Historical Rhetorics/The Death of Rhetorics of Substance

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We should note the extent to which the death of rhetoric at the hands of Ramus is influenced by contextual, political, and institutional conditions. Ramus taught in the scholastic era, in which philosophy was indistinguishable from theology, in which only those sanctioned and ordained could teach philosophy. But before students advanced to philosophy, to metaphysics, they first needed to be taught how to speak and write. This was the task of the lower (often secular) faculty. Thus, Ramus found himself in a place where he could teach "writing" but not thought. A tough place indeed. And his resulting institutional-philosophical classification, that rhetoric is an art of style, that thought *and* arrangement are proper to philosophy, is, Ong and I would argue, very much a reflection of this context.

But once rhetoric is stripped of arrangement, it finds itself even more impoverished that even Plato would imagine. Invention is reduced to inventing the right words for the situation. There is nothing epistemic about rhetoric at this point. This is the absolute death of the oratory that Cicero offered us (or the oratory that I, working from Latour and others, imagines him offering us). Doubly dead, for no longer is truth a matter of public action (or at least deliberation), but now--as I note below--rhetoric, thought, communication, is emptied of all risk. Risk is not an essential element of (human) beings' unfolding, but rather the by product of sloppy minds and poor phrasing. Begin the fetish for clarity, the "plain style" (p. 4, see particularly pg 120). All hail Ramus, the champion of the weakest of all defenses.

A few notes from Ong's reading of Ramus

From Chapter 1, "Ramism in Intellectual Tradition"

Ong identifies the chief influences on Ramus as Cicero and Agricola (though, as with Aristotle, his reading of Cicero is at times a creative enterprise). Ramus has something of a tortured relationship with Aristotle--while he denounces Aristotle and his followers, he also relies (in large part) on the notions of dialectic worked out in his writings. Further, as later chapters attest (specifically chapter X), Ramus reads Aristotle poorly, often ontologizing his chapters in a mind-boggling display of selective reading. [For more on Ramus' attacks on Aristotle, see 45-47].

Ramus was known to his contemporaries as the usasrius, the usufructuary, the man living off the intellectual capital belonging to others. (7)

Interest in Ramus should not/does not stem from the value of his contributions to formal logic. Rather, studying Ramus, and scrutinizing his inconsistencies, reveals insight into the complex cultural landscape surrounding intellectual activity in the 13th and 14th centuries. Ong argues that, while the study of the vernacular geniuses such as Shakespeare and Milton are important, we need to remember that they were not part of the curriculum of the times. All learning still took place in Latin. The pedagogy and curriculum of the time had an enormous impact in shaping consciousness and cultural--"it is part of the sinews and bones of civilization, growing with civilization and meeting its living needs in a way in which the literary masterpiece, cast and preserved in unalterable form, fails to do" (10). [pg 11. vernacular for women, Latin for scholars--Santos: part of the rise of the British Enlightenment, and its importance, is that it took place in the vernacular. Following Milton- Locke, Pope, Addison, Johnson]

There are two main drives to this insight: the Universal-pedagogical, and the Visual. In this chapter, Ong stresses the latter:

A study of Ramism, therefore, makes is possible to discern the nature of subconscious drives which have been obscured elsewhere and which often call for radical revision in our ways of viewing intellectual history. For example, Ramism specialized in dichotomies, in "distribution" and "collation" (disputio rather than judgment or judicium), in "systems" (a philosophical "system" was a new notion generated in the Renaissance), and in other diagrammatic concepts. This hints that Ramist dialectic represented a drive toward thinking not only of the universe but of thought itself in terms of spatial models apprehended by sight. In this context, the notion of knowledge as word, and the personalist orientation of cognition and of the universe which this notion implies, is due to atrophy. Dialogue itself will drop more than ever out of dialectic. Persons, who alone speak (and in whom alone knowledge and science exist), will be eclipsed insofar as the world is thought of as an assemblage of the sort of things which vision apprehends--objects or surfaces. (9)

Those familiar with Ong's later work will undoubtedly recognize seeds here: the opposition between a consciousness attuned to orality is personal in its orientation to the extent that it recognizes knowledge taking place/existing/realizing itself in individual minds. However, to the literate (Platonic) mind, knowledge is a thing that exists outside the mind. The mind is the agent that facilitates seeing. People no longer speak knowledge (into existence), rather they recognize [see] knowledge that exists. This crucial epistemological distinction, which we [Historical Rhetorics seminar] have traced back to the Greeks, becomes paramount in Ramism.

