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Ramus, Peter

1. Dates
Born: Vermandois, 1515
Died: Paris, 26 Aug. 1572
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 57
2. Father
Occupation: Laborer
Ramus was born into a family that had lost its wealth but not its title of nobility with the sack of Liège in 1468. His father was a laborer.
I take this clearly to say that the family was poor.
3. Nationality
Birth: French
Career: French
Death: French
4. Education
Schooling: Paris, M.A.
After a primary education at home, he entered the College of Navarre and received his M.A. in 1536. He paid his way by working as a manservant.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Calvinist
In 1561, he embraced Calvinism with enthusiasm. In 1562 he published a plan of reform for the University of Paris, in which he proposed the study of the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek in the theological faculty. Late in 1562, when Calvinists were ordered out of Paris, he fled to Fontainebleau. He returned to Paris under the Peace of Amboise in 1563, and again fled Paris in 1567, taking refuge with the Prince de Condé. He returned to Paris to ask leave of the King to travel in Germany. From 1568 to 1570 he toured the protestant centers of Switzerland and Germany. Lured back to Paris in 1570 by the promises of tolerance, he received titles and salaries, but was banned from teaching.
While in the midst of a vast publication project he was caught by the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and despite explicit royal protection he was cruelly murdered.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy, Mathematics
Subordinate: Astronomy
After being attracted to the rhetorical logic and pedagogical ideas of Rudolf Agricola, Ramus undertook a program of critical re-education. In 1543, his program culminated in a broadscale attack on Aristotelian logic and plans for a new arts curriculum. A counterattack by Antoine de Govea led to a royal edict forbidding Ramus to teach or write in philosophical topics. Ramus turned to mathematics and rhetoric.
Ramus tried to reconcile and combine his traditional education in the Aristotelian corpus with the humanist teaching of Agricola which focused on Ciceronian rhetoric. He sought a return to the seven liberal arts. He wanted to retrieve the quadrivium from the neglect into which they had fallen. Ramus felt that the way the quadrivium were taught, they suffered from an intellectual detachment making them less important than they were. His solution was to publish a series of commentaries (scholae) on where the method of teaching had gone wrong. Secondly, he reorganized the subjects according to his own method. He published extensively and these works enjoyed widespread popularity both during his lifetime and in the century following his death. His most important works include Dialecticae partitiones sive institutiones (Paris, 1543), Aristotelicae animadversiones, (Paris, 1543), Oratio de studies (Paris, 1547) Arithmeticae libri duo (Paris, 1555), Scholae grammaticae (Paris, 1559) and Proemium reformandae Parisiensis Academiae (Paris, 1562).
Ramus and Ramism became associated with "method." His opposition to blind belief in authority and his support in the belief that the right thinking would be confirmed by the physical world makes Ramus a unique forerunner of both Bacon's empiricism and Descartes' rationalism.
He turned to astronomy late in his career. He urged a return to the observational astronomy of the Babylonians and Egyptians in an attempt to determine the nonhypothetical, directly observable regularity of the heavens. Later, Kepler would claim to have met Ramus' demands.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia
Secondary: Miscellaneous, Patronage
1527-36, worked as a manservant to support his study. This I categorize as Miscellaneous.
1536-45, taught at the Collège du Mans, then at the Collège de l'Ave Maria.
1545-72, principal of the Collège de Presles, with some interruptions: 1562-3 & 1567-70, when he fled Paris.
8. Patronage
Types: Aristrocrat, Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
In 1543 dedicated Dialecticae partitiones to Charles de Bourbon and Aristotelicae animaadversiones to Cardianl Lorraine.
In 1551, he was appointed royal lecturer.
Henry II appointed him commissioner of reform for the universities in 1557.
In 1562-3, he found refuge for a time with the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici.
In 1567 he took refuge with the Prince de Condé.
Through the intercession of Charles Cardinal de Lorraine Ramus was released from the 1544 teaching ban upon the accession of Henry II in 1547.
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. Charles Desmazes, P. Ramus: Sa vie, ses ecrits, sa mort (1515-1572), (Paris, 1864). B785.L24D46 Hoefer, Nouvelle biographie générale, (Paris, 1857-66).
  2. R. Hooykaas, Humanisme, science et reforme. Pierre de la Ramée (1515-1572), (Leiden, 1958). B785.R44H78 L.A. Knafla, Science, Technology, and Culture in Historical Perspective, (Calgary, 1976). Q127.N6S34 Ong, Walter J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue, (Cambridge, MA, 1958, 1983) B785.R44 O5, B785.L24 O5 1983
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
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