Dec 17, 2015
Welcome back to Mere Rhetoric, the podcast for beginners and insiders about the ideas, people and movements who have shaped rhetorical history. I’m Mary Hedengren, we today we continue our exploration of the baddies of rhetoric.
Last week we talked about Thomas Hobbes and his rhetoric-hating ways for our first villain of rhetoric. Next in our series of the badnicks of rhetoric is Peter Ramus, or, if you will, Petrus Ramus. Ramus came before Hobbes, and he’s definitely one of the people that rhetoricians point to as a villain
As James Jasinski once said, "the range of rhetoric began to be narrowed during the 16th century, thanks in part to the works of Peter Ramus.”
And who was this villain?
Ramus was born in Cuts, France. His father was a farmer and his grandfather a charcoal-burner. He became a servant to a rich scholar at the College de Navarre. Ramus was educated at home until he was 12 at which time he entered the Collège de Navarre in Paris. He graduated with a Master's Degree in 1536, defending a thesis on Aristotle. After graduation Ramus taught, first at the Collège de Mans, then at the Collège de l'Ave Maria in Paris where he taught until 1572.”
Walter Ong chonroicled the way in which Ramus kicked rhetoric down off in the trivium in his Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason The title of this book gives away pretty clearly what Ramus did: ramus wanted to decrease the importances of discourse to what he called reason. Remember when we talkeda bout the canons of rhetoric? In case you’re just joining us or you’ve forgotten: It’s what the Pirate says I alwys state my demands Invention, arrangement, style memory delivery. Ramus proposed moving the invention, arrangement and memory out of the rhelm of rhetoric into logic, under a new name: iudicium (judgment).
He redefined the trivium of grammar dialectic and rhetoric
“Grammar’s two parts are etymology and syntax; dialectic’s two parts are invention and arrangement; and the two parts of rhetoric are style and delivery.”
Ramus's goal is to show that many of the categories that Aristotle came up with regarding rhetoric, which Cicero and Quintilian and others followed, are either arbitrary or actually false, because the divisions divide the subject at the wrong joints. I think Ramus is, for the most part, right, though he is being a little more strict than the subject matter allows [per Aristotle].
Ramus says: Quintilian has added all kinds of things to rhetoric that do not belong to it. Rather, these things might be necessary in rhetoric, e.g., grammar, or must exist in the good orator, e.g., virtue, but these are not what rhetoric itself is about, as an art. Ramus identifies rhetoric with what earlier writers call eloquence, limiting its scope to style and delivery. Invention, order, and memory, he says, belong more properly to dialectic (which ends up being very similar to philosophy). In this way, rhetoric seems to be separated from both the audience and the pisteis of the argument. This makes sense, but only so long as it is remembered that rhetoric [eloquence] is nothing without dialectic as its counterpart [per Aristotle]. Ramus evidently believes that rhetoric can be taught apart from dialectic, even though speeches and even literature and poetry are constructed out of both. Dialectic and rhetoric work together in "stirring the emotions and causing delight" (Newlands 124), but training in ethics is the better place to go to learn about the emotions properly.
As walter Ong says
Prime inditement against Ramus as one whose work “could in no real sense be considered an advance or even a reform in logic” (5) because he was “living off the increment of intellectual capital belonging to others” (7)
“Ramist rhetoric […] is not a dialogue rhetoric at all, and Ramist dialectic has lost all sense of Socratic dialogue” (287), because, as Ramus says, “The art of dialectic is the teaching of how to discourse” (qtd. 160) and as for rhetoric “Ramist rhetoric relies more on ornamentation theory than perhaps any other rhetoric ever has “ (277).
In the place of rhetoric, Ramus recommended a type of logic that depends on what he called “Method”—“orderly pedagogical presentation of any subject by reputedly scientific descent from ‘general principles’ to ‘specials’” in bifurcated charts (11). These charts are familiar to us now, especially when we thinking about flow charts and technology branches. It’s also very familiar to those of us who grew up reading Choose Your Own Adcentures. It’s about splitting all of your options in to. For example Ramus creates a tree of cicero’s life. At the beginning, you have the two choices: life and death. Death is a dead end, but if you follow life, that splits into his birth and his parents on one hand and his learning on the other. Follow learning and you haveanother split between old age and youth. Follow old age and you’ll find his public career and his retirement. Following these branches, you can follow a yes or a no throughout Cicero’s life. This is a great sort of organization for computers to follow because of its bifurcation and it’s handy also when you’re following a taxonomy, but it isn’t the most useful for coming up with ideas that exists in non dialectical order. Still this method could be used for invention and memory, just as Ramus wanted.
According to Yeates (1966):
"...one of the chief aims of the Ramist movement for the reform and simplification of education was to provide a new and better way of memorising all subjects. This was to be done by a new method whereby every subject was to be arranged in ‘dialectical order’. This order was set out in schematic form in which the ‘general’ or inclusive aspects of the subject came first, descending thence through a series of dichotomised classifications to the ‘specials’ or individual aspects. Once a subject was set out in its dialectical order it was memorised in this order from the schematic presentation – the famous Ramist epitome." (p.232
“Ramus became a convert to Calvinism in the 1550s and in so doing became caught up in the politics associated with the French Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Calvinistic Huguenots. The Duc de Guise, a Catholic, took control of the royal family in Paris. This resulted in uprisings by the Calvinist Huguenots throughout France and a ruthless response by Duc de Guise. Near the end of 1562, the Calvinists were forced to leave Paris, and Ramus left with them.
In 1572, after spending time both in and out of Paris, Ramus planned to return permanently to Paris under protection of the King. Despite this protection, during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in which a Roman Catholic mob attacked and murdered Protestant Huguenots, Ramus was assassinated. Following his death he became regarded by Protestants as a martyr.“
Ong argues that it was in part because of Ramus’ martyrdom that he became so popular in England and other Protestant
Ramus was incredibly influential for centuries, first in the Protestant continent, and then in England and America (47). Most importantly, perhaps, “Ramism assimilated logic to imagery and imagery to locig by reducing intelligence itself, more or less unconsciously, in terms for rather exclusively visual, spatial analogies” (286).
Ramus was influencial, but he also limited the role of rhetoric to eloquence, to the style and delivery of ideas rather than the invention of them. It would take centuries for rhetoricians to wrestle these elements of the canon back to the rhelm of rhetoric but the idea that rhetoric equals style is still with us. Just think of how often we hear politicians say their opponents have lots of hollow rhetoric without any good ideas.
Next week we’ll go even earlier to talk about the renaissance debates about rhetoric, so we’ll have a whole super team of rhetoric villains, all plotting to limit the scope or influence of rhetoric. If you have an idea for a series you’d like to hear on Mere Rhetoric, why not drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org? I’ll listen respectfully, because I am not personally a super villain.