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Sci Tech    H4'ed 3/14/10

Who Was Walter Ong, and Why Is His Thought Important Today?

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Hobart, Michael E. and Zachary S. Schiffman. Information Ages: Literacy, Numeracy, and the Computer Revolution. Baltimore, Maryland; and London, England: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 1998.

Kneale, William and Martha Kneale. The Development of Logic. Oxford: Clarendon Press of OxfordUniversity Press, 1962. See the index for quantification.

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Ong, Walter J. Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason. Cambridge, Massachusetts: HarvardUniversity Press, 1958. A classic study of print culture. Regarding the quantification of thought, see especially pages 53-91. In The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1962: 72), Ong explains the overall import of the quantification of thought in medieval logic: "In this historical perspective, medieval scholastic logic appears as a kind of premathemics, a subtle and unwitting preparation for the large-scale operations in quantitative modes of thinking which will characterize the modern world. In assessing the meaning of [medieval] scholasticism, one must keep in mind an important and astounding fact: in the whole history of the human mind, mathematics and mathematical physics come into their own, in a way which has changed the face of the earth and promises or threatens to change it even more, at only one place and time, that is, in Western Europe immediately after the [medieval] scholastic experience [in short, in print culture]. Elsewhere, no matter how advanced the culture on other scores, and even along mathematical lines, as in the case of the Babylonian, nothing like a real mathematical transformation of thinking takes place not among the ancient Egyptians or Assyrians or Greeks or Romans, not among the peoples of India nor the Chinese nor the Japanese, not among the Aztecs or Mayas, not in Islam despite the promisings beginnings there, any more than among the Tartars or the Avars or the Turks. These people can all now share the common scientific knowledge, but the scientific tradition itself which they share is not a merging of various parallel discoveries made by their various civilizations. It represents a new state of mind. However great contributions other civilizations may hereafter make to the tradition, our scientific world traces its origins back always to seventeenth and sixteenth century Europe [in short, to Copernicus and Galileo], to the place where for some three centuries and more the [medieval] arts course taught in universities and parauniversity schools had pounded into the heads of youth a study program consisting almost exclusively of a highly quantified logic and a companion physics, both taught on a scale and with an enthusiasm never approximated or even dreamt of in ancient academies" (emphasis added). Ong's 1958 book about Ramus and Ramism was reprinted in 2004 by the University of Chicago Press with a new foreword by Adrian Johns.

Quine, Willard Van Orman. Mathematical Logic, 2nd ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: HarvardUniversity Press, 1951. Cited by Ong. See the index for quantification.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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