In this article, Ong explains that speakers of English have an interest in Peter Ramus that few of the French (or other Continental Europeans) understand well, primarily because the nature of literary criticism is so different in the United States and England than it is in Continental Europe.  While the French and other Continentalists take a personalist (defined in "The Jinnee in the Well-Wrought Urn") approach to literature, Americans and the English approach literature with more emphasis on linguistic analysis.  Ramus' importance, to those who practice the latter method, is that he represents well the Renaissance period, in which the way people talk about things in current times was first established.  It is not that Ramus was a particularly great thinker that makes his life and work of interest to people; it is, in fact, that he did not resist the changes of his times and came to represent his times that makes him so interesting.

As background to contemporary interest in Ramus and the Ramist movement, Ong surverys the various scholarly work done on Ramus in the modern era.  He reviews two nineteenth-century studies, Charles Waddington's Ramus:  sa vie, ses ecrits, et ses opinions (1855) and Paul Lobstein's Petrus Ramus als Theologe (1878).  He also discusses two twentieth-century studies, Frank Pierrepont Graves' Peter Ramus and the Educational Reformation of the Sixteenth Century (1912) and M. Robert Barroux's 1922 thesis "Pierre de la Ramee et son influence philosophique," and concludes that none of these studies (along with a number of German articles written between 1850 and 1950) reveal the kind of interest in Ramus that has sprung up recently.

This more recent interest, which Ong mentions early in the article but doesn't really define in-depth, focuses on Ramus' place in his particular cultural milieu, with an emphasis on ideas about intellectual inquiry in this milieu.  Studies cited by Ong include Perry Miller's The New England Mind (1939), Hardin Craig's The Enchanted Glass:  The Elizabethan Mind in Literature (1936), Rosemund Tuve's Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (1947), and other works that focus on Shakespeare.
 
Contemporary interest in Ramus is especially concerned with how Ramus separated dialectic from rhetoric (Ong discusses this more fully in "Hobbes and Talon's Ramist Rhetoric in England" and "Peter Ramus and the Naming of Methodism"), a process that entailed a shift from a primarily audile (sound based) world to a visile (sight based) world.  This shift, Ong asserts, cannot be blamed (or credited, depending on how you see it) entirely on Ramus; the shift actually occurred due to a number of reasons, including a new emphasis on physics-based logic in the schools (rather than on Aristotelian logic), the growth of the teaching profession itself, the invention of printing and the increase in the number of books available to people, and the idea that the truth ("all revelation," as Ong puts it) could be found in these books.

Once people acknowledge Ramus' role in this audile to visile shift, instead of acknowledging only Bacon and Descartes (who really come at the end of this shift rather than in the midst of it, as Ramus does), it becomes clear that many of the assumptions we hold about the Renaissance are oversimplified.  For example, the struggle of the Renaissance period was not over deductive versus inductive reasoning but between a sound-based world and a sight-based one.  Furthermore, Ramus' attack on Aristotle's logic was not an attack on deduction but on a method or organizing the scholastic curriculum, and his attack on this curriculum resulted in the use of one method of logic, taught by the teacher to the students.

Ultimately, Ong concludes his article, the shift was from "Socratic dialogue" to the "monologue of the teacher" to the silence of the "Newtonian world," and the Ramists provided that middle link in the shift.
 

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