, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 347–356 | Cite as

Pierre de La Ramée et le déclin de la rhétorique

  • C. Perelman


This article provides a basic general introduction to Ramus, and evaluates his role in the history of logic and rhetoric, especially with relation to the study of argumentation. The author agrees with Ong and other historians of logic that Ramus is not to be taken seriously as a logician, and that his undoubted importance in the history of ideas is to be found elsewhere.

Ramus advocates a belief in nature, experience and reason, and rejects the reliance on the authority of ancient philosophers, above all Aristotle, though ‘experience’ does not mean scientific experiment and, paradoxically, includes the example of great philosophers and writers. In the end Ramus is seen as responsible for substituting for ancient classical rhetoric an entirely ornamental rhetoric of figures which was to take over education (with the exception of the Jesuit schools) almost until our own day. This curtailing and diminishing of rhetoric is seen as a degeneration. Ancient five-part rhetoric had been concerned with convincing and persuading: Aristotle distinguished the analytic, scientific reasoning of logic, from dialectic which was based on opinion and probability and had close links with rhetoric; by the time of Cicero and Quintilian, who addressed themselves to jurists and politicians, logic has given way to dialectic. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the two become assimilated; the evolution of this is traced here through the thirteenth-century Summulae logicales of Peter of Spain to the fifteenth-century German humanist logician Rudolph Agricola, who influenced Ramus partly through the intermediary of Johann Sturm. Ramus took over their topical theories but restricted them to logic/dialectic, and left rhetoric with little more than tropes and figures. He believed that there was only one method for teaching all the arts, and one dialectic common to them all. The distinction between analytical and dialectical has disappeared, with far-reaching consequences for the study of argumentation. Over the centuries logic has lost its connection with controversy and persuasion. With the development of the post-Cartesian, post-Baconian emphasis on the clarity of scientific discourse, and the mid-nineteenth-century interest in mathematical and formal logic, the process was complete. Argumentation, or the ‘new rhetoric’, aims to fill the gap thus created.

Key words

Logic dialectic rhetoric scientific analysis opinion and probability ornamentation tropes and figures education argumentation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Perelman
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculté de Philosophie et LettresUniversité Libre de BruxellesBruxellesFrance

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