Ramus, Petrus

Ramus, Petrus also known by his original name Pierre de la Ramee, was the French philosopher of the 16th century who broke the fetters of barbarous scholastic thought and led men into the clear light of Platonic philosophy. He is usually called one of the founders of modern metaphysics, and this is certainly true in so far as Ramus prepared the way'for Descartes (q.v.) in philosophy, and for Pascal in theology, as we shall see presently. Ramus was born of very humble parentage at Cuth, a village in Vermandois, in 1515. He was obliged, when old enough to be of any service, to perform duties as a shepherd. He loved the broad, open fields, but he loved books more. He studied as much as his humble associations could afford him the means of knowledge, and finally, satisfied that he could only get more away from home, left for the city. He went straight to the capital, though yet a youth of a little over eight. Homesickness compelled him to return to the paternal roof, and he walked home as he had walked to Paris, but only to return soon again to the city where he had found so much to learn, and before he was twelve he was once more at Paris. He could not enter school as his pockets were empty and his stomach unsatisfied. He hired out as a servant to a rich student at the College de Navarre, and, by devoting the day to his duties, obtained the night for study, and, under his master's guidance and help, made rapid progress. At the age of twenty-one he was ready to pass examination as if he had been within the walls of a college. The indomitable spirit of the boy had made a resolute man; and, unlike most students, he had not only learned the dicta of the savans, but had formed an opinion which was his only own. In presenting himself for the degree of master, he came forward as the champion of reform in the schools of thought. He undertook to prove the then almost impious task that Aristotle was not infallible. He had gradually withdrawn from Aristotelianism as an authority, and pleaded now for the exercise of individual reason as against the "authority," which scholasticism imposed on all students of philosophy. Enthusiast as he was, he was led to make the extravagant statement in his thesis that "all that Aristotle had said was false" (qucecunque ab Aristotele dicta essent, commenttitia esse). It speaks, however, a great deal for the ability he showed on this occasion that his judges, although themselves Aristotelians, were compelled to applaiud him. Ramus was immediately made a teacher in the College du Mans, and along with two learned friends opened a special class for reading the Greek and Latin authors, designed to combine the study of eloquence with that of philosophy. His audience was large, and his success as a teacher remarkable. He now turned his attention more particularly to the science of logic, which, in his usual adventurous spirit, he undertook to "reform;" and no one acquainted with his system will deny that many of his innovations were both rational and beneficial. His attempts excited much hostility among the Aristotelians; and when his treatise on the subject (Dialecticoe Partitiones) appeared in 1543, it was fiercely assailed by the doctors of the Sorbonne, the Academy of Geneva, the majority of the high- schools of the Continent, which had all, in alliance with the Church, given Aristotelianism the supreme rule. The University of Paris linked itself with jurists, councillors, the king's ministers, the king himself, to crush this bold innovator. He was charged with impiety and sedition. and with a desire to overthrow all science and religion through the medium of an attack on Aristotle. On the report of an irregular tribunal appointed to consider the charges made against him, the king ordered his works to be suppressed, and forbade his teaching or writing against Aristotle on pain of corporal punishment. Ramus now devoted himself exclusively to the study of mathematics, and to prepare an edition of Euclid. Cardinals Charles de Bourbon and Charles de Lorraine befriended him, and through their influence he was permitted to begin a course of lectures on rhetoric at the College de Presles, the plague having driven away numbers of students from Paris. He was finally, in 1545, named principal of this college, and the Sorbonne ineffectually endeavored to eject him on the ground of the royal prohibitory decree. The decree was cancelled in 1545, through the influence of the cardinal de Lorraine. Ramus raised the College de Presles from a condition of decay to the height of prosperity, and his reputation went over all the land as an educator as well as philosopher. In 1551

cardinal Lorraine succeeded in instituting for him a chair of eloquence and philosophy at the College Royal, and his inaugural address (Pro Philosophica Disciplina [Paris, 1551]) is reckoned a masterpiece of the kind. He devoted the first eight years of his teaching to the first three of the "liberal arts" (grammar, rhetoric, and logic), which he called elementary or exoteric, and published three grammars successively — Greek, Latin, and French. He also mingled largely in the literary and scholastic disputes of the time, and on account of his bustling activity came under the satire of Rabelais. But though Ramus had innumerable adversaries, he might have defied them all, so great was his influence at court, had his love of "reformation" not displayed itself in religion as well as in logic. In an evil hour (for his own comfort) he embraced Protestantism. He had long been suspected of a leaning that way, and, as we have seen, his intellect was by nature scornfully rebellious towards the ipse dixit of "authority;" but he had for years decently conformed to the practices of the Catholic cult, and it was only after cardiual Lorraine, in reply to the Conference of Poissy (1561), frankly admitted the abuses of the Church and the vices of the clergy that he ventured formally to abjure the older faith. The outbreak of the religious wars in France plunged him into the dangers of the time, and he finally perished in the fatal massacre of St. Bartholomew, August, 1572. It is believed that he was assassinated at the instigation of one of his most violent and persistent enemies, Charpentier, rector of the College de Presles. SEE RAMISTS.

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