From Chapter 3, "The Structure of Reform":

On the logic underlying Ramus' division:

Ramus proposes here [Training in Dialectic, translated by Ong] to apply eruditio --that is, to the material of history, antiquity, rhetoric, oratory, and poetry--the rules of logic, and thus in effect to cut short the reign of scholasticism. But he proposes to do it in a way which will extend the purlieus of logic all the way from the higher reaches of the curriculum (philosophy) to the lower (humanities). The maneuver is particularly interesting in that it is new in his day and thus reveals at least one kind of excessive logicizing as a Renaissance rather than as a medieval phenomenon. (41)

Ong stresses--and this becomes increasingly evident in later chapters--that the extreme systemic nature of Ramus' logic is pressed upon him by the conditions in which he finds himself: a young teacher expected to lecture at length to young (largely unprepared) students. [Note: relation between philosophy and humanities needs explication here]

Ong notes how Ramus "discovers" in Socrates an objectifying method [the following is a direct quote from Ramus in Ong, and then Ong's commentary]:

In Plato, I found the Socratic method, which is to withdraw from the senses and from human testimony to calm of mind and freedom of judgment (aequitas animi et libertas iudicii), for it is foolish for a philosopher to look to human opinion rather than to the thing known. 'Well,' I said, 'what is to keep us from Socratizing a little?'
As his adversaries liked to remind him, Ramus often quoted others in order to impute to their words his own meaning; that is what he has done here. For, in the sense in which the term normally applies to Socrates, Ramus does not really "Socratize" at all. The Socratic method, the maieutic method of procedure by a vocal dialectic in which the more knowing and more humble man answers questions and the less knowing learns by formulating his answers, has no place whatsoever in Ramist theory or practice. (43)

Ong explains that for the Ramus, human opinion is a matter of invention, and is opposed by the "calm judgment" of natural dialectic. [Note: here it is important to note that the maieutic notion of knowledge is already a step toward Ramus' objectification--in some senses, it already divorces knowledge from the operations of consciousness/from becoming].

In other words [Santos here], dialectic is the overcoming of human judgment. Already, we "see" an epistemological foundation for a rhetoric (and dialectic) set against itself. Chaos, doubt, uncertainty, probability are not parts of our natural human condition [read across metaphysics as part of Being]--they are parts of an artificial human condition [sickness] which dialectic in turn can cure.

Ong, on Ramus' relation to Italian Humanism:

Ramus' anti-Italian bias is particularly noteworthy in the light of his own prowess and reputation as an orator. In a very real sense Italian humanism stood for a rhetorically centered culture opposed to the dialectically or logically centered culture of North Europe. Although in part inspired by Gallic patriotism, Ramus' violent rejection of Italy while he promotes the cause of eloquence thus suggests an uneasiness at his own rhetorical prowess and aims which amounts to something like schizophrenia. The same schizoid outlook is hinted at also in his compulsion to divorce completely the arts of rhetoric and logic and to interpret his own successes as due to true "logic" rather than to rhetoric--despite his rebellion against Northern logical culture. The story of Ramism, in fact, is largely the story of unresolved tensions between the logical and the rhetorical traditions. (49)

We might remember how these tensions (did not) appear in Plato--both in his suspicions toward writing (in the Phadreus) and unwillingness to acknowledge his own narrative/rhetorical skill (once again--there are some answers that may only come by way of long speeches).

Relevant Secondary Sources

Historical Rhetorics/Sharratt, Peter. "Ramus 2000." ''Rhetorica'' 18.4 (2000): 399-455.