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The Renaissance

In step with sweeping material and social changes, including the Reformation and a gathering intellectual consensus that the universe and the mind similarly follow the laws of logic, a new context for understanding the relationship between thought and language was developing. Peter Ramus's (1515–1572) challenge to the Scholastic status quo represented this new context and prepared the way for the Enlightenment's cult of reason and pursuit of a language free from the excesses and ambiguities of figured language. Ramus replaces the transcendent Augustinian sign with stark syllogism and calls for a thorough reorganization of the rhetorical system. As pertains to metaphor, Ramism's most consequential features are the tightly related assumptions that (1) thought follows the rules of logic and (2) language, because of its vital role in thinking, must be plain and clear. From the Ramist perspective, metaphor has no place in serious discourse and, thus, the nature and tension between its two aspects is rendered moot. However, despite its antimetaphorical outlook, Ramism did not stifle either the flowering of Renaissance rhetoric or subsequent investigations of metaphor. Because the culture of early modern Europe was, in many respects, as medieval (traditional and collectively minded) as it was modern, oratory and poetry were highly respected and widely practiced. Thus Elizabethan and metaphysical metaphors, such as those invented by Shakespeare and Donne, tend to strike an organic balance among three elements: tradition, the age's increasing emphasis on logic as a basis for artistic invention, and its discovery of a new model of subjectivity distinguished by a personal struggle for self-knowledge and self-determination.

Similar to Ramus, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was an enemy of Scholasticism and a champion of reason and an unadorned language capable of serving it. In contrast to Ramus, however, Bacon was skeptical of the syllogistic process because, as he writes in The New Organon (1620), "the syllogism consists of propositions, propositions consist of words, words are symbols of notions." "Our only hope" of knowing nature, the truth of things and ourselves, Bacon asserts, "lies in … true induction" (p. 41). The foundations of his method—which inspired the British Royal Society's call for a scientific plain style in language and influenced a range of later philosophers, including Giambattista Vico (1688–1744)—is rooted in the principle that true knowledge comes of what one has "observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything" (Bacon, p. 39). To Bacon, then, the knowledge that comes of metaphor and other figures of speech number among the "Idols" that confuse human kind, leading us into error. It is Bacon's dream of a scientific language, one enabling the direct perception and undistorted discussion of reality through the control and exclusion of tropes and figures, that predicts and helps lay the ground for the Enlightenment's general perspective of metaphor.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMetaphor - The Classical System, The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, Romanticism, The Twentieth Century