Williams, Mark T. and Theresa Enos. “Vico’s Triangular Invention.” Atwill, Janet, and Janice M. Lauer. Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. 1st ed. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002.

  • The rhetorical situation has long been conceived of in spatial terms – as triangles, fields, waves, planes, webs, pentads, pyramids, and maps.  Despite the influence of empirical philosophy in the 18th century, Giambattista Vico’s work on rhetoric continued to emphasize classical aspects of rhetoric.  Williams and Enos intend to consider Vico’s “triangular invention of memory, imagination, and perception” as the three faculties that allowed rhetors to make connections among common sense philosophies of the 18th century and topics and tropes from the classical period (193).
  • Vico’s blending of the common-sense empiricists and traditional humanistic scholarship stemmed from his interest in the philosophical methods of Descartes (reason and the problems of syllogistic reasoning) and the empirical power of the new sciences.
  • Vico’s admiration of the topics as probable starting points provides Williams and Enos a starting point for considering his use of common sense and triangular invention (194).
  • The triangulation of memory, perception, and imagination allows human beings to develop eloquence and discover the arguments to be made from probability (the commonplace arguments or topoi).  Common sense – or judgment without reflection – is instrumental in the recognition of probabilities and allows for a subsequent deployment of eloquence (as context-dependent and resultant from those prior judgments).
  • Vico’s rejection of Descartes centers around Descartes’ own predilection for certainty . . . which precludes a kind of thinking that searches out sites of probability (topics) which are discovered through exercises in perception (200).
  • Vico’s idea:  “Writers recall a topic, or a commonplace; these places are perceived as starting points for the lines of argument and arrangement that can be imagined to extend outward in new figurative connections.  Students imagine how to structure experience in clear paragraphs, to recall the past in relation to present purposes, and to perceive prose in coherent ways”    (202).


1.       Ingenium – Vico uses this term to draw together those things and ideas perceived to be located at a distance.  It can be used to connect what was previously disconnected in order to discover new relationships in communicative settings.  In essence, Vico is claiming that human beings can know and understand how meaning is made because the meaning making process exists in their own minds.

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