical style (plain, middle, high) are also subsumed and effectively discarded by Ramist dialectic method. Decorum's relation to adaptation and ethos are seen as superfluous to the complete and pristine spatial diagrams produced through dialectic. Amplification and memory (storing and recall of examples, circumstances, paraphrases, etc.
for the purpose of enlarging a theme) are marginalized or reduced to simple recall of the classifications mapped out by the Ramist method (212-213).

There were two major critical responses to Ramus' dialectic method. Gouveia argued that Plato's dialectic (from which Ramus says he draws from) was not an art of disputation at all, but a prince of the arts and sciences. He also recognizes that Cicero (whom Ramus also uses) praises Aristotle on invention and judgment (which received some of Ramus' most harsh criticisms of Aristotle). The Gouveia model of Aristotelian dialectic was unlike Ramus:

[T]hat part of the art of discoursing which provides us with the arguments with which we can dispute either side of a question with a certain probability." (216)

He also criticized Ramus' notion of natural dialectic, which he saw as a fake concept since dialectic is necessarily an art applied to mental reasoning. Gouveia noted the difference in Galen's method of dialectic: with the end in sight one is to break it down by its means and teaching can define and divide or it can proceed by composition and progression (215-220). The other major critique of Ramus came from Charpentier. He noted that Aristotle's dialectic was concerned with discussion/debate and not with scientific reasoning. He distinguished three aspects of reasoning in Aristotle:

1) Analytic: logic of strict scientific proof
2) Dialectic: opinion and general aspects of reality
3) Metaphysics: perfect knowledge of 1st principles

Charpentier does agree with Ramus that art is a kind of explanation or teaching (220-223). The final edition of Ramus' dialects ended up dropping the 3rd step of judgment, as well as the preoccupations with definition and division. Judgment is still conceived of as arrangement, either of enunciation or of syllogism and method (223-224).


The understanding of the "method" was still germinating in the 16th century. As a term it was not used or understood as we use it now, but rather discussion about method was a discussion about routine and efficiency -- thinking and discourse were the routine. In Aristotle, method had to do with the pursuit of knowledge or of an investigation or the mode of prosecuting such an inquiry. The emphasis was on logical procedure. In Socratic tradition, method was fused with dialogue and dialectic. Medicine was where method developed most prominently in Classical Greece where a more personalized, rhetorically informed orientation existed. The emphasis in the classical period on method as a procedure of logical orientation directed toward knowledge shifts its focus to curriculum organization and pedagogical procedure by the Medieval period (225-230).

Ramus' own turn toward method developed out of the realm of rhetoric rather than logic or science. He draws from Hermogenes through the reading of Johann Sturm. Hermogenes discussion of the pattern of rhetorical irresistibility contains nothing of Aristotle's use of method. The medievals of the 15th and 16th centuries that pick up Hermogenes identify methods with language rather than with science or abstract thought (230-232).

Sturm's method (drawn upon heavily by Ramus) appeared in a dialogue on one of Cicero's rhetorical treatises. Method, for Sturm, is a "short cut" or teaching procedure. The are three parts of method in discovering an art:

1) through simple things to art
2) through art to simple things
3) division of definitions into parts

The last of these parts Sturm identifies with Plato and Socrates and was used in medicine during his own time. Sturm's categories come from Galen, but his terms are derived from rhetoric rather than medicine or logic. He relies on medical examples but supposes a broader scope for method than medicine alone (232-236).

Another influence on Ramist method comes from Melanchthon's observations on method. He saw method as a way by means of reason, but a way that is primarily a habit of a science or art which seems to clearly arrange confused matters. Melanchthon's method dealt with categories, but not as predicates (as in Aristotle). Instead, they are treated as receptacles, like Agricola's loci. In both Melanchthon and Agricola there is a concern for local motion: the former is drawing out content from its container whereas the latter is putting content into its container. Melanchthon's method proceeds by way of questions related to topical considerations (236-239).

Aristotle's own method of arriving at scientific knowledge is the following:
1) Start with the knowledge of causes -- why things are so
2) Examine sense data through inductive reasoning to arrive at principles that can explain the data
3) From the principles posed, one works back down through the data deductively.

Ong notes that for Aristotle: "Syllogistic reasoning is less a way or a substitute for discovery than a sequel of and complement to it." (242) Yet in Ramus, syllogistic reasoning was less about scientific demonstration of knowledge arrived at through induction, deduction and logical rigor but it was rather about a didactic method for conveying (arranging) accepted conclusions (240-245).

Ramus' own method is the tool by which one arrived at knowledge that is properly arranged. He relied heavily upon spatial metaphors in the arrangement of intellectual "atoms." Method is also a curriculum subject which can be extended to apply to any treatise on any matter -- thus the requirements of method applied (mutatis mutandis) to the teaching of any discipline. Ramus' terminology surrounding method is confusing and often misplaced with no intelligible reasoning for certain uses (e.g. the term "axiom" for method) (245-252).

Ramus derides poetry, oratory, and history because they do not follow his prescribed method of arranging bits of knowledge. Probabilistic reasoning (classic enthymeme) fade altogether in Ramus in favor of spatio-linear organization. The spatio-linear organization did not allow for regressive steps however (i.e. middle to first), which hampered it severely (252-254).

There is also a reduction of all priorities in thought to the absolute priority of nature itself -- the order of knowledge will always correspond to the order of nature (254-257). Ramus' method closely connected to the notion of structure and he mistakenly assumed that induction and deduction were reciprocal intellectual processes of the same psychological nature (257-258).

