Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory

Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory

Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory

Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric: Varieties of Cartesian Rhetorical Theory

Synopsis

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.

Carr analyzes the writings of Balzac, the Port-Royalists Arnauld and Nicole, Malebranche, and Lamy, exploring the evolution of Descartes' thought into their different theories of rhetoric. He constructs his arguments, probing each author's writings on rhetoric, persuasion, and attention, to demonstrate the basis for rhetorical thought present in Descartes' theory of persuasion when it is combined with his psychophysiology of attention.

Excerpt

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 seventeenth- century rhetorical thought.

In the case of France's two most illustrious philosophers of the seventeenth century, the approach I adopt is largely reconstructive. While both Descartes and Malebranche wrote short texts dealing specifically with the theory of eloquence, rhetoric was a topic on which neither commented extensively with all the rigor and method he was capable of bringing to an issue. My task involves situating their rather brief direct comments on rhetorical issues in the context of their vision of human nature.

In chapter 2, I show how Descartes considered the rhetorical tradition dating from antiquity irrelevant to his project of winning converts to his thought by comparing him to a fellow modernist, Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, who sought to adapt the humanist tradition to the emerging culture of the honnête homme. in chapter 3, I analyze the rhetorical theory that can be generated from Descartes' notion of persuasion when it is combined with his psychophysiology of attention.

My discussion of Arnauld and Nicole in chapter 4 serves as a link between Descartes and subsequent Augustinians such as Malebranche and Lamy. Because of their concern for method, the Port-Royalists set as one of the principal goals of their Logique de Port-Royal the task of neutralizing the erroneous judgments induced by false eloquence. Such showy eloquence weakens the mind's capacity for attention by seducing it with the sense impressions that have bedazzled the mind since the Fall. However, their amalgam of Descartes and Augustine contains the seeds of a more positive view of eloquence. Their concepts of accessory ideas and of vivacity go beyond Descartes' sketchy linguistic com-

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