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'Prima pars dialecticae': The Influence of Agricolan Dialectic Upon English Accounts of Invention

  • James Richard Mcnally (a1)


Renaissance scholars such as W. S. Howell, T. W. Baldwin, W. G. Crane, and Walter J. Ong have observed in general terms the influence of Rudolph Agricola's dialectic upon northern humanist thought; so far, however, no one has investigated that influence in detail. It is my purpose in this paper to initiate such an examination by describing how Agricola's place-theory made its way into the treatments of invention in the three major English logics of the early Renaissance, those of Thomas Wilson, John Seton, and Peter Carter. Although my account is for the most part restricted to the subject of invention (in bulk at least a lesser part of dialectic than judgment) and deals only with English logicians, the popularity of Agricola's views on dialectical invention may, I think, be taken as symptomatic of a more pervasive influence emanating from Heidelberg, an influence extending to dialectical judgment as well as invention and affecting continental as well as English scholars.



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1 Howell, W.S., Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700 (New York, 1961), pp. 15 16, 49-51; Baldwin, T.W., William Shakspere's Small Latine and Lesse Greeke (Urbana, 1944) n, 62 ; Crane, W.G., Wit and Rhetoric in the Renaissance (New York, 1937), pp. 51 ff.; Ong, W.J., Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialectic (Cambridge, 1958), pp. 92130.

2 The most recent studies of Agricola's life and works are the following: Woodward, W.H., Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance (Cambridge, 1924), pp. 79103 ; W. J. Ong, Ramus, pp. 92-103; Vasoli, C., ‘Dialettica e retorica in Rodolpho Agricola,’ Accademia toscana di scienza e lettere XXII (1957), 305355. Woodward is chiefly biographical; Ong looks forward to Ramus and backward to Peter of Spain; Vasoli combines biography with an occasional, but not particularly thorough, examination of Italian sources.

3 Rodolphi Agrkolae … De inventione dialectia libri tres (Argentinae, 1521), f. 1v. All citations are from this edition.

4 Ong calls these ‘the most central operations in Agricola's Dialectical Invention,’ Ramus, p. 104.

5 See Faust, A. in ‘Die Dialektik R. Agricolas,’ Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie XXXIV (1922), 121.

6 See n. 1.

7 Pp. 29, 49, 50.

8 The Rule of Reason, conteyning The Art of Logike. Sette forthe in English and newly corrected by Thomas Wilson (London, 1580), f. 3. All citations are from this edition.

9 A biographical sketch of Seton is provided in Howell, p. 50.

10 Howell, p. 52.

11 Dialectica Ioannis Setoni (Londini, 1545), A4v. All citations are from this edition.

12 Dialectica Ioannis Setoni annotationibus Petri Carteri (Londini, 1584), PI et seq.

13 One such notion is that of the ‘twofold direction of argument.’ See Dialectica (1545), 17-8v and Rodolphi ff. 135-136v.

14 P. 49. By reason of the evidence presented here, we should rather call Seton's work the second response to Agricola.

15 Howell gives this date; the texts I am using are the 1584 and 1639 editions.

16 See ‘Agricola Check-List’ in Ong, W.J., Ramus and Talon Inventory (Cambridge, 1958), pp. 534558.

17 Howell, p. 179.

18 Dialectica (1639), P3v.

19 See Migne, J.P., Patrologia Latina (Paris, 1844-1905), LXIV, 1173 et seq. and Rodolphi, 9v et seq.

20 Dialectica (1639). Seton's ‘book’ runs from P1 to P3; Carter's from P3 to Q1.

21 Petri Rami Professoris Regii, et Andomari Talaei Collectaneae Praefationes, Epistolae et Orationes (Marburg, 1599), p. 67. Cited from Howell, p. 148.


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