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date: 29 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

British rhetorical theory in the eighteenth century departs from classical theory in significant ways. First, influenced by the empiricism of Francis Bacon, John Locke, and especially David Hume, Joseph Priestley and George Campbell recast traditional theory in psychological terms. Second, influenced by the belles lettres tradition, Adam Smith and Hugh Blair shift the focus of rhetoric from composition to criticism and create a theory intended to account for literature, history, philosophy, and oratory. Furthermore, in terms of rhetoric’s formative ideal, Quintilian’s ideal orator would share his place of privilege with the polite person of “taste” and “sensibility,” who would speak in a conversational register, as the coffeehouse emerged as a venue to rival the forum. Some scholars have welcomed these innovations; others have seen them as a radical wrong turn. This chapter discusses this transformation of rhetoric during the Enlightenment and reviews and attempts to resolve the scholarly debates the transformation has prompted.

Keywords: Enlightenment, rhetoric, empiricism, belles lettres, taste, sensibility, Campbell, Blair, Smith, Priestley

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