November 1st, 2003

Ramus and Aristotle

I've read very little Aristotle so far. The more of his texts I'm exposed to, the more I admire his intellect and the power of his mind. This is not to say I'm oblivious to his (many) shortcomings, nor to the great problematic heirloom he left the Western tradition (categories, to name one big elk), but I am simply amazed at his clarity, his penetration.

This reminds me of something: Years ago, the sagacious ygurvitz told me of Petrus Ramus, a fresh (pun intended) graduate at the University of Paris in 1536, who actually picked for his thesis the title: Quæcumque ab Aristotele dicta sunt, commentitia sunt, i.e. "Everything Aristotle composed/said is false". How's that for nerve?

It must have seemed a good (if dangerous) idea at the time, as the total hegemony of Aristotle's notions at that time suffocated innovation and free thought, and the nonsense Aristotle wrote about physics and zoology, for instance, certainly needed refutation, but of course it is a gross exaggeration to dismiss all of Aristotle's thought as useless.

Ramus's peers must have been flabbergasted, and he must have been a brilliant rhetor and very well prepared, because he succeeded in defending his thesis, and was granted his degree. However, the books he published his ("dangerous") ideas in were later condemned by that same University of Paris, and he later lost a public disputation, and was condemned as rash and impudent.

Both Aristotle and Ramus won their place in my private intellectual hall of fame; both deserve it for intellectual courage.
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