E 387R • Enlightenment Rhetoric
5:00 PM-8:00 PM
The Enlightenment both on the European continent and in Great Britain shaped the contours of thought from the 17th century through the present. Whether we imagine ourselves as rational humanists or posthuman bodies without organs, we are still dealing with, furthering, perhaps reacting against categories posited over 300 years ago. In rhetorical theory, the Enlightenment marks the most noticeable attempt to break with classical rhetoric (as understood by the 18th century). Those positing new rhetorical theories based on post-Enlightenment thought (Like Susan Jarratt and Sharon Crowley) try to resuscitate classical rhetoricians like Isocrates and Gorgias. Those still wedded to Enlightenment beliefs (like John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas) promote communicative practices based on categories like disinterested reason and human liberty. It seems, then, that a return to the heyday of Kant and Descartes is requisite to anyone interested in rhetorical theory in any era. This course will explore the variety of Enlightenment philosophies, from Kantian transcendentalism, to Cartesian rationalism, to common-sense realism, all in an effort to understand what these developments shared and how they impacted the way people conceptualized and practiced public discourse. We will pay particular attention to the works of Francis Bacon, John Locke, Renee Descartes, Immanuel Kant, George Berkeley, David Hume, and the Scottish literati (Adam Smith, Hugh Blair, and George Campbell). We will also glance at the movement and translation of these ideas across the Atlantic and into the new world. Towards the end of the semester, we will look at contemporary responses to, appropriations and even rejections of these works. Throughout the semester, we will make efforts to find the connections among rhetorical theory, epistemology, aesthetics, political theory, and material history.