Ehninger – George Campbell and the Revolution in Inventional Theory

Ehninger, Douglas. “George Campbell and the Revolution in Inventional Theory.” Southern Speech Journal 15  (1950): 270-76. Print.

  • E. recognizes that Campbell’s Philosophy serves as the basis for many “present-day theories of discourse” – i.e., C-T pedagogy.  E. claims that Campbell’s work is most important because of the following ideas: 1) adapting discourse to the ends sought by speakers; 2) the distinction between conviction and persuasion; and 3) rhetoric as a study that adapts means to particular ends (hence, the important of style, ornament and delivery of any rhetorical message).
  • E. claims that in addition to these other facets of rhetoric, Campbell actually created a revolution in inventional theory by axing classical conceptions of invention in favor of seeing invention
  • E. notes that Campbell was working under the influence of the “English epistemologists” Locke and Hume.  Hume’s skepticism undermined man’s own understanding of his truth-claims by pointing out the importance of data.  C. followed the lead of Thomas Reid by considering human knowledge as tied to the “innate, self-evident laws of reason which are the common property of all men” – common sense.  This common sense undergirds the truthiness of daily experience and provides a common basis from which to work in epistemological concerns and provides a way to escape Humean skepticism.  Rhetoric becomes, under Campbell, the ways of working through discourse to secure comprehension and belief in the audience . . . belief secured in common sense.
  • Campbell’s invention is interested in understanding how to put thought in the service of expression – how to convince an audience of the thought that is common, shared.  This was different from the ancient conception of invention as a place to organize thinking itself.  Intead, Campbellian inventio concerned itself with the ways that the speaker, audience, and occasion dictated the delivery of thought in important ways (272).
  • Main claim of E.

  • In essence, Campbell argued that instead of paying close attention to the definition of the subject through classical inventional processes, rhetoricians should instead consider what particular “principles of mind” his audience would retain – common sense.  Once this was defined, the argument could be prepared accordingly.  So, expert knowledge of all content is made to sit back seat to the ways that the argument itself should be adapted to the “basic laws of human understanding” (273).[1. Here we get a central thesis from Agnew’s own work:  though the emphasis on style and arrangement appears to be an intensely individualistic enterprise, it is actually an attempt to instantiate social knowledge in a contextual way to create a rhetorically effective argument.]  This also means that invention moves from an act performed first in the preparation of subject matter to an act performed throughout the construction of a text/argument.  Invention – according to E. – is broadened from the classical ideal and disposition is narrowed.
  • A key difference between 17th century European philosophy and ancient, naturalistic philosophy:  objects of knowledge don’t exist independent of knowing processes; rather, they can only be discovered by man through particular habits and laws of mind.  As E. states, “In other words, knowledge is, they said, in a measure actually created by the knowing intelligence” (275).  This reifies the individual genius (despite noting that the shared, social, collective knowing is the basis for the development of knowledge about habits of mind).

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