By Stephen J McKenna
The 1st book-length therapy of Adam Smith’s rhetorical idea.
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Additional resources for Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety
This is a more difficult route than simply discovering what techniques generally work in persuasion, but it is necessary “because the goal is glorious” (274a). Needless to say, this is not the goal usually thought to be the object of rhetoric. Even Plato’s idealistic theory of propriety, however, remains at the level of a fairly undeveloped assertion: one should address “a variegated soul in a variegated style,” a “simple soul in a simple style” (277c). At the same time, this propriety is fairly rigid in nature: it assumes a close, one-to-one fit between speech and audience.
Smith’s account of his friend’s death is quite a moving eulogy; its conclusion is modeled on that of Plato’s Phaedo. , 221). , 251). For one who viewed himself as such a severe antagonist to the British mercantile system, it is perhaps rather curious that Smith’s next major move in life would be to secure a rather important post as an official of that system. , 248). Smith was returning, in other words, to the material of his early days as lecturer at Edinburgh and professor at Glasgow, and evidently he had made significant progress in developing and synthesizing it Smith and the Problem of Propriety 23 into these major works.
The same picture emerges with regard to rhetoric. In a memorable passage in the Gorgias, Callicles uses the idea of propriety to criticize Socrates’ chosen way of life. Here we still encounter close connections between seeing and propriety as a conventional Athenian notion: When I see [idô] a little child, for whom it is still proper [prosêkei] enough to speak in this way, lisping and playing, I like it and it seems to me [phainetai: appears] pretty and ingenuous and appropriate [prepon] to the child’s age, and when I hear it talking with precision, it seems to me disagreeable and it vexes my ears and appears [dokei] to me more fitting for a slave [douloprepes], but when one hears a grown man lisping and playing the child, it looks [phainetai] ridiculous and unmanly and worthy of a beating.
Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety by Stephen J McKenna