The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
KNOWLEDGE

Although Ramus flayed the "Aristotelians" of his day, he was the first to acknowledge his own great indebtedness to Aristotle himself, and most eager to assert that he alone had read the Organon aright. Yet it seems probable to the modern scholar that Ramus never understood Aristotle, and while sixteenth-century Peripatetics may not have understood much more, they at least grasped enough to object to Ramus' epistemology. These Peripatetics were also entangled in the problems of cognition, of the relation of knowledge to its objects, of the guarantees for the validity of ideas, but they could not content themselves with the easy escape offered by the Dialecticae. They too were dogmatists, but they could never assert flatly that an argument was so precise a reflection of a thing as to be in effect the thing itself, and so feel that they had unriddled the universe.

Ramus himself does not seem to have foreseen the epistemological difficulties which he was creating for his students. He wrote "scholia" in metaphysics and physics in which he never challenged traditional theories of cognition, still assuming that from things arise intelligible forms, which the soul abstracts by its active intellect and knows by its possible intellect, and that therefore knowledge originates in the senses. Yet his contentions that words are things, that reason gives a name to objects promptly and immediately, that it is competent to deal truthfully with everything that comes within its range of vision, contradict this theory, and sooner or later his followers could not help facing that fact. His defenders were compelled to meet it, to supply more extensive metaphysical foundations; they could not indefinitely proclaim that the thing in nature becomes an argument in logic without offering some explanation of how they had eliminated the possibility of variance. How could they declare that reason contemplates an eternal and immutable "veritas" through the instrumentality of logic, when

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The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Contents *
  • Book I - Religion and Learning 1
  • Chapter I - The Augustinian Strain of Piety 3
  • Chapter II - The Practice of Piety 35
  • Chapter III - The Intellectual Character 64
  • Chapter IV - The Intellectual Heritage 89
  • Book II - Cosmology 109
  • Chapter V - The Instrument of Reason 111
  • Chapter VI - Knowledge 154
  • Chapter VII - The Uses of Reason 181
  • Chapter VIII - Nature 207
  • Book III - Anthropology 237
  • Chapter IX 239
  • Chapter X - The Means of Conversion 280
  • Chapter XI - Rhetoric 300
  • Chapter XII - The Plain Style 331
  • Book IV - Sociology 363
  • Chapter XIII - The Covenant of Grace 365
  • Chapter XIV - The Social Covenant 398
  • Chapter XV - The Church Covenant 432
  • Chapter XVI - God's Controversy with New England 463
  • Appendix A - The Literature of Ramus' Logic in Europe 493
  • Appendix B - The Federal School of Theology 502
  • Notes 507
  • Index 525
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