By Stephen J McKenna
The 1st book-length remedy of Adam Smith’s rhetorical concept.
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Extra resources for Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety
Strahan found Smith’s reticence overanxious; on his inspection, the Dialogues contained nothing more “exceptionable” than he had already published in Hume’s other works, though he was businessman enough to delay publishing the Dialogues lest it harm sales of the new edition of Hume’s complete works (Corr. 173). 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.
The residuum left to Gorgianic theory after this elimination of epistemology is nothing but propriety: [T]o speak effectively or successfully in any one instance, one must speak “fittingly,” adapting to the constraints of the discourse at hand and speaking appropriately from moment to moment. . Gorgias implies that the success—and truth—of one’s remarks is determined neither by the essential nature of a putative “reality” lying beyond every discourse, nor in an individual speaker’s arbitrary inspiration or whim, but rather through the recognized protocols and criterion of the specific discourse being spoken.
As such it is not fully susceptible to art: Various specific elements can be learned, since they are strictly conventional, but because they must be enacted in the unfolding field of temporal exigency, they cannot be reduced to method. To prepon would be mastered predominantly by instinct or past experience. The tenets of his On Nature—that (1) nothing exists; (2) if it did it would be unknowable; and (3) if it were, it would be incommunicable—fit with a theory of rhetoric as the use of nonlogical and/or nonlinguistic aspects of emotional appeal, style, rhythm, Smith and Propriety in the Classical Tradition 31 delivery, and the adaptation of these to both conventional mores and the situation at hand.