Monday, October 11, 2010

Response to Reading Nine

For a slight change of pace, I would like to discuss Peter Ramus the person not Peter Ramus's rhetoric. I will be exploring his biography, as opposed to his essay "Arguments in Rhetoric Against Quintilian."

(It is seeming somewhat monotonous describing just rhetoric for the past few weeks...)

The Rhetorical Tradition does an outstanding job discussing the life of Ramus; in fact, he was quite an interesting character. Peter Ramus, also known as Pierre de la Ramee, lived from 1515 to 1572. In just 57 years of life, Ramus had an incredible impact on rhetoric that would be felt for centuries to come.

Ramus was born to a poor family and, like many impoverished children, worked his way through school as a servant to wealthier students. At age 8, he went to Paris to study Latin. In 1536, he earned a master's degree in art; it is often wondered how he pulled off the feat, being that his thesis absolutely enraged many of the professors. Ramus had written a thesis on why Aristotle was useless. Upon earning his degree, Ramus became a college professor himself. It is believed that he was a beloved and charismatic teacher, as he soon attracted a vast following. In 1543, Ramus published two works: one controversial piece attacked Aristotle and classic rhetorical stylings, the other called for an entirely new intellectual method.

The books were condemned by many in academia, even involving French king Charles I. Professors of medicine, law, and theology all called for a ban on Ramus's book and Ramus himself. They asked that he be forbidden from teaching, which Charles I gladly obliged. In many cases, Ramus's books were actually burned. It became his lifelong challenge to defend himself. On many cases, his defenses were public orations. Despite a royal ban on his ideas, Ramus continued to publish for many years. His intellectual partner, Omer Talon, collaborated on many of these works.

Ramus got a break in 1547 when Henry II became king and Charles of Lorraine because Cardinal Guise. Lorraine was a former classmate of Ramus's and gladly interceded on his behalf, thereby lifting the restrictions on his teaching. Despite incessant publishing of controversial books as well as continuous spats with other professors, Ramus continued to be promoted. Eventually, he became the dean of one college. It is believed that he published more than 750 works; this is an absolutely staggering and almost unbelievable number.

At the heart of Ramus's ideals was the belief that reason did not need to be taught. He believed that Aristotle's teachings were useless because reason was an innate human ability. "[T]ime spent mastering the classical languages and poring over ancient texts was so much time wasted" (Bizzell and Herzberg 676).

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