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The Philosophy of Rhetoric
by George Campbell
edited by Lloyd F. Bitzer
Southern Illinois University Press, 1988
Paper: 978-0-8093-1418-8 | eISBN: 978-0-8093-8256-9
Library of Congress Classification PN173.C3 1988
Dewey Decimal Classification 808


Here, after a quarter century of additional study and reflection, Bitzer presents a new critical edition of George Campbell’s classic. Bitzer provides a more complete review and assessment of Campbell’s work, giving particular emphasis to Campbell’s theological views, which he demonstrates played an important part in Campbell’s overall view of reasoning, feeling, and moral and religious truth. The Rhetoric is widely regarded as the most important statement of a theory of rhetoric produced in the 18th century. Its importance lies, in part, in the fact that the theory is informed by the leading assumptions and themes of the Scottish Enlightenment—the prevailing empiricism, the theory of the association of ideas, the effort to explain natural phenomena by reference to principles and processes of human nature. Campbell’s work engages such themes in an attempt to formulate a universal theory of human communication. Campbell attempts to develop his theory by discovering deep principles in human nature that account for all instances and kinds of human communication. He seeks to derive all communication principles and processes empirically. In addition, all statements in discourse that have to do with matters of fact and human affairs are likewise to be empirically derived. Thus, his theory of rhetoric is vastly wider than, and different from, such classical theories as those proposed by Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian, whose theories focused on discourse related to civic affairs.

Bitzer shows that, by attempting to elaborate a general theory of rhetoric through empirical procedures, Campbell’s project reveals the limitations of his method. He cannot ground all statements empirically and it is at this point that his theological position comes into play. Inspection of his religious views shows that God’s design of human nature, and God’s revelations to humankind, make moral and spiritual truths known and quite secure to human beings, although not empirically.

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