The three laws of method that were restricted originally in Aristotle (and later in Johann Caeserius' principles of demonstration) to scientific demonstration were universally applied by Ramus. They appear below, with their alternate labels:

1) de omni -- law of universal application
alt.---law of necessary truth
alt.---law of universal necessity
2) per se -- law of essential application
alt.---law of homogeneity
alt.---law of justice
alt.---law of necessary relationship
3) de universali -- law of total application
alt.---law of wisdom
alt.---law of necessary association

In Aristotle, the 1st law requires the subject to be treated in its full extension; the 2nd law requires the predicate to be referred to the subject essentially; the 3rd law requires the predicate not to be extended beyond where the subject is extended (258-262).

In Ramus, the 1st law requires that any art must admit no restriction or exception in being extended; the 2nd law requires that in an art all statements must "join" things necessarily related; the 3rd law requires all statements in an art to be converted into simple logic -- i.e. definitions constitute all statements. For Ong, the entire substance of Ramist arts are represented in the unsupported diagrammatic division and definition of things into spatial relationships (258-262).

Ramist art and method, so severely entrenched in topical logic, leads to understandings that are confusing and relatively useless as knowledge: e.g. disposition is the grouping of arguments and method is the grouping of groups. Grammar is treated geometrically rather than aurally (as symbols rather than as phonemes) (262-263). In practice, the activity of textual analysis is a way of operating on a text didactically -- for pedagogical use or exercise. Genesis is the reverse of analysis -- rather than deriving didactic arrangement out of a text, one is now didactically constructing a text from imitation (synthesis) (263-267).

To sum up Ramist method then:

Everything is arrangement through perfect method as perfect art, through perfect method as perfect discourse, through perfect method as perfect method. The method is art is discourse is arrangement. With Ramism we have the arrival of the scientific approach to literature and a newly developed hermeneutic, as a fully developed approach to textual analysis (267-269)


Ramist rhetoric only preserves two of the traditional five canons: elocution and pronunciation (style and delivery). The other three are subsumed by dialectic. Invention and disposition (or judgment, also called arrangement) are included in dialectic, while memory is subsumed in the second step of dialectical judgment (270-271).

Ramist rhetoric initially follows from Quintillian: eloquence is the power of expressing oneself well. However, Ramus divides rhetoric into three stages or steps, as in dialectic:

1) Nature, or origin: thought, reason, discretion (as in dialectic), and embellishment
2) Art, or method of teaching: style and delivery
3) Exercise, or teaching applied: interpretation and imitation

The lack of focus on delivery occurs because of its refusal to fit neatly and exclusively into the diagrammatical forms of the written word. In addition, style is reduced entirely to tropes and figures. Interpretation and imitation are dropped in later treatments of rhetoric (271-274).

The five canons in Greek and Roman culture were taught in the vernacular language whereas in Medieval and Renaissance cultures they were taught in Latin, which caused them to become secondary to the necessity of learning a non-vernacular language (Latin). Rhetoric courses because courses in Latin as opposed to a more general education in the five canons. Rhetoric-as-style-and-delivery was taught prior to dialectic-as-invention-and-judgment (and memory), which constituted a reversal of the order in which they were taught in classical Greece and Rome (275-277).

Ramist rhetoric is almost entirely reduced to ornamentation. Classical ornamentation in Cicero and Quintillian understood the terms in connection with oral sound: an ornament of rhetoric is also styled as praise, honor, or light of words and sound. It was personalist in focus. The personalist approach to objects is present in the 16th and 17th centuries where the radical distinctions between the internal and external world had not yet arisen and been sedimented as in the modern era (277-279). However, Ramist rhetoric puts ornamentation in more visual terms, arranging spatial and diagrammatical explanations and using spatial metaphors--praise and honor are lost terms in Ramist rhetoric (279-281).

For the ancients, rhetoric and dialectic polarized toward sound and sight respectively:

1) Rhetoric: resonance and auditory
2) Dialectic: silence, abstract, diagrammatic

They are artistically different tonally, but they are not distinct in any other way definable (i.e. topically, categorically, etc.). By specializing the world rhetoric and dialectic had to be made rigidly distinct, since extended items in space cannot occupy the same space (as people experience it superficially). This distinction becomes defined, in Ramism, as Solon's Law: clear lines of distinction to separate things into singular spaces or places (279-281).

Rhetoric and Poetic are not widely separated until Ramism either. Rhetoric and Poetry both dealt with the probable:

1) Rhetoric: probability and probable conclusions
2) Poetic: feigned conclusions and semblance of conclusions or of truth

Ramist poetry was quantitative and diagrammatic, solidifying poetry quantitatively into rhythm (length of lines) and meter (kind of feet). Renaissance scholasticism relegated all linguistic training to "low-level" preparation for higher level non-literary curriculum (281-283).

Ramist "plain style" represents a non-rhetorical style and rhetoric is considered dissimulation reserved for recalcitrant audiences (283-284). The rhetoric of Ramus did not prescribe itself to the world through open advocacy so much as it was adopted for its ability to lay forth an entire mental field and approach to cognition. Ramist rhetoric neglected sentence (theme), amplification, and decorum as well. As Ong puts it:

Ramism assimilated logic to imagery and imagery to logic by reducing intelligence itself, more or less unconsciously, in term of rather exclusively visual, spatial analogies. (286)
Ramist rhetoric influenced poetic thought of its adopters through a turn from dialogic modes of expression to more contemplative, didactic, and metaphysical modes (284-286). Ong again notes:

By its very structure, Ramist rhetoric asserts to all who are able to sense its implications that there is no way to discovery or to understanding through voice, and ultimately seems to deny that the process of person-to-person communication play any necessary role in intellectual life. (288)
The nature of Judgment (orally and aurally undeniable) was transmogrified into spatial arrangement (method = syllogism) -- world of sound to world of space -- by way of visual analogies.

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