Sunday, February 12, 2006

Programming Ramus Style

from Rev. of Arguments in Rhetoric Against Quintilian. Translation and Text of Peter Ramus Rhetoricae Distinctiones in Quintilianum. Trans. Carole Newlands. Intro. James J. Murphy. Quarterly Journal of Speech (1987): 242-3:



Professor Murphy's Introduction makes many new or otherwise important points, including the following. At the center of Ramus's program was an attack not on Aristotle alone but rather on the three great ancient auctoritates, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, whom "from the very outset Ramus viewed ... as related" (7). Ramus in principle preferred Plato over Aristotle (7)--but I'm afraid that Ramus's concept of Platonic dialectic was uncommonly shallow, even in his day and much more in ours, being interfered with by his own program for a dialectical or logical 'method' which was, in fact, a computer programming "tree"--Ramus had the beginnings of computer software but not computers. Ramus, Murphy notes, had two attitudes toward Cicero, complementary, not contradictory (10): he praised Cicero's oratory but dammed Cicero's rhetorical theory--pretty much on the same grounds as theories of Aristotle and Quintilian: they were not simple enough, not processed so as to proceed in "straight and orderly lines" (43, quoted from Ramus) through simple definitions treating first the more general and then the more specific parts of the discipline" (242).


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