The "perplexity" of George Campbell's rhetoric: The epistemic function of common sense

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George Campbell's rhetorical theory is based upon a philosophical tradition that has ancient roots - common sense philosophy. Campbell's interest in common sense emerged through his association with Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Thomas Reid. However, Campbell's beliefs about the relationship between individual perception and social knowledge at the same time reveal a philosophical affinity with Aristotie and the Stoics. For Campbell, as for the ancients, common sense represents both the intuitive ability that individuals use in apprehending the reality of the external world and the shared human capacity to make necessary collective judgments. Although Campbell believes that there is objective truth that is apprehended through coinmon sense, he at the same time perceives common sense as providing a foundation for making decisions about the contingent circumstances that people face from day to day. Campbell's rhetoric has frequentiy been described as managerial, but his interest in common sense creates an epistemic function for rhetoric, as it provides the means for negotiating the principles of moral evidence in order to resolve the specific questions that arise in the life of the community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-101
Number of pages23
JournalRhetorica - Journal of the History of Rhetoric
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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