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Logic, Renaissance

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C021-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

Renaissance logic is often identified with humanist logic, which is in some ways closer to rhetoric than to the study of formal argumentation. This is a mistake, for although changes did take place, a hard core of logical teaching remained the same throughout the medieval and Renaissance periods and into the eighteenth century. Logic was embedded in the educational system as the main study of beginning undergraduates, and although institutional changes had an effect on the presentation and use of logic texts, the study of valid arguments was always central.

There are two obvious differences between medieval texts and their sixteenth-century successors. The first is a new emphasis on following the order and material of Aristotle’s Organon, with the consequent emphasis on the categorical syllogism as the central type of argument. Such medieval material as survived was strictly subordinated to this end; and even though the humanist logicians Agricola and Ramus had tried to ignore Aristotelian syllogistic and the doctrines propaedeutic to it (such as conversion and opposition), their omissions were rapidly remedied by subsequent textbook writers.

The second difference has to do with language and style. Medieval writers treated Latin as a technical, almost artificial language. They were deeply concerned with the effects that different word-orders and the addition of extra logical particles had on both meaning and reference, and they made heavy use of sophismata, deliberately constructed problematic or puzzling sentences. Although Latin remained the language of instruction, the approach of a Renaissance logician, whether humanist or Aristotelian, commentator or textbook writer, is totally different. Sophismata have completely disappeared, and so too has any attempt to treat Latin as a technical language in which different word-orders represent different logical structures. The propositions used for such operations as syllogistic conversion are presented in an already fully standardized form, and they are always relatively simple.

Why these changes came about is a difficult question. Humanism coexisted too long with medieval logic for humanism to be the sole explanation, and the fact that Renaissance logicians returned to the commentaries of Averroes and Aquinas on the Organon shows that mere revolt against anything medieval is not a sufficient explanation either. Changes in grammar teaching, changes in the relation of logic to the study of natural science, and changes in other parts of the university curriculum presumably have a good deal to do with the appearance of a new style of logic. In particular, the humanist emphasis on logic as a tool for analysing discourse focused attention on the use of logic in literature, history and biblical studies, and demanded a combination of simplicity and literary elegance, rather than any genuine formal innovation. There was no concurrent move to relate logic to the new developments in mathematics, and logic was not to be seen as a formal system linked with other formal systems until the nineteenth century.

Citing this article:
Ashworth, E.J.. Logic, Renaissance, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C021-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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