Bevilacqua, Vincent. “Adam Smith and Some Philosophical Origins of Eighteenth-Century Rhetorical Theory.” Modern Language Review 63  (1968): 559-68. Print

  • In this article B. wants to sketch out how a couple of particular “philosophical presuppositions” undergird the work that Smith did on rhetoric and belles lettres; in addition, he’ll also discuss how those same philosophical supports continued to influence rhetorical theory after Smith.
  • Smith’s most important canon was style.  According to B., Smith was dismissive of the rhetorical handbooks like those that circulated around Rome (560), stating that they were “a very silly set of books and not at all instructive.”
  • Smith’s emphasis on style was predicated on the idea that any real performance of an argument in front of an audience is difficult and unpredictable, style and expression are actually the most important points of emphasis for a speaker.  B. calls this the “propriety of expression” (561).
  • B. points out that Kames, Blair, and Campbell also more highly valued elocutio to the other rhetorical cannons.
  • Smith’s tripartite theory of rhetoric:  1) style is a verbal manifestation of the natural powers of the mind; 2) logic and rhetoric are related intellectual functions founded on common mental faculties held by all humans; and 3) propriety of expression is an essential quality of style (561).
  • B. highlights the connection between elocution/style and “good thinking” or “various mental operations” on 562.  Said differently, a man’s style is indicative of his ability to think – a matter of intelligence [1. Obviously this is at odds with the whole body of work you’ve been reading in the transnational composition exam.].  Because of this, style is intrinsically tied to a speaker’s ethos as propriety of expression operates in concert with a man’s disposition/reputation.
  • Enlightenment rhetoricians were quick to link the “empirical, inductive analysis of man’s rational and emotional faculties” to aesthetics, taste, and morals (562).  So, principled introspection would produce popular taste.  Is the presumption that particular kinds of men would produce the particular kinds of taste . . . the taste of the elite?  This is intense humanism in some senses . . . and classism.  But, this seemingly elitist, non-relativist position is explained:  because man is a sensory creature that operates at the level of his perception of reality then the human nature is universal.  Because of this universality, self-examination would produce the same best tastes/styles.  So, Smith’s theory of style isn’t mere ornament but is actually constituted by the imagination and an informed, introspective deliberation on human nature (563).
  • Because rhetoric was primarily stylistic during the period, the work of 18th century rhetoricians like Smith left invention out of rhetorical pedagogy all together . . . why teach invention if one can merely observe the subject itself (Hume, Bacon, Locke, Newton).  Invention during the period was an extrarhetorical activity (564).
  • Relationship between rhetoric and logic:  logic is the investigation and discovery of truth while rhetoric is the communication of said truth (564).  Smith (and others of the time) believed that rhetoric and logic shared a common set of mental origins.  They both have their roots in perception, judgment, memory, and reason.  They are both also commonsenses that lead one, through intuitive introspection, toward knowledge of logical and epistemological truths (565).  Yet, despite sharing these things, logic was held aloft during the period because it led to the initial discovery of truth while rhetoric merely communicated it.
  • Bacon’s division of logic:  discovery, judgment, memory (invention is subsumed here as the act of inventing conceives new ideas while combining those ideas that must be remembered), and transmission (rhetoric) (565).
  • Smith’s theory of rhetorical propriety (style) had its roots in the philosophy of Shaftesbury and Hatcheson – not the ancients.  Style is based on an internal “moral beauty” or moral-aesthetic concept that plays itself out in ethics and rhetoric (567).  Smith never explains the origin of propriety or man’s natural inclination to be proprietous; rather, he likely assumed that the writings of “Burke and Hume” were well known enough to not have to articulate the origins of rhetorical propriety.
  • What does a Smithian critique of stylistic expression take as an object of study?  A: comparison of a speaker’s “mode of expression” with their thought, character, situation, and times (567).

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