Historical Rhetorics/Sharratt, Peter. "Ramus 2000." ''Rhetorica'' 18.4 (2000): 399-455

Sharratt, Peter. "Ramus 2000." Rhetorica 18.4 (2000): 399-455.

Sharratt’s article explores the scholarly work concerning Ramus and Ramism conducted during the fifteen years between 1987 and 2000. One major area of contention among scholars is how much Ramus, in the area of rhetoric, owes to those who preceded him; the majority appears to believe that Ramus, in fact, borrowed many of his ideas from the work of others. Sharratt points out how Ramus is now regarded more as an educator in theory and practice, and how Ramus’ contribution to the rise of disciplines, which he saw as a means to make education easier for all, is often derided especially for how it aided in colonization by allowing theology to more easily convert and “civilize” natives. Sharratt also states that the debate continues about how much Ramus may be considered a humanist and introduces works that have begun to evaluate in-depth the commentaries of Ramus and how these may show a humanist side to his work. One of the final aspects that Sharrat explores is how many are now studying Ramus in the context of the societal and political climate of his time and how this influenced his writings.


1. If Ramus is a plagiarist then why is he still important? Why not simply study those who came before him and perhaps study him for how he interprets them not as though the work was originally his?

2. If Ramus’ methodology created greater access to higher education can it be all bad?

-Sharratt’s essay “Ramus 2000” is a unique one; its goal is to provide rhetorical scholars with a highly systematic, categorically-organized overview of the most recent scholarship presented on Ramus (ranging from 1987 – 2000). Sharratt is of the mind that a recent spike in the interest level toward Ramus and the ever-elusive definitions of Ramism (the influence of Ramus) justifies just such a type of investigation. Sharratt’s article – which perhaps could be better defined as a survey or meta-analysis of the varying studies pertaining to Ramus – ultimately finds that the “study of Ramus is in a very healthy state, particularly through international collaboration, though there are still considerable problems for scholars securing access to the different versions of his works” (399). -Sharratt divides the work published on Ramus as falling under one of the following headings: Biographical and General Studies, Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Scientific, and Ramism, this latter subdivided by geographical areas.

Biographical and General Studies Just as there is no modern biography of Ramus, so there is no single modern general monograph on Ramus and Ramism although several recent publications contain good lucid presentations on the thought of Ramus (of which he annotates thoroughly in this article), usually with reference to some particular author or some particular topic.

Grammar According to Genevieve Clérico, historians of grammar largely consider Ramus’s contribution “comme un cas limite, sinon comme une rencontre manquée,” which is to say that is it marginal and does not quite live up to its promise of being a formalized structural grammar (404). While Ramus’s construction of grammar in many ways never got to be completed, Chevalier points out that the greatest defect of Ramus’s grammar lies in its “uniplanarite,” which means that he often fails to rise above the words themselves to a theory of sentence-formation and resorts instead to lists as a descriptive strategy.

Logic Research indicates that although Ramus is relatively influential, some legal diagrams do predate his and, perhaps more significantly, spatial diagrams appear clearly in the Middle Ages. Scholarship on this topic all but concludes that Ramus had or still has little influence on these higher disciplines.

Rhetoric In a book published in 1999, Histoire de la rhétorique dans l’Europe moderne, there is much interest shown towards Ramus. This is a widely varied collection of essays that provides a lucid account of late medieval rhetoric and the transition to the Renaissance. Sharratt points out one article in particular, which is explicitly linked to Ramus, Michel Magnien’s “D’une mort l’autre: le Rhetorique reconsidérée.” This article is particularly significant because Magnien does not agree with those who suggest that the Ramist “restriction” of rhetoric brought about the death of rhetoric since it was soon revived, starting with the work of Lipsius in the North and others in Italy (415-6). Ramist rhetoric, much less important than his dialectic, is not radically innovative. Laurens and Magnard, in their analysis of selected polemical texts, argue that Ramus emerges as a simplifier, a reducer, responsible for the excessive logicising of the analysis of discourse and of the divorce between logic and rhetoric.

Scientific The most pertinent article about this aspect of Ramist thought is Jardine and Segonds’ “A Challenge to the Reader: Petrus Ramus on Astrologia without hypotheses,” which brings everything about Ramus on this subject up to date. It begins with Ramus’s letter to Rheticus in 1563 which condemns all astronomical hypotheses as impious, illogical, and unnecessarily complicated. The authors show that this approach is clearly linked to Ramus’s program for the renewal of the arts.

Conclusion "There is a broad measure of agreement now that Ramus owed more to his predecessors (especially Melanchthon and Agricola) than he would have us understand and than had been previously recognized, and it is even plainer than it was before that he is no revolutionary, no great philosopher but a teacher, educationalist, and communicator, in spite of one or two dissenting voices. There is no real consensus about whether he was a humanist or not, and different attempts have been made to define his position with relation to Aristotle and others... There is also strong disagreement about his influence on Descartes" (454-5).