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Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric

Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory

Thomas M. Carr

Publication Year: 2009

A careful analysis of the rhetorical thought of René Descartes and of a distinguished group of post-Cartesians. Covering a unique range of authors, including Bernard Lamy and Nicolas Malebranche, Carr attacks the idea, which has become commonplace in contemporary criticism, that the Cartesian system is incompatible with rhetoric.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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Copyright Page

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pp. iv


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xi

This study originated far from Descartes in my efforts to understand what eighteenth-century writers meant when they invoked le coeur et l'esprit to account for persuasion. My inquiry into the role of the heart and the mind led back to how Cartesian psychology and physiology came to be adapted in seventeenthcentury rhetorical thought. ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-5

Descartes' earliest texts attest to his frustration with eloquence. The recently discovered dedication of the theses he defended at age twenty for his law degree at Poitiers in 1616 indicts the rhetoric he had studied with the Jesuits for its failure to satisfy his thirst, for knowledge. This distaste for formal rhetoric—one might even say...

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2. Descartes and Guez de Balzac: Human Eloquence Spurned

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pp. 6-25

My goal in this chapter and the next is neither to examine how Descartes' rhetoric fits into his philosophical concerns, as Henri Gouhier has done, nor to examine the various persuasive strategies he uses to win adherents to his system along the lines of the analyses of Peter France or Sylvie Romanowski. Instead, I am interested in the consequences of his thought, especially his...

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3. Descartes' Rhetoric of Generosity

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pp. 26-61

In the first part of the Discours de La methode Descartes narrates the quest of a young man for assurance, both in the judgments of his intellectual life, and in the more practical moral affairs of existence: "I always had an intense desire to learn to distinguish truth from falsehood in order to see clearly in my actions and to walk with assurance in this life" ("J'avais toujours un extreme...

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4. Port-Royal and Eloquence: Rhetoric at the Margins

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pp. 62-87

Almost everything useful that the study of rhetoric can furnish is negative: how to avoid unacceptable patterns of discourse, especially the pitfalls of a hyperbolic style reminiscent of Balzac's. The irony, of course, is that Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole cannot confine rhetoric's positive value to the tiny space represented by "almost." Their effort to subordinate rhetoric to other...

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5. Malebranche's Rhetoric of the Incarnation

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pp. 88-124

The Oratorian Nicolas Malebranche immediately established his reputation for hostility toward rhetoric in his first published work. The second book of La Recherche de la virice (1674) indicts the imagination as a source of error. As examples of "the contagious communication of strong imaginations" ("la communication contagieuse des imaginations fortes"), I the power of speakers...

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6. Lamy's Science of Persuasion

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pp. 125-167

Rhetorical theory is not the center of interest for any of the thinkers considered so far. However, in Bernard Lamy we find a writer with a considerable reputation as a Cartesian militant whose most famous work, the Art de parler, is an attempt to recast the whole range of questions normally treated by rhetoricians in light of the new philosophy.' Indeed, his teaching career was...

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7. Conclusion: Attention and Cartesian Rhetoric

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pp. 168-178

Two controversies in the 1690s helped solidify a narrow view that still persists of Cartesian rhetoric. In 1687 Charles Perrault brought the smoldering quarrel of the ancients and moderns into the open with his poem Le Silcle de Louis le Grand, which celebrates the artistic superiority of the Sun King's reign. The third dialogue (1690) of his Parallele des anciens et des modernes is...


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pp. 181-197


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pp. 198-204


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pp. 205-212

Author Bio

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pp. 213

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809386482
E-ISBN-10: 0809386488
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809329007
Print-ISBN-10: 080932900X

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2009