In this article, Ong offers an extremely condensed version of his ideas about the shift from a sound-based process of gaining knowledge to a sight-based one in the Western world.  This shift, Ong asserts, began in the medieval period, continued through the Renaissance, and remains dominant in the modern period.  While in previous articles, particularly the numerous Ramus articles, Ong appeared to be working through his ideas about this shift as he presented new information about Ramus and his milieu, in this article Ong simply summarizes his argument about the shift without bringing in other material.  To see Ong working this way is not unusual, for he took a similar approach to his argument about the relationship between the material and abstract realms in the thinking process.  First, he worked through his ideas by applying them to various topics (myth, the Virgin Mary, and so on), and then he began summarizing those ideas as he became more comfortable with them.

Perhaps what is more interesting than the actual contents of this article is Ong's comparative approach here.  He explains that although the sound-to-sight shift can be traced back as far as the difference between Hebraic views of knowledge acquisition (sound-based) and Greek views on the topic (sight-based), the Greeks were still much more sound oriented than we are today.  Likewise, while Aristotle is credited with an approach to logic that helped the shift toward a more visual process of thinking occur, Ong explains that Aristotle's logic remained rooted in the oral tradition, especially when one compares it to logic of the post-Renaissance period.  Finally, Ong's comparative approach can be seen in his conclusion, where he asserts that while a sight-based approach to logic is seen as a "way" to gain knowledge, this approach is radically different from that of the Christian tradition, where the phrase "I am the way" indicates an emphasis on the oral rather than the written tradition.

Return to Listings