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Reviews Philosophical Finesse: Studies in the Art of Rational Persuasion , by Martin Warner; xii & 401 pp. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, $64.00. This is an interesting and learned book. Its major thesis is that our understanding of philosophical reasoning has been distorted by the Cartesian geometric ideal. Of course, very few philosophical texts actually exemplify this deductive ideal, a fact which has often led to skepticism about the prospects for philosophy as a truth-seeking activity. Against both the geometric tradition and the skepticism it has engendered, Warner invokes the notion of what he calls (following Pascal) "finesse," a rival conception of non-deductive rationality. But by "non-deductive" Warner does not mean inductive: indeed the traditional assumption that deduction and induction joindy exhaust the possibilities of rational argument is one of his targets. Instead he tries to make a case for the merits of various forms of dialectical reasoning, including abduction, paraduction , cumulative arguments, and the rhetoric of rational persuasion. Warner attempts to give content to the alternative finesse model via a series of five historical case studies which form the core of the book. Thus, after a brief prefatory discussion of classical models of rationality (Plato, Aristoüe, Cicero), he offers detailed readings of Plato's Phaedo, the Book ofJob, Pascal's Pensées, Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and Nietzsche's Twilight of tL· Idoh. The choice of texts is significant, for only the pieces by Plato and Hume would be universally counted as philosophy by Anglophone professionals . Nietzsche and Pascal would perhaps qualify as marginal cases, but the Book ofJob is not usually considered a work of philosophy at all. However, Warner sees the hermeneutical strategies necessary for understanding these "nonphilosophical " texts as exemplifying important features of his favored model of rationality. Moreover, he argues that the usual "philosophical" readings of the Phaedo and the Dialogues are inadequately selective in the way they bracket out the "literary" dimension of the texts. Hence, the finesse model is claimed both to provide a richer understanding of some works canonically regarded as phi157 158Philosophy and Literature losophy and to enfranchise as philosophy certain works marginalized by the dominance of the geometric model. The chapters dealing with the case studies are very good. Warner is wellread in the relevant literature and consistendy illuminating about the texts he analyzes. His sensitivity to the nuances of the dialogues of Plato and Hume is particularly impressive, challenging traditional divisions between literature and philosophy. And so, too, is his reading ofthe Book ofJob, prima facie an unlikely model of a rational investigation into the nature of wisdom. What is less convincing, however, is the theoretical overview of finesse presented in the first and last chapters. Here the model is characterized by its alleged contrast to both deductive and inductive reasoning, and by its claimed resemblance to some of the practices of various modern authors (including Wisdom, Mitchell, Leavis, Casteftada, Rorty, and many others). But it is unclear that the arguments of many of these supposed friends of finesse cannot be captured in traditional terms, particularly if we invoke probabilistic inference. Nor does the chapter on Pascal, the epitome of finesse, really demonstrate the irreducibility of his nondeductive inferences to more traditional forms of reasoning . Finally, relying so heavily on the case studies to flesh out the finesse model leaves large issues barely touched. (The salient epistemological features offinesse, for instance, receive only a footnote on p. 366.) In this sense, Warner's case for finesse remains overly programmatic and more detailed argumentation is needed for some of his larger methodological claims. Fortunately, however, the considerable value of his detailed case studies is mosdy unaffected by this, even if they do not by themselves establish all he hopes. A book about philosophical rhetoric invites stylistic comment. Generally, Warner writes rather well. That the argument is often somewhat oblique is, of course, in keeping with his main thesis. However, one quaint English mannerism grated. This was the habit of always introducing contemporary or near-contemporary authors in full academic regalia as Professor X or Dr. Y or Sir W.Z., a pomposity surely lacking in finesse. Massey University, New ZealandRoy W. Perrett Inventions ofReading: Rhetoric and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 157-158
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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