List

Berlin, James A. “The Transformation of Invention in Nineteenth Century American Rhetoric.”  Southern Speech Communication Journal 46 (1981):  292-304. 11

  • In this piece Berlin traces how the disappearance of invention as discovery occurred in the 19th century because of the “supremacy” of Campbell, Blair, and Whately in rhetorical theories of the 18th century.  In these three thinkers he identifies ideas that were compatible with American philosophies.  These include:  the philosophy of Scottish Common Sense Realism, the science of the practical rather than the theoretical, and the aesthetic of conservatism – both socially and politically (292).
  • According to B., this started with Campbell’s shifting of invention as the discovery of all of the available means of persuasion in a position taken to an analysis of the audience to be addressed.  This changes invention into something more ‘managerial’ and less dynamic.  Rhetoric itself becomes something not concerned with the generation of material, but the responsibility of communicating it (293).
  • Blair’s work differed in that it placed an emphasis on the genius of the composing process.  This move removed the role of rhetoric in the creation of discourse.
  • Whately extends Campbell’s work by making the presentation of material the sole consideration of rhetoric.  Berlin recognizes that Ehninger’s piece “Theories of Invention in Late Nineteenth Century Rhetorics” did much to extend this line of inquiry.
  • Berlin notes that despite the desire to think about American education in the 19th century as distinctly Anglophilic, the teaching of these three pedagogues (who were definitely NOT a part of a society that rewarded individualism, equality, and self-government) were taken up by Americans because they responded to very real issues/desires that resided in the realm of culture: science, art, and philosophy.
  • Common-sense realism was successful in the American academy – according to Berlin – because it provided a philosophical basis that was commensurate with orthodox Protestant values – and because it rejected the materialism of Hume and the atheism of Voltaire.  In this sense, the philosophy appealed to the “ordinary” man.  It also supported orthodox conceptions of religion (God is the benevolent force behind intuition) and the empirical method.
  • Because common sense philosophy was often ported to the scientific method, the discoveries therein were not found in conflict with religion; rather, they were seen to validate the divine.  Further, because common-sense philosophy was so concerned with practicality and observation, it suited the American concern with pragmatic self-government and “bootstraps” prosperity.
  • In the realms of art, the emphasis on the effect of art on an audience dovetailed well with the faculty psychology of Blair’s work; furthermore, “art” in the period also tended to conflate rhetoric and the poetic because of the “effect” on the audience.
  • Berlin notes that the movement from invention as discovery to invention as management was instrumental/important for the marriage of British rhetoric and American culture.  This cut out reasoning from probability characteristic of most classical and neo-classical rhetoric (and the attendant concerns with ethos and pathos) because there was little to disagree about in “facts”; however, the emphasis on delivery was not the concern of rhetoric – the effect on the audience via facts.

Leave a Reply